Have you seen what Google’s been up to recently, with its middle-of-nowhere data centers? The tech giant began importing artists to paint massive murals on its buildings that instill a sense of purpose, mission, and community in those who work at or drive by each data center.

As soon as you watch one of Google’s how-it's-made videos though, you start to appreciate how much work goes into what sounds like a straight-forward project. In other words, it’s easy to observe the art and understand the simple concept behind it, but planning, executing, and maintaining such a deceptively massive project can quickly get out of hand if there isn’t a disciplined process to getting all of the fundamentals in place.

Where am I going with this? A few weeks ago, I published a post on the benefits of personalized marketing and digital experiences for both your business and your consumers. Anyone can talk at length about the benefits, but when you take a step back and ask yourself, “How do I do this?” you start to realize that personalization is easier said than done.

Before you whip out that paintbrush, let’s talk about the four fundamentals of personalization.

The Four Fundamentals of Personalization

At Boston Digital, we follow four pillars of tasks that go into crafting an effective and comprehensive personalization strategy. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to each one at a high level. In future posts, we’ll focus individually on each pillar, with tactical templates and examples to help you make your own strategy real.

1. Identify User Context

Who are we talking to, anyway?

Designing around your users’ goals is the fundamental first step in bringing an interactive experience to life. To do this, you will need to 1) identify user (audience) segments, 2) develop criteria to define the segments, and 3) create automated triggers.

Identify User Segments: The segments you define are often more detailed versions of your existing personas. However, you’re building more specific segments that your personalization software can ultimately use to categorize users and learn from their behaviors. For example, let’s say you work at a college that wants to generate more applications through its website experience. If one of your personas is a “prospective student,” you may create sub-segments within this persona based around gender, location, or program-of-interest that will populate your personalization software.

target audience

Develop Criteria to Define the Segments: After you have outlined the segments (on a whiteboard or in a Word document) whom you want to be able to serve personalized content to, you must turn to your personalization software’s capabilities and requirements to create a list of appropriate criteria. These criteria will enable you to automate the segmentation process via your personalization software. Criteria may include gender, referral source, search terms, number of clicks on your site, pages viewed, etc.

Create automated triggers: Finally, you can give the personalization system certain metrics you want it to track to gather the information it needs to determine if/when certain users satisfy various criteria over time. As the back-end system gathers more info on each user’s behavior and preferences, this is what allows it to progressively profile users over time, slot them into new segments, and to further refine the content they are served. In our example, a user’s search terms may initially slot them into the Prospective Student segment upon their initial site visit, and as they click around and view pages related to the Life Sciences department, their activity will eventually trigger the software to re-segment them as, say, Prospective Student – Sciences.

2. Establish Brand Goals

What do you want to accomplish?

We dug into this a bit in our last post about the benefits of personalized marketing. As with identifying user context, you must set the goals you want to achieve at a macro level. Then, boil them down to micro, measurable objectives. These can be objectives that pertain to content-related goals (engagement, affinity) and/or marketing-related goals (creating a broader sphere of influence, generating funnel traffic, etc.).

Not only will these objectives serve as metrics to help you track progress towards your goals over time, they can also help you determine which criteria you want to collect on users. For example, tracking which sites are referring users can 1) use the referral sites as criteria with which to better segment them, and 2) help you measure the effectiveness of your various inbound content and paid media efforts.

3. Implement a Communication Framework

Now that you know who your users are, what will you say to them?

The mantra here, as we’ll soon see, is “Crawl, Walk, Run.” Our first step towards personalization was identifying and segmenting users, followed by establishing brand goals, and then preparing our personalization software to handle a variety of inputs. 

Now we need to define the other half: the outputs of variable content and design elements that we want to serve to users and test against the evergreen stuff. (We’ll get into more detail about just what “testing” means regarding personalization in future posts.)

Essentially, this part of the process is all about creating an “If-Then” matrix which the software can use to 1) input the user’s segment, 2) determine which elements on the page she is accessing can be personalized to her, and 3) output the content most relevant to her segment.

4. Leverage Behavioral Analytics

How do you know if personalized content is working?

Leveraging behavioral analytics is the ongoing component of your personalization campaign that makes it possible to test, measure, and optimize content. Over time, you may find that one piece of content appeals more to a certain segment than another (perhaps through A/B testing). Or you may find that the standard evergreen content performs better than your variable content, in which case you may decide to personalize another element of the page instead.

This component of the campaign will seem more straightforward to those marketers familiar with site analytics. What is most challenging (and potentially rewarding) is using behavioral analytics as a means of continually expanding and enhancing your site’s personalization chops, often by adding one new design element, headline, call to action, or button at a time.

Prepare to Paint

With the fundamentals at your fingertips, you can pull out your paintbrush and begin your Google-esque masterpiece. Okay, so maybe it’s still not quite so easy, but the fundamentals we’ve spoken about here offer you a roadmap on which to start your journey toward personalization success. 

baby drawing

But you don’t have to travel or paint alone. In future posts, we’ll break down these fundamentals further and offer tips, advice, and guides to executing a successful campaign. Stay tuned.

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