Going all-in with eCommerce personalization? Consider these 4 things first.

If you’re serious about eCommerce personalization, it needs to be on the top of your list when selecting marketing technology. But what is the best approach to evaluate your options?

“Your MarTech stack is the plumbing required to make personalization work”. Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein, said that at a recent breakfast seminar and he has a point. If your marketing technology platforms and tools don’t work well together, then data can’t flow from one system to another.

But before we get to that, it is worth pointing out that 57 percent of marketing leaders say they want to advance in personalization this year. No wonder: Personalization means using data to serve up content that is tailored, relevant and timely.

Shoppers return to your site because you provide offers that resonate with the individual, anticipate their needs and save them time.

Here are 3 examples of eCommerce personalization in a well-thought-out marketing stack:

1. Sending price drop emails

Price drop emails are personalized with a re-creation of the abandoned product. You send an email in response to the customer’s individual website behavior, triggered by a product change. The email is personalized with content based on what the shopper looked at.

Personalisation Price drop email example

2. One-to-one homepage personalization

You serve banners based on customers’ favorite category. A unique combination of product recommendations is based on crowd sourced data and the individual’s behavior.

3.Customized marketing emails

You send a different kind of newsletter to new customers versus lapsed customers. Content within the email is personalized on a one-to-one basis. For example, with a unique coupon code and AI-based product recommendations.Lapsed customer email template unique coupon

These examples all require coordination between marketing systems. That includes your eCommerce platform, ESP, and Customer Data Platform (CDP). For personalization, you’ll need to access, aggregate and implement the following data, in near real time.

  • Data about the individual customer’s behavior
  • Anonymous data about similar customers’ behavior
  • Data about the customer’s context (e.g. location and time of day)
  • The customer profile
  • Live product information (e.g. live pricing, stock levels and ratings)

A personalization engine collects this data and uses it to populate emails and web pages with relevant content.

Approaches to personalization in your MarTech stack

There are different roads to take towards a full-featured personalization stack.

One option is to invest in a dedicated personalization platform. This requires integration with existing technology, such as your ESP, eCommerce system and CDP.

Another approach is to rely on an all-in-one marketing suite. These platforms aim to wrap your ESP, personalization engine and CDP into one software. In theory, this facilitates personalization and reduces the number of systems involved.

At first glance, there are several reasons you want to consider an all-in-one solution for personalization. We’ll deal with each of these in turn and ask if you might be better served by a best-of-breed approach.

Customer data types for marketing

1. You want a single source of customer data to aid personalization

You want to create a single source of customer data to feed into personalization and other marketing efforts.

An all-in-one suite may seem like a logical way to move towards a 360-degree view of the customer. Perhaps the solution will even perform the role of a Customer Data Platform.

This approach does introduce a few questions that need to be answered, let’s consider the function served by each part of your marketing system.

Marketing software shouldn’t leave you feel locked in

Your ESP, CMS and personalization platform perform specific parts of your marketing strategy. You’ll want to experiment with these tools, mixing functionality until you get the desired results.

You may find you want to change your ESP after two years or try out different personalization options. If you’re using the same system to send emails, personalize content and manage customer data, it’ll be a huge project to migrate everything at once.

This could leave you feeling locked into features you don’t use, and unable to investigate new tools to help you meet your goals.

Single Customer View and your CDP

A Single Customer View (SCV) is a way of cleansing, matching and merging customer data. The aim is to provide a single source of truth for targeted marketing communications.

What does the Customer Data Platform do in this case?

A Customer Data Platform takes the Single Customer View to the next level. It makes the cleansed data available to integrate with your dedicated marketing software. It should be a core system around which other marketing software integrates. You’ll likely want to keep this system in place for many years.

In addition, your Customer Data Platform should be able to integrate seamlessly with any future tools you need to add.

customer-data-platform-illustration

How CDP works to solve the challenge (click for larger image)

The Customer Data Platform Institute offers the following definition of a CDP:
“A Customer Data Platform is packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems
Will your marketing platform be able to deliver all the benefits of a CDP?

“A persistent, unified customer database…”

Many all-in-one marketing platforms are built around an email marketing solution. They typically have an architecture which uses a fixed data model. This means limited ability to link together multiple database tables in a bespoke schema for each client.

For example, a business may have an ERP system, a CRM system and a web analytics system all from different vendors. These will all have their own unique database structure.

You should be able to configure the CDP to handle this structure. It shouldn’t be a process of mapping your data into a structure that the CDP can support.

“…Accessible to other systems”

A true CDP should allow easy, flexible access to all the data of any system held by the client. This is complicated by the complex and custom data structures mentioned above.

Typically, an all-in-one solution doesn’t have the APIs to efficiently and easily permit this kind of access. Clients will end up accessing the individual systems directly, losing the benefits of buying into a CDP.

If your goal is to clean up customer data and facilitate its use in marketing, you may be better off choosing a dedicated Customer Data Platform. This should be able to integrate easily with whichever ESP and personalization platform meet your needs.

2. You want to reduce costs by moving to one system

It might seem less expensive to adopt an all-in-one suite, rather than buying dedicated software to execute each part of your strategy.
Here it is important to consider how costs will play out in the long run.

Ongoing costs of your MarTech systems

All-in-one marketing clouds aim to replace all or most of your marketing functions. Marketers sometimes feel locked into increasing costs, as changing providers would mean replacing the entire marketing infrastructure.

Best-of-breed solutions operate in an open marketplace, with good competition between providers. As it’s relatively easy to switch solutions, vendors are incentivized to keep costs reasonable.

