True personalization in five steps

Chris Baldwin

Dec 7, 2021

True personalization in five steps Featured Image
Chris Baldwin

Dec 7, 2021

For marketers, personalizing the customer journey has been a hot topic for nearly a decade. Many companies have talked about it and strategize for it, but in practice, we still only see limited use of personalization. It is mostly limited to name recognition and product recommendations on the website and maybe one or two other channels. Why is this and how can we achieve a truly effective and personalized customer journey?

Table of Contents
  1. Collecting, managing, and making data actionable

  2. Tech stacks and an action layer

  3. Personalization of all aspects

  4. Personalization from an early stage

  5. The five steps to personalization

  6. Continuous testing and optimization for success

When we talk about personalization, we usually refer to customer-specific product recommendations, an email campaign by name or customer interest. But how do we get from there to true personalization that can really impact? Understanding customer behavior and their specific needs and providing a consistent experience and message, irrespective of the customer’s preferred channel can  still be a big challenge for many organizations.

Collecting, managing, and making data actionable

We need actionable data to create a personalized experience. About ten years ago, marketers started to collect and use data en masse. Data was seen as the new digital gold, and Data Management Platforms (DMPs) popped up. A CRM system became the basis for building a 360-degree customer perspective, often marketing automation focused exclusively on email, and DMPs used third-party cookies to buy media and activate anonymous visitors. 

The demand from marketers has since evolved: we want to understand where in the customer journey a consumer is, understand their behavior and respond accordingly. Those who have considered this, have probably also explored the various tech solutions that have been devised for this purpose. A Customer Data Platform solves part of the problem of gaining insight, but making data actionable remains a challenge. The result is a jumble of tech stacks and siloed data. 

Tech stacks and an action layer

Often, coherence is missing due to fragmented tech stacks, making consistent personalization more challenging across the customer journey. Yet now, Gartner research shows that marketers are  in search of a single solution.

In addition, we often see that tech stacks are predominantly used for structuring data or to determine media deployment. However,  a good action layer, that actually uses data to realize impact across all channels, is indispensable. Often, current tech stacks incur significant costs, making testing, experimenting and personalizing expensive. Instead, you create space for improvement: once you can test various campaigns, you can optimize more readily. 

Personalization of all aspects

Personalization goes far beyond product recommendations based on needs. Create a 360-degree customer view, based on all your consumers’ data. Think of an online pet shop that only shows dog products and gives dog advice because they know a customer has a dog. All aspects including products, content and ads  are tailored to that specific need, to better enhance the customer experience responsively. By advising the customer on the right topic and communicating at the right time, you garner long-term trust.

Furthermore, proactive and personalized communication via external (sometimes new) channels is becoming increasingly significant. Consumers use multiple messaging channels, and about two-thirds of them also use such messaging apps to communicate with companies. So, it’s time to include these channels in  your marketing campaigns. Think of Web Push, App Push, WhatsApp, SMS or even basic email. Presence on all messaging channels for a consistent overall user experience is essential. In doing so, you boost customer loyalty and your most critical eCommerce metrics.

Personalization from an early stage

Marketers might believe that you can only apply personalization once a consumer has purchased something or logged onto an account. But in truth, you can begin personalizing earlier in the funnel. Every click gives you information about each customer’s needs. Someone who clicks on ‘rabbit products’ on an online pet shop, likely doesn’t want advice on preventing fleas in dogs. And those who often look at puppy products, but haven’t bought anything yet, might be thinking about getting a dog. You want to know how the consumer evolves. 

As such, the total customer lifetime value of this visitor is high. But before the puppy is born or acquired, they would have no need for dog food or a basket.  The dog grows up and it will need different foods, chew toys, or a longer leash. If you can appreciate these developing needs and can support the consumer during their entire journey with their furrever friend, you can establish a long-term relationship. 

The five steps to true personalization

Why is personalization significant throughout your customer journey? Because each consumer invests themselves into their purchase journey and expects the same from you.  An average consumer spends 3 months doing online research before buying a car. They conduct 152 online searches before booking our summer holidays. And replenishment purchases of lenses, diapers and our groceries also explain how we are all unique, but also predictable. Easily build a personalized roadmap for each customer with these five steps.

1. Start with onsite personalization

Using first party data and customer segments will directly impact your most essential eCommerce metrics: conversion, average purchase value, lead generation or time-on-site. Ensure a compounded stacking effect in several iterations.

2. Arrange your messaging channels properly

This goes beyond email: consumers are on different devices and channels. To reach them properly and effectively, it is important to use channels such as WhatsApp, Web Push, App Push and SMS.

3. Link with your existing data sources

Link with existing sources, such as your Point of Sales data, your CRM data and CDP data. This is a big step towards a 1-to-1 personalized website based on historical data.

4. Design your customer journeys

With all this information, design your customer journeys in such a way that you are there when your customer needs you. Can you predict that they are almost running out of dog food? You might want to reach out.

5. Use AI and ML for maximum personalization

Finally, use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models to get even deeper insights into customer behavior and needs. Test personalizations based on look-a-like and predictive information and determine which works best.

Continuous testing and optimization for success

If, thanks to data, you can become close with the customer and anticipate exactly what they need and when they need it – sometimes even before they realize it themselves – you’ll have the biggest impact on the KPIs. Continuously measuring the added value of tests, personalizations, customer journeys, and campaigns is indispensable. And thus, so is the ability to easily set up, test, and scale campaigns.


Chris is an award-winning marketing leader with more than 12 years experience in the marketing and customer experience space. As VP of Marketing, Brand and Communications, Chris is responsible for Insider's brand strategy, and overseeing the global marketing team. Fun fact: Chris recently attended a clay-making workshop to make his own coffee cup…let's just say that he shouldn't give up the day job just yet.