Putting the Person in Personalization
In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, Act-On CMO Michelle Huff interviews Andy Zimmerman, CMO of Evergage about the state of personalization on company websites and web applications.
In their conversation, Michelle and Andy talk about how B2B companies are implementing personalization. Andy also shares some examples of personalization being utilized throughout the website and tells how companies can get started on personalizing their own sites.
Enjoy the conversation, and we hope you can get one or two takeaways that you can bring to your business.
Michelle Huff: Can you tell us more about Evergage?
Andy Zimmerman: We provide a platform that helps companies personalize the digital experiences for each of their website visitors or their logged-in users, based on who they are and what they do. Companies use this to improve engagement, boost their conversions, and improve customer loyalty.
Michelle: Where do you find the state of personalization today? And where do you really see it going in the next five years?
Andy: One thing we like to say is we’re putting the “person” back in “personalization.” The technology has actually caught up to what people dreamed about 25 years ago. And you didn’t have the cloud infrastructure, the speed, the connectivity, the ubiquity of devices, and the processing power then. So, the combination of factors has led us to the point where we truly can make it an experience unique for each person throughout your digital channels.
In the B2C world, it’s definitely more mature. It’s still not a mature technology, but there’s certainly much greater adoption in the B2C world, particularly for e-commerce sites. And B2B companies are quickly catching up. And I’d say this is a technology that is approaching a mainstream technology, but has a way to go. It’s probably about where we were with marketing automation maybe five years ago.
Michelle: I remember the first time when we got to send a “Hello, [insert name]” message. Everyone was like: “High five! It’s personalized!”
Andy: Yeah, and not everyone is doing that. But the vast majority of people, and particularly email marketers, are doing at least that. And people view that as personalization. And it is. It’s a basic form of personalization. But where we’re entering now is completely tailored experiences, completely tailored headlines, images, offers, all based on who that person is.
And so as far as the state of personalization, we do an annual study with Researchscape International, a research firm. And this year, results were really quite compelling. Ninety-six percent of marketers surveyed said that they believe personalization helps advance customer relationships. So the vast, vast majority are saying that it’s valuable, it works. And, interestingly, they also said that their customers now actually expect it. So about 88 percent believe their customers expect personalized experiences.
The services we all use as consumers – like Amazon, and Netflix, and Spotify – they’ve all conditioned us to expect a personalized experience. And that’s very prevalent and becoming even more prevalent with B2C sites.
Michelle: What are you seeing other B2B companies doing to adopt personalization? Are they focusing on a few key things? What are some examples of how they’re trying to become better personalized like B2C brands?
Andy: I’ll give you a bunch of examples. It’s interesting; we think in some sense that maybe the B2C companies are ahead. But it really depends on the needs. Because B2C companies that have an e-commerce environment, they’re trying to drive transactions on the website. So, the website plays such a critical role in the business. They’ve always been very forward-looking in terms of optimizing the site, in terms of things like AB testing, and optimization, conversion rate optimization, and personalization, and recommendations, recommended offers, and products. Because that’s the life blood of a B2C site.
B2B companies, interestingly, are more sophisticated in other regards, such as marketing automation, and nurture campaigns, and nurture tracks, and logic for sending people down different paths with nurturing. B2C companies are definitely behind B2B companies. They’ve done a lot of high-volume email, but don’t have a lot of sophistication in terms of the different segments that they’re directing emails to. It’s: “Did you buy something? Well, buy something else.”
So, it depends. It depends on the needs. But I would say, when it comes to personalization, B2C companies have done sophisticated things and they keep advancing. And B2B companies are able to learn from that. They can kind of jump ahead of the five or eight years of B2C companies, the slogging that they did to get to where they are with personalization. B2B companies can rocket right to the front and have really great experiences.
