Taboola buys Commerce Sciences to tweak sites with “Amazon-style” personalization | TechCrunch

“Now, every publisher can become an Amazon!” Adam Singolda, the CEO and founder of Taboola, told me in an interview.


My Thoughts: Yeah, it’s as simple as that. Just sign up and you’ll be just like Amazon… These businesses and their bravado scare me.

Source: Taboola buys Commerce Sciences to tweak sites with “Amazon-style” personalization | TechCrunch

This Vodka Used Facebook Live to Wish Happy Holidays to Every Single Icelander by Name | Adweek

My thoughts: First off, this is some pretty crazy personalization. Also, I find it fascinating that Iceland has a “name approval process.” Apparently anyone native-born in Iceland must have a name that conforms to the country’s language and culture? Crazy.

Talk about ambition: Reyka Vodka has decided to use Facebook Live to wish every single resident of Iceland Gleðilega hátíð, or “Happy holidays.”  Iceland isn’t a big country, but it does count over 320,000 residents—making this quite a job for Frikki, the man who’s been appointed to do it.

Source: This Vodka Used Facebook Live to Wish Happy Holidays to Every Single Icelander by Name | Adweek

Balancing Personalization and Consistency

I’m down in Philadelphia at the annual Monetate Summit for a few days, and while I’m here I’m obviously immersed in the world of personalization. There are quite a few great conversations going on here, with lots of great ideas being tossed about – and it’s doing a great job of getting my neurons firing about how I can better work towards a personalized experience with Musicnotes. Not anything particularly new per se, but still it’s already gotten me to reinvigorate a few projects that had stalled.

One item that has come up several times here that I still haven’t been able to pull the trigger on, even though it sounds great in theory, is the idea of manipulating site navigation so that it adapts to a user’s preferences or behavior. The example I give for this would be if you are a sporting goods site, if you usually have “baseball” as a main category in your navigation, but based on customer preferences or shopping behavior, you can assume they play hockey, should you change out that link from “baseball” to “hockey” in the main navigation?

I’ve heard it argued that yes, you definitely should, as it’s a service to the customer to give them quick and easy access to the category they have shown a propensity toward – plus you’re removing “noise” of a category the customer may not be interested in. I can definitely see this being useful, and can understand the argument (and in fact have made the same argument myself), but I still keep coming back to the final decision that it is not a smart move.

By keeping navigation elements static we can bring about  sense of ease and familiarity with the site that helps the customer remain comfortable shopping there.

My reasoning for why I still haven’t pulled the trigger here is this: site navigation is one of the few areas of a site that remains throughout a shopping experience. It’s part of the header (or sidebar) and frames the rest of the experience. Yes, it is an important tool in helping the customer to find where they want to go and to take them there, but it also acts as a kind of “landmark” for the customer as well. By keeping navigation elements static we can bring about  sense of ease and familiarity with the site that helps the customer remain comfortable shopping there.

… the “Who Moved My Cheese?” effect.

One thing you might have noticed if you do any site experience tests is that oftentimes when you make a change on your website you’ll see an immediate impact which will fade out and level off in a short amount of time. What you’ll often see, if you dig deeper, is that this impact can be more noticeable for existing, regular customers than for new customers. Mostly this is due to the fact that regular customers already know your site and the experience and how everything works, and when you change things, they can get lost as they regain their bearings (think of this as the “who moved my cheese?” effect). New or infrequent customers will have a lesser impact spike as there isn’t anything to compare against other than your other experiences – there is no learned behavior that you are asking them to adjust or unlearn.

This is where I run into the problems with changing navigation. Even if your navigation isn’t particularly well-suited for some of your smaller segments of customers, forcing them to dive deeper into the site to get where they want to go, at least they know how to get there. (For new customers, you probably don’t even know enough about them to even make a good decision as to how to change their navigation, since they are new and unknown). Everything is in relation to somewhere else on the site, and as customers use the site they learn where it is. Kind of like how you know exactly where on your desk that certain letter is, even if no one else can find it – since you put it there, you’ve taught yourself where it is by your own previous knowledge.

