Ponder this question:
What Would You Change About Your Website If You Knew The User Better?
We’ll come back to that, but let’s first start with a very real-world example.
Think about Netflix for a moment – Netflix has a complex algorithm that is designed to better understand the content that we like, combined with items that have overall popularity, as they stack rank the selections they display to users when they log in. With their “Trending Now”, “Top 10”, and “Because You Watched” features, Netflix makes it no secret that they are trying to personalize your content experience on their platform – in fact, it’s what keeps users coming back month after month.
Need more proof? Take a look at Netflix’s profiles. For long-time Netflix subscribers, the content displayed is uniquely tailored to their interests, whether that is “British Historical Documentaries”, “Visually Striking Science & Nature Documentaries” or “Bingeworthy TV Shows”. And yes, those are among the top categories displayed on my own personal profile based on my habits as typically, I’m turning on Netflix for something when I’m trying to go to sleep, so it’s usually on for a few hours (i.e. binge watching), and there’s something about David Attenborough’s voice that helps me fall asleep. Conversely, if I were to peruse my wife’s profile on Netflix, right at the top are murder mysteries and crime TV shows.
However, if I were to create a new profile, the content recommendations are far more generic with a mix of kid-related content (since I have a child’s profile still tied to my account). Among the top categories recommended on a new profile are “TV Dramas”, “Familiar TV Favorites”, and “Anime”. Even their “Top Picks” section offers up a wide selection among their rating guide with titles from TV-Y up through TV-MA such as Illumination’s Minions & More, Cocomelon for kids content, and adult-centered content such as The Crown and Breaking Bad. Simply stated, Netflix doesn’t know what this profile is going to like yet, but they’re using the information they do have to still make it look like a personalized experience – an experience that will improve over time.
While it’s no secret that Netflix uses the data that they have about each unique user, they also combine that with what they know about its other users, to try to deliver the best overall experience to everyone. That’s part of what keeps them coming back, and part of their value proposition to advertisers who’ll be opting into the new ad-supported Netflix tier. Most other businesses, however, simply don’t have the 200+ million users who spend multiple hours per week engaged with their products or services. So the question becomes: How can I bring a Netflix-style personalized experience to my customers?
Before we answer the “How” question, let’s think about the “What” for a moment. What would you change on your website if you had your own profile of your users similar to Netflix’s? What stays the same regardless of who visits your website? What might prompt one group of users to take the desired action, yet could be changed to get another group of users to take a separate action? Would your users be inclined to want a different experience if you knew their location, device type, or other information about them? Of course, they would! In fact, a recent study from Accenture shows that more than nine in ten consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide personalized offers to them.
Common Website Personalizations
Personalizing based on a user’s geographic location is a common tactic that is simple yet effective. Changing out specific page elements such as location names or images enables brands to appear local to the user and provide a more relevant experience. This is very common in paid media wherein ad landing pages are dynamically matched to the user’s physical location.
By recognizing a user’s device type, marketers can often interpret the buyer’s state of mind at the moment of interaction. Mobile devices tend to yield a user taking a specific action quickly, whereas desktop-based traffic will often have a higher time on page and indicate users conducting more research. This understanding can help reduce page clutter and provide a more streamlined experience.
Buyer Persona-Based Content
When anonymous website visitors can be recognized as part of a specific audience or buyer persona, either from URL parameters passed from ads or other methods, marketers can craft slight variations in their website landing pages that will appeal more to than audience than a generic page. For example, a pet supply store may experience higher conversion rates by showing photos of dogs playing for an audience of dog owners compared to the same image on a landing page when an audience of cat owners lands on the page.
Conditional Statements – The Key to Website Personalization
These statements can use many combinations of static or dynamic elements along with multiple nested if, else statements. A simple example of a conditional statement would be changing the text displayed on a website or app to “Good Morning”, “Good Day”, or “Good Evening” based on the time of day at the user’s location.
The limits of personalization are nearly endless, but to successfully deploy a personalization strategy at scale takes four key components.
Requirements for Scalable Website Personalization
First-Party Data Collection
In order to personalize, you need a data source that will be evaluated in the conditional statements. For years, marketers have relied on third-party cookies appended by some first-party data to deliver this capability. However, due to recent changes in privacy regulations coupled with new browser restrictions, marketers need to shift to a first-party first mindset.
Ultimately, brands need their own first-party identity graph – just like Netflix has with each of its users – that ties in the events (i.e. what you viewed), with attributes (what do we know about you) and identifiers (what information did we get about you such as name, email, or device ID).