I’ll give you a few examples. We have a client, Sky High Networks. And it’s a cloud security company. And they do a seemingly fairly basic thing, but it’s been really effective. Based on the industry that someone is in, they have a different home page experience. So, it’s a different image, a different headline, a different call to action, different eBooks that are promoted. And they’re doing that based on a look-up to the IP address. So, an IP look-up. And based on that, it’s able to identify the company. And once you have the company, you can get other firmographic data like industry, company size, geography, headquarter location, etc.
So, they’re doing it based on industry. And a lot of tech companies sell to multiple verticals. And most of us say, “Well, you come to the home page, we present you with the same experience as everyone else.” But, if we know your industry, then wouldn’t it make sense that we talk about examples and applications of the technology for that particular industry? And they’ve seen a lift ‒ anywhere from 28 percent with some segments, all the way to 53 percent for certain verticals ‒ of people who will eventually convert. And that’s the key thing. They’re going after a conversion obviously in a B2B site. It’s not a purchase; it’s generally a lead, someone who submits a form. And they’ve seen a really nice lift just by tailoring their experiences by industry.
Interestingly, the IP look-up is not always foolproof. You don’t always know. If you’re coming into a website from Starbucks, or on your mobile device, or from home, it may not be able to detect your company. You’ve got to look at other factors to figure out the industry. You might give them the generic experience. But once they spend time looking at certain blog articles or downloading certain content that is related to a specific industry, then you can say, “Hmm, let’s deduce from their behavior that this is the industry that’s most relevant to them, so that, in future visits to that home page or other pages, we can tailor it to their industry.” So that’s another sort of technique. ‘Cause a lot of people will say, “Well, you can’t always get that information.” So, there are other ways to deduce the industry.
Michelle: That’s very clever, right, because oftentimes the data is a good starting point, but it’s never perfect?
Andy: Exactly. Another example is taking that industry data and putting offers in very prominent locations. And I like this example: It’s a company called Mendix, which is a platform-as-a-service company. And in their nav menu, as you drop down and navigate, they’re going to present a relevant eBook based on your industry. And they’ll have a button, like a call to action, based on your industry, so you can explore more. So, they’re putting it right into the nav, because a lot of people come to the home page. But the nav is prevalent throughout the site. So, if you know someone’s industry, and you think this is a relevant asset, promote it there.
And, guess what? If they’ve already downloaded that asset, well, you should track that and know to present them with the next most relevant thing. So that kind of comes to this notion of nurturing on the site. We often talk about nurturing an email. But there’s also this concept of nurturing people while they’re on the site, giving them relevant pieces of information, and, as they consume it, advancing them to the next most logical thing in a journey.
Michelle: With all the different people you talk to and customers, are there differences in industry? Some of the people that are listening online ‒ are there industries that tend to be a little bit more innovative with personalization? Do you think that there’s going to be a next wave? Are you talking to somebody and thinking, “Wow, these industries really are starting to use something”? And maybe people who are listening, if they’re not thinking about it, maybe they should.
Andy: Yeah. Tech is a big one. And tech is mostly B2B, but certainly plenty of B2C. And some tech that’s SMB and e-commerce and a blend. So, we certainly see a lot of pick up in the tech industry. Retail is certainly a very active adopter of personalization technology. That again is predominantly B2C, but then you also have B2 small B. And then we’ve seen some B2B commerce, so wholesalers, or distribution, or manufacturers that are selling to other companies that have an online purchase ability is certainly an application. And I know we share a couple customers with Act-On that are using it in that regard. But the traditional B2B for lead generation, but also B2B for e-commerce transactions.
Financial services is certainly getting on the bandwagon. They recognize that they have a ton of really valuable data. They tend to be very sensitive about which data they can use and can’t use. But as long as you stay in compliance with privacy regulations, then you can absolutely use quite a lot of information, particularly around your visitors to your site and their anonymous behavior, to tailor those experiences and get them to talk to an agent, or open an account, or use a tool or planning calculator, things like that.