Then again, maybe people can adapt to changes, and by having a constantly adjusting site navigation experience that always does its best to put relevant navigational links in front of customers you end up with a better overall experience. The question is, where do people go to look for what you hid on them? What happens if I normally shop for my son, and he loves baseball, but I was just last week shopping for a new set of hockey skates for my niece … and now I’m back on the site looking for more baseball? If my behavior has caused the site to replace my usual quick access to baseball with hockey, will I be frustrated that I can’t easily find my baseball area any more? If the category is buried too deep and the navigation can’t get me back to where I feel comfortable, will I abandon?

As I said, it’s an area where I can see the arguments both ways – and so far I’ve stuck with the more conservative approach. I can see how a constantly morphing experience can always treat the customer with the right content at the right time, but  does this attempt at personalization end up disorienting the customer?

Sure there are baby steps you can take, like “quick links” to category pages, etc. – but I’m more curious as to what happens if you go all-in and adjust the navigation completely depending on who your customer is. Will they be better off? Or just confused?

… what happens when they call customer service and the support team can’t guide them through the site …

Even worse, what happens when they call customer service and the support team can’t guide them through the site because the customer’s experience is completely different from what the support staff sees? If there are no anchors or landmarks, how does one get his or her bearings?

After this week, I’m thinking of giving it a go on my own – as I’ve definitely heard some good arguments for it, so much so that they might outweigh the possible negatives. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to take the safe route and test.

If you’ve done anything in this area, I’d love to hear from you. How have you modified your site experience to adapt to customer behavior on-the-fly?


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.

The First Step in Personalization? Selective Exclusion. (a.k.a Hiding)

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be in Orlando for the 2nd Annual eTail Connect conference. Last year’s event was a great one, and I had some fantastic discussions with other people in e-commerce, and to say I’m looking forward to this year’s event would be an understatement.

As the date nears though, I’m starting to get my thoughts together for the panel I’ll be participating in: ‘Walking The Line Between Personalized And Intrusive – Mission Impossible?’ It’s a pretty straightforward question, but it’s one definitely worth discussing, especially as we as marketers try our best to provide customers with an optimal experience, but without moving into the “creep factor” realm.

In my opinion, there’s one simple way to take a step toward personalization without ever risking going there. That’s through what I call “selective exclusion.” Basically, that means a form of personalization where you don’t particularly provide content specifically chosen for a specific user or group, but instead you use the knowledge you have of the customer to get rid of noise or otherwise unimportant information. In other words, use what you know to give customers less of what doesn’t matter.

Here’s a simple example of what I’m talking about.

Let’s say a band like Beyoncé puts a new album out, and Musicnotes has all the sheet music for the album. It’s something big and I’d want to promote it heavily … but I also know that I have a large segment of users who only play classical music. Their preferences state they only play classical. Their buying behavior also only shows classical. So you have a few options.

  1. You could promote the Beyoncé music to everyone, even the group of people who only like classical.
  2. You could selectively target the content to only show up to people who like similar genres to Beyoncé.
  3. You could just not promote it at all because you don’t want to annoy your group of classical musicians.
  4. You could add a promotion to the site for Beyoncé, but simply hide the promotion (or use default content) for the classical customer.

Of course, #4 in this list is the solution that I am recommending in this scenario, through my concept of “selective exclusion.”  The point being, you may not have something in particular to promote to your classical customers, but instead of showing this Beyoncé promotion to them and diluting the value of your page by presenting them with messaging that is of little value to them, you can just skip it altogether.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something worth keeping in mind. In my experience, the more “noise” you put in front of a customer, the less likely they are to be able to complete what they came there for in the first place. Even worse, if you continue to put irrelevant content in front of them they may start to think that is the only content or products you offer, and soon start to find a place that specializes in the kind of product they look for.

Of course, in a perfect world we’d always present every customer great products and content that are specifically matched to them. But that takes resources – resources many of us may not have available (or that simply aren’t cost-effective). Yes, there are many tools out there that make this easier, like Monetate or Adobe Target – but they still require us to make decisions and the promotional materials … and that doesn’t even start to address the amount of variations you could get into at a true 1:1 level of personalization.

What’s most important is that you don’t send your customers on wild goose chases or distract them with information that you know will be irrelevant. Instead of thinking of personalization in simple logic terms of “If customer is X, then promote Y” think “If customer is not X, then don’t promote Y.”  It allows you then to easily handle the instances where “if customer is everything but X” much more easily.

Just remember, if it’s not relevant. Keep it hidden. Not every customer needs something special just for them, but every customer does need you to know when it’s best to say nothing at all.