Supplemental Data Enrichment
Third-party data providers still play a significant role in helping brands better understand who their audiences are, see what their audiences are doing, and drive better strategic decisions. The insights provided are often profound, and can include metrics for your audience:
Browsing and Media Interests
Data about the kinds of other sites are your visitors going to, what are they watching on TV, and what sports or other entertainment they like.
Shopping Interests and Brand Affinity
Aside from your site, what other places are your users browsing, and what other products or brands do they appreciate? PC vs Mac, iPhone vs Android, family sedan or F-150 – answers to these questions can greatly help marketers better understand their customers.
Demographics and Occupational Data
How does the audience break down by age, household income, creditworthiness, job type, and more? These insights can inform the best marketing messages, offers, channel choices, and even the best time of day to reach your audience when they are most likely to convert.
Once you have the data needed to make logical personalization decisions, you still need a platform that can recognize and activate the specific personalized content for each user, at scale. Depending on your use case and technology stack, your activation capabilities may be contained within a landing page provider (Instapage, Unbounce, etc.) or a dedicated personalization platform (Optimizely, OptinMonster, Terminus, etc.). For other tech stacks, the activation engine may be contained within your content management system (Acquia, Bloomreach, Solodev, etc.), marketing automation platform (Marketo, Pardot, HubSpot, etc.), customer data platform (Klaviyo, Segment, Adobe Experience Platform, etc.). Finally, in more advanced organizations, your developers may leverage a cloud provider’s (AWS Personalize, Google Recommender, etc.) service that uses your data to train customizable recommendation models deployed across the enterprise’s digital ecosystem. The key takeaway is that great data improves the outcomes of your personalization efforts, but you still need a place to activate that data to see the results.
So we’re starting to see this recipe take place, get comprehensive data about your audience, and a way to activate the items you want to personalize – but all of that fails unless you have well-thought-out content to show your viewers to improve their user experience. That’s not to say your investment has to match the estimated $18 billion that Netflix is forecasted to spend in 2022 on content, but it is an investment that you must plan for.
You’ll need a team to craft the messages, design the imagery, segment the audiences, create the trigger events and workflows, analyze the data, and optimize your efforts over time. It’s not always easy to do this at scale. In fact, that’s why only a slim majority of businesses (51%) are conducting personalization experiments, according to The State of Digital Customer Experience – 2023 Edition from CMSWire Insights. Many organizations often seek help with this through the use of an agency or other partner to tackle some of the more complex aspects of personalized content development.
Your Personalized Recipe for Success
Great personalization starts with a clear understanding of your goals and desired outcomes. As Netflix states, “These recommendations, organized for efficient browsing, enable users to discover the next great video to watch and enjoy without additional input or an explicit expression of their intents or goals.” The goal is simple – to keep users engaged with their product for as long as possible so that they don’t cancel their subscription. Your goals may differ, but the outcomes are similar – to keep your users attention so that they buy from you.
So, before you stop reading this article and head back to binge-watch the shows recommended to you after you finish up Inventing Anna, Ozark, or Stranger Things; here is a quick recipe to help guide your plans for implementing Netflix-style personalization to your brand’s website.
Collect as much first-party data as possible about your customers, while still respecting their privacy.
Fill in the gaps in your data with a trusted data provider to help you better understand your customers, their motivations, desires, likes and dislikes, fears, and other factors that will influence their purchase decisions about your brand.
Organize all of that data in a useful way that can account for ongoing changes over time as each consumer’s circumstances change and they move in- and out-of-market for any particular good or service. You need to be able to segment and analyze the data in economically efficient ways too - not just take a boil the ocean approach for every query you try to run. A lake house that can segment your data into specific subsets for faster analysis is typically the best approach to give you the flexibility you need to respond to changes in consumer behavior or market conditions.
Choose the right activation platform that matches your business needs and team’s skills and that can easily integrate your data in real-time.
Don’t make this an academic experiment! Personalization is just as much art as it is science. Yes, there’s a lot of technical expertise required, but you also need the creative side to maximize the value you derive from these investments.
Seek help from trusted advisors and experienced professionals who can help you implemented these strategies.
Now, go and entertain the world!
Director of Marketing
I’m a marketing nerd, a blend of hands-on technical skills with practical real-world sales and marketing experience. I’m the go-to guy that gets things done – especially for your CRM, websites, or automation systems. I’ve spent the last seven years working across software companies in the CMS, CPQ, and data management space.
Outside of work, I’m an avid boater and scuba diver, a fan of smoked brisket, the Tennessee Titans, cornhole, darts, and golf. Always happy to have a conversation and offer quick pearls of wisdom to help you with your problems. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.