Why Retailers Need an Iterative Personalization Strategy (and How to Make it Happen)

By Matthew Limeri

We recently asked a group of marketers what does personalization in retail mean to you?

Not surprisingly, we got a wide variety of answers that all had one, overarching theme: In an ideal world, we would personalize by sending 1:1 messages that are individually curated for each person.

At a high level, this line of thinking makes sense. It gets to the heart of personalization, or something that is truly personal, relevant and meaningful to you as an individual at a given moment in time, as opposed to customization, or something that is relevant to you as part of a larger cohort of people.

But it leaves out something critically important: Personalization is not an end state.

Reframing What it Means to “Achieve Personalization”

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight, and they’ll tell you that the work it takes to reach their goal weight isn’t easy. But once they achieve that goal, they’re not done — they must continue to work to maintain that weight.

Realizing your personalized marketing goals is not that different. That’s because there’s never an end state for personalization. Rather, personalization is something you have to continuously work toward and evolve as you learn more about your customers, as your brand changes, as your competitors change and as the industry grows.

Consider this: What excellent personalization meant a few years ago (a name in the subject line of an email, perhaps) is very different from what we consider excellent personalization today. Going forward, the ideal state of personalization will continue to change as consumers’ expectations of how they should be treated evolve (and likely get more particular).

3 Steps to Build an Iterative Personalization Strategy

Given that personalization isn’t an end state and you need to constantly evolve to maintain a personalized approach, how do you do it? It’s all about building an iterative personalization strategy. Here’s what it takes:

1) Make a commitment to personalization

First and foremost, it might sound obvious, but it’s essential to make a commitment to personalization. Make no mistake about it: Personalized marketing takes work. Getting a personalization engine in place to start takes effort, and once you do have that engine in place, there is always something new to work toward.

As a result, your team — and your broader organization — needs to make a commitment to building a personalization engine and iterating on it over time.

2) Spend your time wisely

Next, you need to devote time to getting personalization right. This might sound obvious — we all know personalization can prove time-intensive — but you shouldn’t be spinning your wheels trying to match content, offers and recommendations to individual customers. Rather, you should build efficient processes around easy-to-use tools that streamline that part of the personalization equation.

In turn, that setup should give you time to strategize on new ideas for how to personalize messages and then test and iterate on those ideas to continue improving performance.

3) Don’t go at it alone

Finally, remember that achieving 1:1 personalization at scale simply isn’t humanly possible. But it is inhumanly possible. As your organization matures and your use cases evolve, there’s only so much that you can do on the personalization front without AI.

AI learns from itself and gets better over time, and when you marry that ongoing intelligence with the time your marketing team spends strategizing on new ideas, you’ll unlock enormous opportunities to improve and expand your personalization strategy. Critically, you need a solution that uses AI to do more than just surface insights, which can end up giving you more to consider and make it even harder to find the right path forward. Instead, you need a solution that uses AI to streamline the manual work your team does today and that gets better based on inputs from your team and your customers.

Are You Ready to Build an Iterative Personalization Strategy?

Going forward, we know for certain that consumer expectations around personalized experiences will continue to mature. And as the stakes get higher, only those retailers with an iterative personalization strategy will be able to keep up. Are you prepared?

For more on what it takes, check out our eBook on the email personalization problem.

Matthew Limeri

Matt is a technology consultant with over ten years of experience in MarTech and AdTech across several Technical/Implementation and Account Management roles.