This post is the fourth installment of our series on successfully creating personalized digital experiences. If you missed our previous posts, you can catch up on the conversation here:

  1. What can personalization do for me?/Why should I use personalization?
  2. How does personalization work?
  3. Whom is personalization for?

Let’s say you have a user experience, design, or content conundrum you’re facing, and you’ve sold your team on “personalization” as the best solution. You’ve assembled the right resources, mapped out exactly what content you want to show, to whom, and where, on your site, and even planned out a timeline for measuring success. As with most projects, a key decision that you’ll need to face well before the rubber meets the road, lies in picking the right tool for the job. In fact, the tool is something you’ll need to consider alongside each factor of planning, as the costs and benefits to each can vary greatly.

In this post, you will come away with a top-level introduction to several personalization tools, ranging from less extensive options to more robust ones, as well as a high-level understanding of which ones may integrate right into your existing technology stack.

Tools of the Trade

Out-of-the-Box Plugins

Great for: Smaller projects, like mobile apps, that need a quick and easy solution to integrate, set up, and maintain

Scaled personalization is complex, as we’ve seen. For instance, if you want to tailor just two content blocks (each of which appears on [#] pages across your site), and customize them for just four different audiences (three segments plus everyone else), you are already looking at 2 x 4 = 8 unique content blocks to tag and account for on your back end… across [#] pages, no less! Conduct a quick Google search, and you will find several options that are more out-of-the-box than CMS (content management system) solutions, and also more straightforward – they are packaged and priced with more single-goal projects in mind. If you are a beginner and have a focused need, such as driving email signups or inserting names into product offers, or you want a tool that can operate, learn, and make recommendations and decisions semi-autonomously, take a look at tools like Evergage, Optimizely, and Banana Splash.

Ecommerce Plugins

Great for: Product Recommendations and Cross-Selling

Ecommerce personalization

For ecommerce brands, you’re not necessarily looking to make header images and call to actions personal for every single user – far more valuable is how often you can show them the right product at the right time, using other users’ behaviors as a clue. It’s a more transactional, discrete form of mapping user activity to tastes and preferences.

If this sounds like you, you have a variety of options of online shopping-focused tools, such as Optimizely, IBM’s Product Recommendations, Dynamic Yield, Vibetrace, and more. As a group, they have seen significant growth in the past few years, thanks to their ability to make ecommerce personalization accessible to organizations with fewer in-house capabilities than behemoths like Amazon. As consumers grow comfortable buying more and more products (and even services) online every year, the plugins in this category can help you take your ecommerce site to the next level by fostering repeat visits and increased engagement from shoppers via increasingly relevant cross-promotions.

Of course, if you are looking at a more complex project and want to tap into some of the genius that started it all, Amazon offers their own machine learning technology as a white-label product, repurposed into a standalone, agnostic tool via AWS.

Content Marketing Plugins

Great for: Email marketing integration

Personalized Email

Most of the major content marketing platforms offer some intriguing capabilities around dynamic and personalized email content. Tools like Hubspot and Pardot can do A/B testing and light personalization if you know how to effectively utilize some of their more advanced features, while Marketo and Eloqua seem slightly more progressive in elevating tailored emails from “Hello [your name here],” to content that will really resonate with the reader and inspire action. For example, you might use them to trigger high-value content offers to visitors who spent time on a product page but didn’t convert; or you could use the information you collect from user’s email behaviors in between site visits, in order to tailor his experience, the next time he comes back to your domain.  

Other tools that also integrate with personalized email functionality include Dynamic Yield and Vibetrace, so take a look across the board and see which one would best fit your need.

Data Deep-Dive Plugins

Great for: Fine-tuned optimization projects that are specialized for sophisticated testing and analytics

Perhaps your web analytics are your greatest asset and expertise. If you want to find a tool that integrates with analytics to make more macro-level site optimization tweaks, then take a look at Adobe Target or IBM’s Content Recommendations. They will help you uncover insights in your current site traffic that can inform your own tactics and campaigns regarding personalization. If you’ve got the budget, consider how these might fit into your process.  

B2B All-Around (CMS Features/Plugins)

Great for: Integrating varied personalization tactics into an already ongoing/planned site redesign project

If you are already using a certain CMS to build a new web experience, or recently set one up and have tagged your content with personalization in mind, check to see if the CMS has built-in functionality around serving content dynamically to different users based on their site behavior and activity history. While less robust than an add-on like Lift (which you’ll learn about in the next section), working directly within your CMS’ capabilities may be more cost-effective. Especially if you are already overhauling/redesigning your site, want to use personalization on a relatively small scale, and don’t have a big budget, or just want to do something more straightforward like A/B testing. These include standards such as Kentico, Sitecore, and Episerver. Microsoft also offers a tool just for web content, called Dynamics.

While personalization has long centered around ecommerce brands, its positive effects can also be seen in the B2B space as websites claim their rightful place as the integral marketing machines in today’s lead-capturing and lead-nurturing processes. Lift, Acquia’s personalization product, is expressly targeted towards helping B2B brands take advantage of the plethora of benefits personalization has to offer. While the current generation of the product, Lift 2.0, is catered to the Drupal CMS, a 3.0 beta is in development, which looks to be platform-agnostic. If you are a B2B brand looking to put together a more sophisticated selling plan than “if you like this, you might like this,” take a look at what they’re putting together and see what it can do for you.

Get it in Gear

Our next personalization article of the summer, due out in September, will illustrate a few example campaigns and tactics, so that you can see what tangibly happens from concept to execution at each step of the way. It will also feature some downloadable goodies, so be sure to check back in a few weeks!

** Check out the fifth blog post in this Personalization Series

What tools are you thinking about utilizing to get your personalization strategy off the ground? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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