Identifying barriers to personalisation

Only 12 per cent of organisations feel they’re mastering personalisation. So how can businesses identify challenges holding them back and overcome the difficulties?

This post is published in association with Sitecore.

“Personalisation will no longer be a nice to have, but an essential aspect of all marketing strategies. When done well, it boosts sales, builds brand trust and really appeals to customers; they increasingly expect it,” says Paul Cowan, vice president of enterprise and small and medium-sized business marketing at Shutterstock.

Yet research from Sitecore’s Global Trends in Personalisation, published in August 2019, shows that when it comes to digital experience personalisation, only 12 per cent rate their organisations as “masters” – delivering comprehensive, dynamic and advanced personalisation – and just over half (54 per cent) as “experts” – delivering robust levels of personalisation. The appetite is there, but the challenges are numerous.

Ben Rickard, chief digital and data officer at MediaCom UK, says: “Lots of organisations talk a good game, but it is still quite early days. The best examples are those who are investing in people, processes and technology, and not just technology.”

Of course, technology is critical to personalisation. Sitecore’s research shows that marketing leaders and C‑level executives are currently investing the most money in data and analytics (41 per cent) and technology platforms (36 per cent) to fuel their personalisation initiatives. It is also an area earmarked for significant budget increases. Companies need a technology platform capable of processing a large volume of data to deliver highly relevant content, one of the keys to personalisation, and realise an enhanced customer experience.

But to extract insights from existing data, companies must first ensure data is consolidated. As Paige O’Neill, chief marketing officer at Sitecore, says: “If I am trying to deliver a personalised experience and my customer support data isn’t integrated with my marketing data, I am probably missing the mark; the customer might be a repeat purchaser who has called the customer support line four times in the last six months. If you’re missing key datapoints, how can you drive personalised experiences?”

Own the customer

Mr Rickard agrees, adding that a problem MediaCom often sees is the customer is split across too many parts of the company. “Organisations need a department such as marketing to own the customer and to start to pull the data together, not just in terms of communications, but product ownership, lifetime value, preferences and touchpoints, for example. Bringing that together starts to enable companies to achieve things like next-best action, with a slightly personalised twist on messaging.”

It means getting the internal processes right, an area 34 per cent of respondents in Sitecore’s research cited as a barrier to personalisation.

As Ms O’Neill says, data must be treated as a team sport and not just the responsibility of the marketing team. “Make sure you have key people involved from all the relevant teams where data is needed to deliver personalisation,” she says. “Do you have the right datasets to drive those priorities and what are the barriers preventing data from being integrated?”

Starting small and addressing such barriers for minor projects is key to being able to scale personalisation in the long run. Mr Rickard says this is another common mistake made by organisations: obsessing about personalisation at scale. “The trick with personalisation is to do amazing things and make sure you delight the customer, even if it is a very manual process to start with,” he says. “Once you know it works, then identify the best way to leverage technology to scale it. But get it right first.”

Mr Cowan is also an advocate of keeping things simple. One approach Shutterstock takes is to simply ask the customer who they are and what they are looking to do, before routing them to the appropriate experience based on their objective at that time. He says: “Organisations often have grand dreams to automate everything in marketing, but it comes at the cost of budget and time. Sometimes the simplest approaches work best.”

Indeed, Sitecore’s research shows that 40 per cent of respondents cited lack of budget as a significant barrier to enhanced personalisation. Starting small is infinitely more achievable.

Be agile

Shutterstock has implemented an agile approach to its demand marketing which gives it the ability to test ideas continually. It is a process that works. “When we need to make a big bet, we have validation that our approaches will work. Working in small, iterative, two-week sprints helps de-risk a lot of our content activity and gives us a very quantifiable testbed of understanding what our clients and customers are actually responding to. This data is vital when it comes to personalisation,” says Mr Cowan.

Once the technology and processes are right, people are the final, and crucial, part of the jigsaw puzzle. Ms O’Neill says: “Organisations must have people on board who understand how to get the most out of the technology investment from a feature-function standpoint, and how to use that technology and build it out. They must also understand how to set up the processes in a way that makes sense for the business and then be poised to derive insights which will be used to make decisions.”

It is not uncommon for companies to invest substantial amounts of money in technology stacks only to fail to realise the benefits due to lack of skills. “The technology often has the capability to achieve an organisation’s personalisation goals, but it requires certain types of people to run those platforms and understand them, as well as skills that bridge marketing and data,” says Mr Rickard.

Progress is slower than many organisations would like, but the desire to achieve more sophisticated personalisation is clear. Sitecore’s research shows that 85 per cent cite it as an important facet of their marketing system, while 35 per cent see personalisation as a major competitive advantage.

This advantage will grow as technology advances, in particular artificial intelligence (AI), which promises to solve some of the challenges facing marketers. But Ms O’Neill warns that it isn’t a panacea. “AI won’t take away the hard work that has to be done to get technology platforms, processes and people in line to achieve personalisation,” she says.

“But once those are in place, being able to automate some of the more mundane aspects behind personalisation, such as content tagging and even some customer interactions, will elevate personalisation over the coming year or two.”

Mr Rickard adds: “Everyone wants to use AI, but you can’t use AI without data.” Capturing, consolidating and leveraging data relies on getting people, processes and technology aligned, with each one reliant on the other.

Read The Trends in Personalization report to find out more.

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