How to get real-time personalisation right

25th Sep 2014

Personalisation promises to get the right communications to the right people at the right time.

But upon closer inspection, most personalisation efforts actually tend to focus on the first two components and overlook the final aspect – time.

Yet it is this characteristic that could ultimately prove to be the most powerful. 

“Immediately reacting to customer behaviour on the site increases relevance and engagement, helps customers to know that you are listening to their needs and often gets them more quickly to the product or information they were looking for,” emphasises Jamie Brighton, strategic marketing EMEA, Adobe Marketing Cloud. “It can help them through the customer journey or expose them to other products and services that they didn’t know they needed in cross- and up-sell messaging.”

Bruno Berthezene, UK country manager at Solocal Group UK, adds: “If you personalise marketing in real-time, you are targeting customers when it is most likely to have an impact on their purchasing decision – during their path to purchase. For example, if someone is actively browsing websites for local beauty salons, you could engage with them in real-time and insert an offer or promotional discount code. This ensures that the context is as relevant for their current need as possible and is most likely to result in conversion.”

Despite this, real-time personalisation has only had a limited adoption to date. But this could be set to change.

“The cutting-edge idea of personalisation in ‘real-time’ – meaning being prepared to make a decision during a live interaction about what message to convey – is putting increased pressure on marketers to push one step further and build real-time into their personalisation strategies,” suggests Julie Vaccaro, product marketing manager at IBM.

“Real-time personalisation is even more powerful than basic personalisation and goes one step further. It doesn’t just involve making advance decisions about what message a customer will see the next time you interact with them, but instead means being prepared to make a decision during a live interaction.”

Andy Walker, UK MD at Innometrics, agrees that brands are having to take real-time personalisation increasingly seriously. “Consumers interact across so many different channels and devices that anything less than real-time may mean that suddenly you miss an opportunity to speak to a consumer, because they have moved devices and your marketing platform only updates overnight. If consumers receive different experiences on different website or apps within the same brand - there is a risk of the brand being seen as schizophrenic.”

And the proliferation of location-based marketing also adds a further impetus to adopt real-time practices, according to Graeme Collins, head of marketing, EMEA at RichRelevance.

“Personalised content is infinitely more valuable when combined with location-based data,” he explains. “Your recommendation or promotion is far more likely to yield results if a consumer receives it when they are in a position to buy. But when location-based data comes into play, acting in real time becomes crucial. A recommendation that arrives late risks resentment rather than welcome if the consumer’s attention has moved elsewhere.”

Strategies and technologies

So what constitutes real-time personalisation and how can marketers use it effectively?

Real-time personalisation aims to customise content based on the user, engaging them through a website or mobile device while they are actively browsing. For example, if someone is actively browsing new TV’s online, a business can react in real-time through a targeted display advertising solution which will insert a voucher or pop up for targeted electronics- focused special offer. Or, using location data, a brand could promote products/services that are appropriate to the user’s location.

Real-time personalisation has become possible thanks to the emergence of new solutions that allow data management platforms to dynamically create ads using a core template, pulling in appropriate content based on customer profiles. At the heart of these solutions are engines that perform huge multivariate experiments to determine the most relevant content and ad structure to display in each situation.

“New innovative technologies are emerging all the time to help business support real-time personalised marketing,” says Berthezene. “Implementing software which enables targeted display advertising will support real-time marketing, and allows a business to use targeted product placement, coupons and vouchers, dedicated call-to-action and post-query targeting.

“Geolocation-based services, such as location-based apps, store locators and real-time appointment booking platforms in particular, are some of the key technologies to support this. Real-time geolocation-based technology is an excellent tool for data capture, and can pin point your exact location, tell you where your nearest store is and provide targeted offers for that specific store. In addition, real-time geolocation technology can also provide you with real-time product availability and the capability to reserve items to ‘click and collect’.”

Harris adds: “To make the most of this a marketer needs the right software and a range of strategies and collateral to deal with the data that is captured - a library of images, buttons, banners, products, page layouts or special offers, that can be deployed in a variety of ways for different customers. For example, a customer browsing a web page during rush hour is likely to be making their way to work, it would be appropriate to have a commuter-friendly welcome page. Rather than suggesting visiting a store near your home it would be more appropriate to suggest one near your workplace.”

