Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Web Design & Development > Blogs

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Personalize, Honestly

Fitting into the "ize"

People want to be recognized, catered to, and served personally. You can't keep feeding them generic content, when they are able to customize their own content on places like Yahoo.com, Lycos.com, and the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. And you can't win repeat visitors if you post a bunch of generic, all-purpose pages on your site, when consumers are seeing how delightful real personalization can be, when they visit pioneering sites like Amazon.com, Lands' End, and Reflect.com.

The impersonal computer screen seems to invite a no-holds-barred communication that is, paradoxically, more personal.
—Constance Hale, Wired Style

The content you do create must live within this increasingly personalized environment, being dished up in different ways to different people.

The more differences that exist among customers in what they need from the enterprise, and the more difficult or complicated it is for a customer to specify those needs, the more benefit can be gained by customizing.
—Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Enterprise One to One

  • Greeting guests by name, because the site has recognized them on arrival. Most people find this recognition reassuring, even though it is a cheap trick.

  • Displaying the content they asked for, arranged in their own personal order and format. Picking out the news feeds that interest them and prioritizing them, gives people a feeling of control over the subject matter.

  • Offering products that are similar to ones a visitor has just bought, or bought on earlier visits. Far from offending, these relevant offers smooth a visitor's path, inform each one of news in areas they care about, and, generally, lead to sales.

  • Wish lists. These help friends and family figure out what to buy—encouraging them to visit the site.

  • Custom pricing. Rarely done, but clearly this can make a site very attractive to repeat customers.

  • Express transactions, like Amazon's patented, copyrighted, trademarked, and locked-up, 1-Click® shopping, which makes all sales after the first one so simple that visitors can hardly resist.

  • Access to the guest's own account and profile information. Turns out people like to see everything they've bought from the site, going back to the first dinosaur saddle. Using the account, they can check on orders, see when things will be sent, change their address, and add express credit card info. Being allowed to modify their account directly lets them see what the site sees, and reassures them that it is accurate, and on the level. Also, because people see all the preferences they checked, they can make changes, to bring it up-to-date—if they believe that the site is really acting on their preferences.

  • Tailored e-mail alerts. If the consumers have to opt in twice, they are much more likely to welcome tailored e-mail marketing, particularly if it really does tell recipients about subjects they care about. What stinks is e-mail that obviously has no relevance to the topics they ticked on the form.

If your text is going to stay afloat in this sea of information about products, prices, positions, and transactions, you need to remember personalization's larger purposes:

  • Making the site easier to use. If the site guesses right about what people are interested in, they do not have to search, or stumble around the menu system. Personalization saves time.

  • Increasing sales. People are not averse to buying. In fact, they enjoy it. Making product pitches relevant helps them get to the fun part faster.

  • Increasing loyalty. Once a guest has filled out some registration info, and seen that the site really responds, he or she might as well come back, to avoid taking the time to fill out the same info at some other site. Plus, there's a certain satisfaction to being recognized, catered to, cajoled personally.

  • Giving the consumer control. When guests feel as if they can manipulate the content on a site, the site itself becomes a little like their own personal application, a tool they can use.

    If you're making personalized offers to customers based on what you know about their interests, at what point does that practice become invasive?
    —Patricia Seybold and Ronni Marshak, Customer.com

Of course, a lot of sites pretend to personalize their content, but have no idea what content to deliver to which visitors. If the site doesn't collect much information in the user profile, then the software will make stupid decisions about what to offer a particular visitor, providing trivial, generic, or off-the-wall content. Some sites ask a lot of questions, developing quite a detailed profile of each visitor, then fail to act on that information, leaving the consumer feeling cheated, or disappointed. The best sites develop a very rich profile, and act quickly, and very visibly, to show the user the payoff with intelligent suggestions, relevant content, and smart services. Paul Hagen, of Forrester Research, defines the best personalization this way:

Content and services actively tailored to individuals based on rich knowledge about their preferences and behavior. (Hagen, 1999)

Customizing and personalizing content

Customizing content means addressing a niche group. Personalizing allows an individual to get exactly what he or she wants, whether or not that matches the content delivered to his or her group. Customizing goes a long way toward satisfying most people, but personalizing makes people consider the site their own.

To write customized content that can then be personalized, you have to look behind the curtain to find out what information the profile contains, what business rules or inferences the software is going to use, and what categories of information the site already uses. For each piece of information in the profile—each nugget of personality—you need to figure out how you could create new material or adapt existing material, to show that you have "heard" the group, or the person.

An enterprise gets smarter and smarter with every individual interaction, defining in ever more detail the customer's own individual needs and tastes.
—Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Enterprise One to One

Much of this thinking ends up dividing the audience into very small groups, micromarkets, or niches. For instance, if you recognize that your most valuable visitors fall into five different niches, then you should create specific content for each one. Perhaps one group wants to see specs right away, while another group prefers broader strokes with large benefits and graphs. For each group, put the information they want first, and move the other material to a See Also, or linklist in the sidebar.

Customizing content means writing text for a small group, organizing the content in the order they want to see it, and demoting or hiding content they do not care about. In some circumstances, you may also prevent one group from seeing what another reads, such as confidential pricing terms, development reports, or in-progress manuals.

But you have to keep coming up with new stuff for each niche. For instance, take customer support people to lunch and find out what the latest problems are, by audience group. Help solve these problems within a day or so by posting new content, addressed directly at those groups—for instance, revising labels in the forms they use, adding a new topic to their own list of Frequently Asked Questions, or rewriting a key paragraph at the top of their personal pages.

In this environment, you are often creating new objects, not whole documents. In fact, you are probably going to be using an elaborate tagging system, with XML, to indicate which niches (identified by their personas, perhaps) each chunk is suitable for. You might have an attribute such as Audience, and an agreed-upon list of audiences, so when you create a new text chunk, you say, "Well, this is for the suburban mom, only." (Or Rebecca).

Customers don't relate to anonymity on your part or theirs. If you want to differentiate yourself based on personalized service, you need to be prepare to interact with customers—even millions of them—as individuals.
—Patricia Seybold and Ronni Marshak, Customer.com

The more you can tailor your text to a particular group, the more the members feel your content is relevant. You can then offer personalization, allowing individuals to pick and choose the content they like best, offering personal tips directly to them based on their recent clicks, and setting up a one-to-one chat or e-mail conversation with individual visitors. In fact, the best way to talk personally to one individual is by chat and e-mail. Your Web content may be niche-y, but your chat and e-mail must show you have really read the person's last message, and are responding to that particular person's unique (they think) situation. From customization to personalization, the path leads through you, personally.

Consider your aims, honestly

By its nature, mass marketing aims to sell. But to win the loyalty of consumers, to get them to come back, you must give some real value when you customize and personalize your content, or they will rebel, clicking away from the page, or deleting your e-mail in disgust. The values you can communicate through personalization include openness (showing all you know about them), privacy (allaying their legitimate fear of cross-selling, junk mail, and credit card fraud), and reliability (showing an order confirmation page, e-mailing a confirmation of the order, e-mailing when you ship, e-mailing after arrival, including a return address label in the box, not arguing about returns). But honesty works best. If you don't know the answer, say so, and promise to get an answer soon—then amaze them by actually following up.

Honesty is the beginning of open communication.
Communication is the beginning of interaction.
Interaction is the beginning of personalization. (Eric Norlin, Personalization Newsletter, 2001)

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account