A Simple Start in Personalization: New vs. Returning Customers

The whole concept of “personalization” continues to be a top-of-mind issue for Internet marketers. Of course it’s been a hot topic for a long time (I remember doing speaking engagements on it ten years ago), but with the resurgence of customer “experience” as the current marketing buzzword, it’s taking on an increased level of interest.  I’ll be speaking about personalization on a panel at the upcoming e-Tail Connect conference in Orlando later this month, and the other day I had a call with my other panelists to discuss the topic ahead of time.

The one thing that stood out to me in this discussion was the variations on how people define “personalization.” For some, it’s putting a customer’s name in the email subject line. For others, it can go so far as altering their website’s structure and design to match a specific individual. But no matter how you do define it, the one thing to remember is this: when you “personalize” you are simply adjusting an experience to make it better for the visitor, based on what you know about them.

A big mistake I see people make when looking at personalization is the instinct to approach it in a 1:1 manner, meaning each individual user is treated specifically based on a combination of all their unique attributes. While there’s a lot to be said of what can be done with this method, it does immediately cause two risks: 1.) by trying to do too much, you’ll end up hitting a wall and doing nothing, and 2.) the more detailed your personalization, the more you get into a space of diminishing returns.

My recommendation for anyone starting out with personalization is to start simply. It’s the whole “walk then run” approach, I suppose, but it’s also more than that. It’s also looking at things more simplistically so you don’t miss the larger, easier opportunities at the expense of the minor details.  One of the simplest ways you can personalize the experience though is to determine how you might want to alter the experience for someone who is new to your product or brand, vs. someone who is a returning customer and put them in their own separate buckets.

In order to do this, you need to be able to take a step back and attempt an unbiased look at what your pages look like to someone who’s never heard of you. As you do this, also keep in mind that many of your visitors will not be landing on your home page, so you be sure to look at your analytics and see where new visitors are landing. What is the first impression you’re giving them?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  • What is this company selling?
  • What is their “brand promise” (why should I buy from them)?
  • What do I actually get when I make a purchase?
  • How long does delivery / shipping take?
  • Can I trust this company?

Try to ask questions like these, or others. Better yet, find people who aren’t familiar with you or your brand and do some user testing. Get feedback from them. What questions are coming to them as they land on these different pages?

Just as important here though is the flip-side. For customers who already trust you and buy from you, ask yourself what messaging you can hide. Are customer testimonials on the home page really of value to already existing customers? You’ve already sold them on your brand – should you keep trying to sell them on it? Or would that space be better served by other information (order status, or recommended products, etc.)?

Basically what I’m saying is this: the first steps of personalization can be simple, but they can make a big impact. Start out by looking at segments like new vs. returning customers and see what information or experience is important for one vs. the other and adjust accordingly. Then move on to more minute segments.

And yes, I know this is a pretty simple article and concept – but more and more often I find people are missing out on these simple tactics in search of a big breakthrough of something new. Don’t leave these opportunities on the table, because honestly they’re going to have the biggest immediate impact on your business.

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