And he also highlights the role of email in real-time personalisation. “Real-time email personalisation is probably one of the most important recent developments. For years email has been losing its effectiveness. Customers receive hundreds of emails every day and unsubscribing from an emailing list is one of the most common bugbears of modern life. As returns from email marketing campaigns have diminished, marketers have increased the number of emails they send to compensate, making things worse rather than better. Most people unsubscribe from marketing emails because they are not appropriate or relevant.

“If you send an email in the morning, a customer might not open it until the evening or even a week later. If you are highlighting a time sensitive event, it may no longer be relevant by the time the email is opened. By using the same technology that personalises websites, retailers can create dynamic emails that make sure offers, sales and news is completely up-to-date. Marketing emails personalised at ‘open-time’ ensure the email content is relevant to the customer regardless of when it is opened.”

Quick wins

While it is easy to look at channels such as email and the web in isolation, however, Vacarro recommends that brands consider how they can link personalisation across channels.

“It’s actually very important to remember that each live interaction during which a real-time personalisation can occur – be it on the web or on a mobile app – should be integrated with the rest of your outbound marketing efforts,” she advises. “Customers think these interactions are part of a broader series of experiences with your brand, so you should too.”

Vacarro uses the example of making a travel reservation. The customer books the airline reservation online; he then receives an email confirmation; he may interact with a call centre representative if he needs to modify or verify his reservation; and he will finally check in at the airport via a kiosk or by interacting in person with an agent.

She continues: “This scenario demonstrates five different opportunities for real-time marketing personalisation. Many customer interactions will follow a similar pattern, such as opening a new bank account or making an online purchase with an in-person pick-up.

“The best option is to make decisions while considering everything that has happened across the entire cross-channel experience. This will allow you to reinforce offers and messages from one channel, learn from previous interactions in other channels to make a better real-time decision, and ensure consistent messaging and coordinated efforts across different media.”

From his experience, Harris suggests the following quick wins for real-time personalised marketing:

  • Always take the weather with you. As a marketer, the weather is your friend. Context is the first thing to consider when personalising a web page. Is it summer or winter, is it raining, snowing or sunny, take advantage of geolocation technology to tailor your start page, products, offers and delivery options to suit the weather wherever your customer is based.
  • Tailor by location. Use location to provide the best service. If someone is browsing on a mobile near your store, offer them a discount coupon to come into the store. If they are nowhere near a store an offer of free delivery would be more appropriate.
  • Email in real-time. Make sure every email you send a customer is relevant and timely. Email is still the most effective form of digital marketing, don’t diminish its value by sending endless generic emails. Identify customer segments and send them personalised dynamic emails that are tailored to the time and location the emails are opened.

Berthezene, meanwhile, stresses the importance of testing to ensure that your efforts are real-time personalisation are optimised.

“The importance of continuous measurement and regular testing is also a key tactic to ensure you are using real-time personalisation effectively - businesses need to track what is having a positive response with their customers and what has not been so successful,” he notes.  

“Implementing this strategy correctly, a business can build awareness and brand loyalty, enhance its customer engagement, increase conversion and customer retention. Let’s face it, if you are able to provide a customer with what they want when they want it, they will keep coming back to you!”

And with real-time personalisation promising so much to both customer and company, it is little surprise that there is growing interest in it. The caveat, of course, is that it needs to be conducted appropriately if it is to have the desired impact.

Vacarro concludes: “Real-time personalisation is on the rise as companies strive to meet customer expectations for a more customised and relevant experience. When executed properly, the rewards of personalisation can be enormous – increasing sales and revenue, enhancing online conversion rates, boosting average order value, and strengthening customer loyalty and retention.

“Customers have grown increasingly overwhelmed when dealing with outbound marketing offers and, consequently, the effectiveness of traditional outbound marketing campaigns has significantly declined. So it’s even more important to connect with customers on their own terms – during those moments when they contact you – which can dramatically improve marketing’s effectiveness.”

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