“Norm!“ the crowd cries as the middle-aged guy stumbles into the bar at the end of a long day. If you are old enough to remember, or just a fan of 80s TV, you’ll recognize that as a staple scene from the TV series “Cheers“. The crowd all knew Norm, who showed up at the bar every day, and that greeting must have warmed Norm’s heart every time he walked through the door.

Recognition matters.

Now imagine if Norm showed up at that bar every single day and they treated him as if he’d never been there before. Would he have continued to come to that same bar every day?

As marketers, we often are so focused on our own goals that we can lose sight of the customer. Even tactics like targeting, segmentation and customer personas are organized around our own goals, whether they are upsell, cross-sell or purely revenue-based.

Personalization shifts the focus from what the company wants from the customer to who the customer is and how the company can help him or her achieve their goals. In an overcrowded landscape where we have to compete for every eyeball, personalization is a powerful tool to help us stand out.

As a reader of this blog, you likely already know how impactful personalization is. It increases engagement, reduces attrition and creates higher cart values. Need more?

You’re probably already using at least some basic personalization. But to stay competitive, it’s no longer enough just to know your customer’s name. Your personalization techniques should evolve as your relationship with your customer deepens.

Consider our friend Norm. Yes, everybody knew his name, but they also knew what he was likely to order, how often and at what times he would visit, how long his visits usually lasted. If he changed his behavior, the staff would notice – and likely good-naturedly tease him about it. That’s why he was so loyal.

So where are you when it comes to personalization?

How to evolve personalization

Start Simple

If you’re doing nothing now, start by just shouting “Norm!” Address your customer by name, mention a recent purchase (or lack thereof) or other behavior or fact you know about them, like “Member since 2012” or membership level or points balance, etc. Let the customer see that you recognize them. You may be surprised how even this simple tactic makes a difference.

Layer on some Logic

Once you’ve seen what simply inserting values into your message does, step it up. Using simple logic (if-then statements) and dynamic content, most email platforms can pull in content based on the customer’s data. For example, if you capture customer gender, you could pull in different imagery or copy that is gender specific. Or geotarget: if the customer lives in Maine, show an image with snowshoes, if their state is Florida, show a beach umbrella.

Once you start to think about how to better personalize content based on who they are, the options you can test are countless. Gender or geography may not matter to your customers, but maybe their industry, income, age, etc. does. As you test, you’ll learn more about your audience and how to communicate with them most effectively.

Important tip: always have a default value in case of missing or unexpected data!

Go Deeper

The above tactics can be done by marketers without a lot of other organizational support. Once you have demonstrated that basic personalization has a positive influence on revenue, it will be easier to ask for support for more sophisticated tactics like the following:

Behavioral Personalization

Use past behavior to suggest what the customer may want to do next. This could be tactics like favorites and recommendations, or “People who did or bought that also like…”, etc. This will likely require access to more data and some support developing a recommendation engine, but for many business, the investment is well worth it. Amazon attributes 35% of their revenue to recommendations – a powerful case for investment.

Real-Time Personalization

Content is determined when the recipient opens the message rather than when the message is sent, and content can vary based on when, where and on what device they open it. This is especially useful in email where you can’t control when the recipient will read the message. A common example is responsive email design that allows email to display differently if opened on the desktop vs. a smartphone, but it can also be used to influence content. If inventory sells out between the time you sent a message and when the customer opens it, have the email pull in a different product. Running a two hour flash sale? That send is no longer wasted (or an annoyance for your customer) if it’s opened after the sale ends. It will just update itself to show a more current message.

Predictive Personalization

Using models, AI or machine learning, and customer data from many sources (transactional, site behavior, social data, etc.), predictive personalization goes beyond recommendations to predict a customer’s future behaviors, needs and value. This type of messaging requires enormous amounts of data, analytics support, and constant refinement, but can be extremely powerful. It influences content, but can also determine when and how often a customer is contacted or whether the customer needs more info vs. a discount in order to make a purchase decision.

Obviously, this approach requires a great deal of data, insight and infrastructure to implement, but there are providers that specialize in this that can help you.

Test your way to success

Evolving your personalization is not a one-size-fits-all journey, and more sophistication doesn’t always guarantee more ROI. Evolve prudently, testing often at every stage to understand what works best for your customers. You may find that your ROI is maximized with simpler tactics, or you may find that every new level of personalization you add creates more customer loyalty and value.  

So go ahead, shout “Norm!” and have a cold beer waiting in front of his favorite seat when he visits, because we all want to be where everybody knows our name.

Susan Rutgerson has been a marketer for over 20 years in agency, startup, non-profit and enterprise settings. She has done marketing strategy and marketing operations, and loves it best when those two disciplines work together, creating relevant customer experiences that deepen the relationship between brand and customer. She gets a bit more excited about data than most, her favorite channel is email and she confesses to being a bit of a testing addict. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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