The magic of personalisation and how to master it

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The magic of personalisation and how to master it

Some websites just seem to know what you want. Sometimes they even know what you want before you’ve told them anything about yourself. It’s as if they know you by magic. That, my friend, is the magic of personalisation and it’s definitely flavour of the month.

The wizardry happens pretty routinely on e-commerce sites. Now, however, personalisation is becoming a ‘must-have’ on information sites too, and for good reason.

Explicit or implicit: what's the difference?

There are two approaches: explicit personalisation and implicit personalisation. The former is old school; you select whether you’re a student or a lecturer, whether you’re interested in in-depth reports or blogs etc, save your preferences and see the relevant content around the site. The latter, mastered by the likes of Amazon, is automated. It's based on your behaviour and is where the magic happens.

Are deep wallets required?

Until now, the only platforms that deliver ‘proper personalisation’ are enterprise level ‘experience management’ products. These are expensive and closed source (boo!), meaning big licence fees. But now, Lab Digital and the global Wagtail community have developed an open source rival to these systems – fully integrated personalisation functionality directly within Wagtail.

You can now create rule-based ‘segments’ directly in this program. You could simply create a mobile segment and a desktop segment and show different content within each. Or, go wild and create multiple segments and combinations of them. The rules could include:

  • what day of the week it is
  • where a user is based
  • what referral link a user came from
  • whether they’ve already visited a particular type of content on the site
  • whether or not they are logged in

You can then create pages or content blocks that serve up different content to each of your user segments.

Don’t jump the gun

This may all be sounding pretty exciting but a word of warning, it can be extremely difficult to deliver personalisation effectively.

  • You might need to produce a lot more content if you are producing variants for different audience groups
  • You’ll need to create segments that make sense now and in the future, so you don’t tangle yourself in an epically complicated web; you need to know your audiences and know what segmentation is practical and worthwhile
  • You need to plan to use it. It’ll take a fairly serious amount of thought and planning for it not to just be a tool that you leave idle in the box

Our recommendation

It’s easy to start simple and build up. Consider calls to action, stop asking people to sign up to newsletters when you should know that they already have. Consider delighters like the Optimizely late night example. Pick the low hanging fruit like location or device based personalisation. And, choose the right platform to enable you to grow into personalisation.

You can, to some extent, choose a ‘future-proof’ content management system (CMS) platform – a ‘framework-based CMS’ (based on a framework like Django or Symfony) that has a full content API. And be sure to get to the bottom of the roadmap for your shortlisted platform (ie does it support enterprise search? Does it have built-in A/B testing? What about personalisation?)

Even if you’re not ready to start implementing fully personalised landing pages on day one after launch, you want to have the flexibility to be able to ‘switch it on’ when you’re ready.

Will Heinemann is digital consultant at digital agency Torchbox.

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