Marketers in every industry will tell you how important personalization is for the future of marketing and especially for conversion rate optimization. Now more than ever before, digital ecosystems are saturated with content, free trial offers, and multiple companies competing for the same audience eyeballs. To build stronger relationships with prospective customers and to increase engagement and conversions, organizations need to stand out and connect more effectively with their visitors. Marketers are coming to the realization that it’s not enough to have awesome content or loved products; there’s an equally important tactical side to your ‘reach’ and ‘engagement’ equation that requires you to present compelling information in a targeted, personalized manner.

Despite this understanding, marketers are still struggling. While ‘real-time’ and ‘personalization’ are important discussion topics, they’re difficult to bring to life. While many companies have insight into the “what,” the “how” is a gray area. Martech, in general, is a new field, and organizations need time to understand what works best for them. Real-time personalization doesn’t just have an ‘on’ button that you can hit. You need to roll up your sleeves, run experiments, and figure out what’s appropriate and what works for your organization. Here are some stats and suggestions to help you shortcut this process:

Despite what the ‘hype’ suggests, real-time personalization is still emerging

In other words, you’re not behind; in fact, you’re still early to the game and can be at a competitive advantage by taking initial steps now.

A recent eConsultancy study found that 62% of online retailers are using personalization tech in some way, shape, or form. Dig deeper into this number, however, and you’ll see that there’s more to the story.

Companies and marketing leaders have very different perspectives on what real time and personalization are and should be. The flip side to the 62% stat is that the other 38% aren’t using personalization at all. (Outside of retail, this number is even lower!) Not to mention, this figure covers personalization tech only—the prevalence of real-time, coupled with personalization, is still questionable.

As one write-up from Marketing Charts points out, marketers are struggling to get the insights that they need quickly enough. Respondents in the survey that the article references cited having enough data (39%) and inaccurate data (38%) as the biggest barriers to success with personalization. And in another recent report from Accenture, a quarter of CMOs reported a lack of critical technology or tools as a major barrier to achieving their personalization goals.

The bottom line from this data is actually a silver lining for everyone reading this blog post. If you feel comfortable with your personalization and real-time targeting strategy, you’re ahead of the curve. And if you’re still wondering how to get up and running? There’s good news for you too! There’s a huge marketing opportunity to capitalize upon, with the best rewards (your audience’s attention) coming to early players. A resource like Evergage’s Ultimate Web Personalization Planning Guide provides a great place to start.

It’s a marathon, so make sure that you devote enough resources to listening and learning

This point of inspiration comes from Dun & Bradstreet, a 170+ year old financial services company that is going through some big marketing changes. In late 2014, D&B brought on a new CMO, Rishi Dave, and began the process of creating more data-driven, human marketing programs. This decision was a natural next step for the financial services leader, who offers a data-as-a-service (DaaS) platform as part the company’s core service offering.

Real-time and personalization were both part of Dave’s initial vision, which be began pioneering in 2014. But it wasn’t until the end of 2015, almost two years after Dave joined D&B’s team, that the company came out on record to discuss the marketing team’s approach to personalization. And the results? Dun and Bradstreet will be deploying its strategy in early 2016. The biggest lessons that D&B has learned along the way are as follows:

  • The key to getting started is to do just that--get started. Even if you’re not sure how your long-term personalization strategy is going to look, you can start collecting data. For instance, D&B launched its Connectors blog in 2013 to start gathering data and learning about its audience’s content browsing patterns. With this resource, coupled with the strong data foundation that the company has, D&B’s marketing team is in a strong position to translate insight into action.
  • Double down on the marketing opportunity. Initially, Dun and Bradstreet wasn’t expecting to do a full redesign for its website. But after experimenting with personalization, the company realized that now was the best possible time to hit the ‘reset button.’

Keep experimenting, iterate, and grow steadily

You don’t need to design your entire website for success with personalization. Like D&B, you can start with a series of small steps. But keep your mind and heart open along the way–you may uncover more opportunities and benefits than you originally thought.

D&B’s digital marketing lead, Josh Mueller, had an interesting comment to make about his process:

“One of the things that I always say (and I may have heard this somewhere) is, ‘The day you launch a new site experience is the worst day that it’ll ever perform.”

That’s OK, of course!  This should excite and inspire you, not frustrate you. Optimization is a journey that takes frequent experimentation and constant iteration.

The bottom line

Don’t let your natural, perfectionist instincts derail you. The astronomical results you want are going to take time to fully generate. Execute, but be patient--a real-time personalization program can start slowly. Pace yourself as you run toward the finish line, but enjoy the scenery (both obstacles and insights) along the way. Make 2016 the year that you take your next best step.