“ Your organization will need to personalize to compete. It’s just a matter of when, and how to make the efforts successful and sustainable. ”

Associations: Personalization Requires Reflection & Governance

By Jacqui Olkin

As digital communications mature and competition on web and mobile increases, we see more personalized digital experiences—sites and apps that seem to know us and be able to deliver just what we want and need.

So what does that mean for you?

Personalized experiences can mean different things to different organizations, but the idea is to provide content, services, and promotions tailored to what we already know about the user or customer. We’ve all had that experience by now of making a purchase with one click, enabled by our previous shopping history on the same site.  Or being able to quickly get a ride home because the ride hailing app knows where home is.

Modern content management systems provide robust personalization features as well as seamless integration with marketing engines and ecommerce platforms. The end result for your users is a seamless experience coupled with personalized content delivered to them with contextual relevance.

For member-based organizations, personalized views of content and services can be extremely valuable to the members/customers, and to the organization. Personalization helps meet customers’ needs, increases the likelihood of purchases, and engenders positive feelings and loyalty. (“This organization knows me. I belong here.”)

What kind of effort does it take?

Maybe more than you think. At first glance, it might seem like a low-effort endeavor for member-based organizations such as yours to provide personalized experiences. After all, you have member data at your fingertips. You know who your customers (members and others) are and can provide them with content based on their member type, where they work, career stage, geography, and other attributes. Maybe they’ve even opted into interest categories, or joined special interest groups that tell you more about their professional focus and the type of information they want. Customer data makes it possible for us to know what these people should see when they visit your website, or get an email from you, or open one of your apps. Likewise, for customers who aren’t members, you have a purchase history that can tell you what they might want. For new visitors or people who go to your website but haven’t transacted business, you can use IP address, session data, and/or form data to provide some level of personalization and enrich their experience on your digital properties.

So . . . ready to take the personalization plunge?

Maybe, maybe not. There are many considerations before you dive in. And you might want to dip your toes in first, and try it out on a small scale.

Before committing to personalization, your team should consider the following questions:

  • Do you have the right technology to support personalization?
  • Do you have enough clean, reliable data to support personalization?
  • Does the relevant data reside in one repository, or across many—e.g., the AMS, the website database, a learning management system, and/or other systems? And what will you need to do to make it available to drive customization?
  • Do you have a culture that is customer-focused, cohesive, and collaborative? All departments own a piece of the customer experience, and everyone will need to help personalize that experience—from the C-suite to managers to database administrators to frontline customer service. Every point of contact with customers is relevant to the customer experience, and therefore to personalization.
  • Do you need to make changes to your organization to support a personalization strategy (e.g., staffing changes, training, etc.)?
  • Do you have the content and data governance processes to make personalization sustainable?

Next, you’ll need a detailed strategy that answers these questions:

  • What is the goal of personalization?
  • How will you measure success?
  • Who will define and oversee personalization—one department, multiple departments?
  • Will you go all in, or phase in personalization and make it more sophisticated over time?
  • How will you continue to gather user input and data in order to continually refine personalization in your digital properties?

There are technical and governance questions to answer, as well:

  • Will you base personalization on member type or user type, member ID, IP address, what pages are visited during a session, purchase history, or some combination of these?
  • Where will personalized content be displayed?
  • Do you have enough—and the right—content and services to support personalization? If not, what content do you need to support your strategy, and who will develop it?
  • What if you don’t have enough information to display personalized content—e.g., a user is not logged in, or you don’t have all your content or tagging done? What is the default state?
  • Do you have a taxonomy that supports your personalization strategy by allowing you to assign the right content to users?
  • Who will make sure that new content is available for use in personalized features or areas of the website or app?
  • Who will monitor analytics and other user input (surveys, usability test results, etc.) and make decisions related to personalization?

Make it flexible and scalable.

Finally, you will want to make sure your personalization approach is flexible and scalable. Flexible, so there’s always a default state or a way to turn off a personalized feature, in case you lack the appropriate data or content to make personalization work.  Scalable, so you can start simply (maybe promoting events based on location) and get more sophisticated as you gather more data and get better at using personalization to generate measurable value—purchases, memberships, conference attendance, use of the website, etc. Maybe your mature state is a homepage and/or interior pages completely personalized for the user—from featured articles to events to ads.

Personalize to compete.

Make no mistake, personalization of content and services is where the world is headed. You’ve no doubt observed this yourself, and perhaps have come to expect personalized service in the digital space. Your organization will need to personalize to compete. It’s just a matter of when, and how to make the efforts successful and sustainable. Ask the hard questions within your organization, and lean on your consulting and vendor partners for help, and you’ll be able to achieve your goals.

Jacqui Olkin is a digital user experience consultant with expertise in strategy, redesigns, usability, information architecture and taxonomy. Contact her at Jacqui@OlkinCommunications.com.


Reprinted with permission from the Vanguard Technology blog. Image credit: GordonRamsaySubmissions, Flickr Creative Commons.