And the other industries we see … travel is commonly using it. Also media and entertainment, like gaming sites or articles. Interestingly, as an aside, more and more companies in general are becoming publishers. So, even if you’re not a traditional media company, we as B2B marketers are frequently publishing a lot of content ‒ eBooks, blogs, and webinars, and all kinds of rich content. So, we have to operate like media companies. And the goal is to get people to engage in more content. If they’re consuming one article, how do you get ‘em to read another article, how do you get ‘em to download an ebook or explore deeper into the site?
And using algorithmic personalization is super valuable for that. And when we talk about where personalization is going, it’s toward more machine learning and AI-driven experiences, rather than a rule that says: If they’re this person, show ‘em that; that’s good. But you can’t do that at a one-to-one level for hundreds of thousands or even millions of visitors. You have to let the machine-learning apply the appropriate algorithms to figure out what would be most relevant for Michelle: “Michelle has downloaded these things before. She’s shown an interest in this particular topic. What would be the next most relevant asset to present to her that she hasn’t yet consumed to advance her journey?” And that’s really where personalization is going. And that’s pretty exciting.
Product companies have been doing this for a long time. But as publishers of content, we all have to be thinking about that. How do we recommend, how do we algorithmically engage people with appropriate content? That’s kind of exciting.
Michelle: Wherever they’re at in their journey with personalization, what should companies be thinking about and maybe implementing today to really start to take advantage of some of these trends?
Andy: I have a few thoughts on that. And one thing I’ll say is that it’s not as hard as people might think. It can sound challenging, as you said. But it’s actually going to make your life easier. And there’s no question it will drive the results you’re looking for. And the place to start, as you’d expect with any campaign, is: What are you trying to get out of it? What are your goals? And with a lot of B2B sites, it’s about demand generation, or ABM benefits, or getting more conversions, or getting specifically more conversions from your target accounts. Or just genuinely giving them a better experience so that they have a better perspective of your brand and engage with your content seamlessly and more frequently.
Like anything, what are the low hanging fruit? What are the places that are most visited? For example, we get tons of visits generally to our home page. We usually get a lot of traffic into the blog from search. If we’ve got blog content, we may have landing pages. And we want to get more conversions on those landing pages. So, where are those key entry points where we have good volume and have the greatest opportunity to drive those goals and generally get more conversions and engagement?
And then think about: What are some basic campaigns? And I recommend people draw some inspiration from examples. We provide a lot of examples on our site. You don’t have to just guess and hope, but you can say, “Oh, home page experience that is tailored by industry works. There’s plenty of evidence of that and plenty of examples. So, let me start there. Let me try and start with a segment-based campaign that says, for my key industries, if I identify people in those industries, let me alter the home page a bit, and we’ll run a test or two, and see if that’s giving us the increase in conversions we expect.”
And then you go from there. I think that’s a very healthy way to start. Pick a few target campaigns and low-hanging fruit, and prove the value, and then also develop the skills for conception as well as execution of these campaigns. The good news is a lot of the same people who are running email marketing and website marketing, they already have the right skills. They can also do personalization campaigns. So, a lot of the thinking around project management, campaign execution, testing, and iteration already generally exist in organizations.
If you don’t have a CMS, that would be a first place to start. Some organizations don’t yet have a content-management system. This would really build on that. So that would be an important prerequisite in most cases. But that’s hopefully some ideas on how to get into it.
Michelle: How does anyone learn more about Evergage?
Andy: Visit evergage.com. If you go to evergage.com/resources, we have a resources area that has lots of inspirational content, eBooks, videos. And, in fact, we’re doing a lot of personalization on the site. So, as you’re exploring the site, keep an eye out for little personalized-for-you messages, little pop-up messages, that’ll explain what’s going on. Because we’re obviously in the business, we want people to recognize what’s going on. I certainly encourage you to check that out, and certainly request a demo if you want to dig in deeper.