Recently I had the pleasure of joining the Evergage team and many of their clients and prospects at The Personalization Summit 2017. With so many thoughts, ideas and definitions about personalization floating around, this was an incredible opportunity to get in the same room with a diverse group of marketing professionals and discuss the question: What is personalization, and what should I be doing with it?

“Demystifying” Machine Learning

It’s safe to say that the day was off to a great start when a magician came out to the stage to metaphorically “demystify” the power of machine learning. Silly as it may be, I personally love the tricks and illusions that a magician can bring to life, and it was a fun and exciting new way to think about personalization. The same way a magician can pull a rabbit out of a hat or make a coin disappear, we can “magically” show or hide content on our website so our prospects experience exactly what they would hope to see. Evergage’s push to machine learning really makes personalization feel like magic. And if Evergage’s personalization is magic, then their machine learning algorithms are the magician’s props; they’re what brings the tricks to life.

experience at the personalization summit 2017

Magician Matt Roberts and Evergage’s CEO and Co-founder, Karl Wirth, magically floating a table.

This idea of machine learning, or magic, or whatever you want to call it, really pushes the emphasis of this idea of “individualization.” Personalization is becoming more and more popular in our world of marketing, but let’s face it, the definition has been watered down. The umbrella term, “personalization,” feels so overused these days, and I still feel that the very definition is a mystery for many people. I love that Evergage is narrowing in on individualization, really pushing this idea that we need to speak to people one-to-one, instead of one-to-many.

Evergage’s Co-founder and CEO, Karl Wirth, gave a great example of the power of focusing on the individual at the summit. Let’s say a young woman named Lindsey walks into a hardware store. She starts looking around the kitchen appliances section, and seems focused on ovens, dishwashers and sinks. As the sales person in the store, if I were personalizing her experience “one-to-many,” meaning our interaction could work for many similar people, I could walk over and hand her a 20% coupon for kitchen appliances. This could push her to buy an oven, and all in all, it’s not a bad experience. On the other hand, because I’m a sales person and can interact with Lindsey in person, I could observe all of her behaviors, have a conversation with her, and learn that she was remodeling her kitchen. I could learn what she was thinking about buying, what styles she was interested in, help her find what she was looking for, and even recommend a few additional products I think she would be interested in. Lindsey then could walk out of the store with a new oven, dishwasher, and a handful of add-on items. Of course, the second scenario is obviously the preference, but doing this on a website when you have tens of thousands of visitors makes individualization seem impossible. But with machine learning, we have the power to do this. This individualization is what marketing has always wanted to be, and this is an exciting time to be in digital marketing.

Making the Case for Personalization

During the summit, Evergage offered many great sessions, giving attendees the opportunity to hear case studies from similar companies, learn about the Evergage roadmap, and dive deeper into machine learning. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the presentation given by Brendan Witcher from Forrester. He hit upon something which I have been trying and unable to verbalize for so long. Many companies always ask about the ROI of personalization. Are we seeing the numbers we need for this investment to be worth it? But Brendan’s perspective is different. In his keynote, he asked us to close our eyes and imagine we needed to go grocery shopping. So we hop in our car, drive to the store, and what is it we immediately grab when we get there? A shopping cart. Now, what if the grocery store decided to look into the ROI of shopping carts, and couldn’t figure it out or didn’t see the correlation between it and the store’s sales? What if they decided to get rid of it? It’s incredibly likely that all of their customers would abandon the store, and go to the next nearest store that provides shopping carts for their customers.

This is the idea of hyper-adoption and hyper-abandonment. When you are not meeting your consumers’ expectations, they will abandon you at hyper speeds. Brendan mentioned that 61% of people have said they are unlikely to return to a website that does not provide a satisfactory experience. As people continue to shop for things during their day-to-day, whether it’s for a new shirt or new business software, they are going to experience more and more personalization. If I go online to Amazon today, I’m hit with a ton of additional product recommendations, many of which I actually purchase. If I’m looking for new music to listen to on Spotify, I see hundreds and thousands of songs that were recommended just for me. As I continue to come across these experiences all around me, I start to expect them. So as we see personalization arising more and more, we’re starting to realize that personalization is not about asking the question, “what is the ROI?” but asking the question, “are we meeting our customers’ expected experience?” The industry we’re marketing in no longer matters, because as our customers become adjusted to a personalized experience, and start to expect them, they will hyper-abandon when they are not satisfied with the buying experience.

experience at the personalization summit 2017

Brendan Witcher, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research

Final Thoughts

Thanks to the Personalization Summit, I was able to take home new ideas, new perspectives on personalization, and a ton of excitement. I am incredibly excited to not only see what Evergage decides to do in the future, but also where the idea of personalization goes next. Seeing the amount of innovation just within the past couple of years, I can only imagine where we’ll be after Evergage’s next summit.

Lauren is a content marketer for Intuit QuickBooks, focused on optimizing and improving the user experience for the QuickBooks Resource Center.