Personalisation: It’s time to walk the walk

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.

Ian Crawford is a digital strategist at Equator.

Personalisation has been around for what feels like an age, yet the vast majority of sites are still designed in a generic manner with the same content for everyone, forcing the user to sift for content relevant to them rather than presenting a tailored selection based on personal factors such as their viewing history, age and location.

Over time, and with systems like Sitecore, we’ll get to the point where the majority of sites are adapting based on all the relevant data that’s available rather than just one or two pieces of information.

Understandably, this raises concerns regarding privacy and permission, like the oft-cited example of Target, whose use of purchase history meant they were aware a teen girl was pregnant before her father. One baby-related mailer later and the cat was out of the bag!

As companies start to end up with a Single Customer View (SCV), it allows them to infer a lot but also cross boundaries. Generally speaking, this is most commonly discussed from an organisation’s point of view but what if we pass control of everything to the user?

This essentially comes down to ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ personalisation. Implicit personalisation takes a user’s past behaviour and characteristics to provide content a webmaster thinks will be relevant to them whereas explicit personalisation puts that choice in the user’s hands. There are pros and cons to each approach but generally speaking, it makes sense to let the user control this as much as they choose to.

By doing that, we are helping users to understand how and why they are seeing certain things and also allowing them to correct what we think we know of their characteristics and preferences, especially when people are using shared devices.

Users in control

Google’s MyActivity is now part of the account settings, allowing users to review everything that Google has tracked from search, YouTube, Chrome, Android and the rest then edit or delete it should they want to. This is an example of a potential move towards giving users further control but what if we make sure users can have complete control?

For example, I have all my main information held in once place, control my own ID and my browser has access to it. This could be a universal profile including: my name, my date of birth, my interests, the industry I work in, what types of things I buy and on and on.

Whatever I’m happy to share.

I’m then in a position to grant access to certain brands/sites and they can tailor what they show me based on this information or I can chose to withhold it from them.

When a site knows who is visiting it and what their preferences and interests are, it can then show me only the most relevant content, improving my experience. Since I have control over sharing that information, there’s no longer a need for the developers to try and walk the tightrope between personalised versus intrusive, which is different for every user anyway.

AI unlocks unlimited personalisation

Let’s take it a stage further. What happens if a site could change itself?

Imagine a site that’s doing multivariate testing every single time someone visits it. A site that tailors itself based on how it’s being used and adjusts content, navigation, layout, format etc. to better achieve defined organisational goals.

In this case, there’s no right or wrong “solution” that everyone sees. Instead, we’d all see something different based on the information that we provide: what we originally searched/asked for, what our universal profile says about us and how similar people to us used the site.

If 1000 people are visiting the site simultaneously then they could all be viewing something entirely different and personal to them.

In human interactions, we are often asked exactly the same question (e.g. “how are you?”) by our spouse, boss or old school friend and we give an entirely different response based on our knowledge of the asker and what information will be of interest. Why should a website be any different?

In conclusion, users could have more control of their data on a browser level and also be given more direct influence over what data they share, thereby getting a better level of personalisation.

Secondly, once AI begins to take hold, we can probably expect sites that look completely different for everyone who visits them, constantly test themselves to improve their efficiency and of course, the usual unpredictable consequences that AI tends to bring.

Ian Crawford is a digital strategist with Equator

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