Personalization is pervasive but it’s not personal – Interview with Shafqat Islam


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Today’s interview is with Shafqat Islam, Chief Marketing Officer at Optimizely, a digital experience platform software as a service provider. Shafqat joins me today to talk about their recently released Personalised to Personal report, why they think that personalization has officially reached its maximum maturity level, what’s standing in the way of marketers delivering a more personalised experience to customers and their position on marketers gathering zero-party data to further enhance/progress their personalisation efforts amongst some other things.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Paul Weller, the Scots word ‘gallus’ and their relation to delivering an award-winning customer experience – Interview with John Devlin of Ascensos – and is number 487 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders who are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here are the highlights of my conversation with Shafqat:

  • Our big belief is that content is at the core of the entire digital experience.
  • Despite 10 years of work and effort that has gone into personalization, people are still frustrated. And when I say people, I mean both consumers who feel like they’re not getting a personalized or an individualized experience, but also marketers who are beginning to get frustrated because they’ve invested millions of dollars, time, and effort into personalization technology and the results have not been quite as impactful as many of us have hoped for.
  • To do personalization, you need a lot of content, which marketers struggle with. You also need to do testing to figure out what kind of personalization actually works or not. And testing is still a new concept for a lot of marketers, even though A /B testing has been around, but really experimenting and testing to figure out what is the right level of personalization that gives me the best ROI. I think there are a lot of open questions around that.
  • Personalization is now everywhere and marketers have been talking about it forever and three-quarters of brands are doing some level of personalization.
  • So, personalization is pervasive.
  • But, it’s not personal.
  • We also found, in some of our own testing, that there are different levels of personalization.
    1. You can do demographic or geographic personalization: that’s quite easy as it doesn’t require as much content, or
    2. You could go down to absolutely the individual level where you need enormous amounts of content and then the question is: Is that effort worth the results?
    3. Or there’s a sweet spot that we found in the middle where you can go down to the industry or sub-industry level and really personalize content for a prospects sub-industry. Being able to personalize at that sub-industry level, we found that it delivers pretty good ROI.
  • 71% of consumers feel experiences are ‘targeted’ towards them, but only 33% say they are ever truly personal.
  • The number one barrier for marketers is great content. It’s very difficult to create content at both the quality that consumers expect, and then the quantity needed for personalization, whether it’s because you may not have the quality of writers or content creators in-house or that agencies are expensive.
  • AI now potentially solves that problem or is making progress towards solving that problem.
  • Two-thirds (63%) of consumers would be more loyal to a brand if it got to know them on a personal level.
  • Relying on third-party cookies to me is like you’re building on rented land.
  • Zero-party data is important. But, only collect it if the RoI supports it.
  • Personalization without testing is very difficult.
  • The best players build an entire culture of testing.
  • Testing is more of a cultural thing than a tech and tools thing.
  • Reference to experimentation and the approach advocated by Stefan Thomke, a friend of the podcast, who is also a good friend of Optimizely’s CEO.
  • Just get started and don’t get bogged down by the complexity of the tools or how much content do I need.
  • We were doing down to the individual level testing and just lost control of the machine. Then when we brought it back a little bit, we were able to both have more control, measure, and then balance it with the cost of the content requirements. That helped us find a kind of sweet spot in the middle.
  • I would encourage folks to think about what level you want to go to when it comes to personalization.
  • In a cookieless world, just think about, what you own versus what you rent. That’s always served us well.
  • Shafqat’s best advice: Be non-conformist, be non-traditional.
  • Shafqat’s Punk XL brand: Nike

About Shafqat

Shafqat Islam

Shafqat Islam is the Chief Marketing Officer at Optimizely. He has spent his whole life building products for marketers, dating back to his time as co-founder and CEO of Welcome (formerly known as NewsCred), the global leader in Enterprise Content Marketing from 2007 to 2021. Welcome created and led the content marketing platform (CMP) category (now known as the Optimizely Content Marketing Platform). Shafqat joined the Optimizely team as General Manager when Optimizely acquired Welcome in 2021.

Check out their Personalised to Personal report, say Hi to them and Shafqat on X (aka Twitter in a former life) @Optimizely and @shafqatislam respectively and feel free to connect with Shafqat on LinkedIn here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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