Suite vendors lack this incentive to price new features competitively. Take behaviorally triggered emails as an example. One client needed complex merchandising rules for displaying content in email. The online retailer wanted to only show a product once, even though a number of recommendation blocks were used, as well as frequency caps on content impressions and the ordering of products. They told us that it worked out five times more expensive to add this feature to their all-in-one platform, compared to a dedicated solution.

Integration with current and future technologies

Ask whether integration will be more expensive with the all-in-one software if you want to go outside the platform’s built-in capabilities. Will the platform’s APIs be well developed enough to work with future tech you might adopt?

Coordination marketing systems

Best-of-breed solutions need to be built for integration, so tend to work well with your core technologies – such as your CRM – and other point solutions. A best-of-breed approach frees up marketing teams to experiment with new technologies to meet your business goals.

3. You want to deal with fewer vendors

It’s tempting to rely on your all-in-one platform for everything, including personalization. You’ll only have to deal with one vendor, one invoice and one support team. If something goes wrong, there’s less likely to be finger-pointing between providers.

Yet, users of marketing suites cite lower customer satisfaction than those taking a best of breed approach. According to one vendor satisfaction report, only 53% percent of suite users feel that their feedback and requests are valued. In contrast, 87% of Medium-Enterprise ESP users say their requests are heard.

Find out whether you’ll have access to a dedicated support team to help you make the most out of the software. And consider whether the platform will be flexible enough to keep pace with your needs. Will a larger platform mean longer development cycles for new personalization features?

4. You want to empower your team with one set of tools

A marketing suite could reduce time spent switching between personalization, email and data tools.
By using only one system, you may be sacrificing control over the future direction of your marketing technology. As we’ve seen, it’s difficult to adapt to change when you’re locked into an all-encompassing system.

All-in-one platforms often result from mergers and acquisitions in the MarTech space. And many started out as email service providers. This means that one or more elements of the integrated system might not be best-in-class. You’ll likely need to integrate additional technologies to meet specific needs.

When it comes to personalization, a dedicated platform can open up a range of specialized features. You’d be hard pushed to deliver these through your ESP.

Here are some examples:

Granular, behavior-based segmentation

Suppose you want to send different browse abandonment programs to your customer segments. You can use segmentation based on a mixture of behavioral, customer and product data.

The system will need to collect:

  • Behavioral data (e.g. the category and value of recently browsed products)
  • Customer data (e.g. the shopper’s location and favorite brand)
  • And product data (e.g. live pricing and availability.)
  • The marketer will need to be able to set rules to define which customers get which email program, based on this data.

    The system will then need to identify shoppers who abandon a session, even if they aren’t logged in. Then trigger the appropriate email program within 30 minutes, based on rules the marketer assigned.

    Email service providers may struggle to identify browsers who aren’t logged in, and to perform real-time, behavior-based segmentation.

    personalisation segmentation example

    Example of segmented and personalised email (click for full image)

    Real-time dynamic content

    Marketing suites with a heavy email focus tend to be light on real-time content tools. For personalized images, sophisticated product recommendations, or location-based content, you’ll likely have to add a specialized solution.

    Intelligent product recommendations are a part of most eCommerce marketing strategies. Check whether your vendor can draw from multiple data sources. For example, to mix crowd-sourced recommendations, personalized suggestions, and AI-based rules. And what about serving a different mix of product recommendations to different customer segments?

    You’ll also need to consider the range of channels and the variety of content you want to personalize. For a seamless customer journey, the customized experience should flow through your website, emails and mobile apps. A marketing suite with an email focus may not be the best solution to personalize your website.

    User identification is key to successful e-commerce site personalization. With the right software for onsite personalization, you can identify prospective customers early and throughout their customer journey.

    Initial identification can be through a modal form that doubles as an email capture form. Once the person is identified the software will start adding collected behavioral data about them. The customer behavior can be used to trigger personalized offers and guiding messages throughout the entire customer journey as the user moves between their inbox and your website.

    email onsite personalisation

    Example of a user identification modal and a personalized message at a later stage in the customer journey. (source Triggerbee on site personalisation)

    Parts of your site experience might even adapt while you are using them. In eCommerce, personalization is essential. Help your visitors along through the phases of the customer journey, guiding them to the final conversion destination.

    That’s why a new form of guided selling is an interesting (sales- and) marketing development. Guide your prospect by providing them with personalized information. Show them in a few questions or clicks what product best suits their needs.

    An amazing example of guided selling is the Sephora beauty assistant app, which helps customers choose their makeup items. This experience is close to being in-store and trying out different shades of makeup. So customers can develop a preference (without risk).

    sephora virtual artist personalized experience

    eCommerce marketers are already realizing that one technology is rarely the best choice for all parts of the ecosystem. This is exemplified by the shift to headless commerce.

    Increasingly, brands are using front-end CX technologies to build websites separately from the back end. Marketers are able to build customized eCommerce systems that can quickly adapt to customers’ needs.
    Customized marketing emails

    Choosing the best marketing personalization platform

    Before committing to a software –before even comparing vendors – you’ll need a clear idea of what you want to achieve.

    Consider the tools you’ll need to carry out your marketing strategy now and in the future. Ask whether a single provider can deliver on all of those requirements and decide where you’re willing to compromise.

    Will a “good enough” all-in-one solution really be good enough for your customer data and personalization needs? Will your team feel empowered, or constrained, by wrapping these tools into one system?

    Where best-in-class personalization is concerned, it’s worth considering a best of breed tool for the job.

    Mike Austin

    About Mike Austin


    Mike Austin is the co-founder and CEO at Fresh Relevance. While working at his previous email marketing business, Mike recognised the challenge of data aggregation in the ecommerce space, launching Fresh Relevance in 2013 with co-founders Eddy Swindell and Pete Austin to solve this data need and optimise the customer journey.

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