To Get Personalization Right, First Understand Intent


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It’s no surprise that customer experience (CX) is a top priority for companies of all sizes and across all industries. The digital economy requires brands to compete on their holistic offline and online CX, and personalization continues to be at the center of those efforts. But in the last few years, the concept of personalization has been watered down, stretched, and misconstrued so much that it’s effectively lost its meaning.

Marketers have started approaching personalization in the wrong way, over-rotating on demographic and past behavioral data, which may not actually predict the customer’s current intent. We need to adapt our mindset and consider what a person’s intent is on a digital channel, instead of just who the person is.

Long Live Intent Marketing

While businesses continue to invest in personalization, consumers are pushing back. Consumer data privacy and security concerns regularly dominate the headlines, from smart speakers recording private conversations to the spate of online retailers falling victim to e-skimming attacks. Scrutiny of the way companies collect and handle personal information is at an inflection point. At the same time, consumers have grown frustrated by attempts at personalization that miss the mark — or worse, experiences that are overly customized to the point of coming off as downright creepy.

The brands that truly understand customer intent — what motivates buyers today as well as in the future — are able to deliver truly valuable experiences that customers will opt-in to receive time and time again. To do that, marketers must shift from a mentality that prioritizes selling more products to one that champions creating useful interactions for their customers. Whether that means saving your customer time or making a frustrating task easier, your aim should be to anticipate your customers’ needs. Marketers need to step back and ask, “What problem are we solving for our customers? What will the consumer want to do next? And, how can we make it easier for them?”

Most customers are willing to provide a brand with their personal details if they understand the brand’s purpose is to make their lives better in some way. Research from Accenture finds 83 percent of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience. Demonstrating you can solve problems for your customers and cater to their changing needs is the best approach to ensure they view your actions as useful, instead of intrusive. Intent marketing builds trust by creating opportunities to engage with customers in more authentic and memorable ways. When you align your customer interactions with their motivation, you’re able to deliver valuable experiences that build trust and loyalty.

Stop Guessing and Start Knowing with Experimentation

When done correctly, intent marketing creates value for your customers, inspiring loyalty and growing ROI for the business. Marketers can’t understand intent by simply looking at a customer’s past purchases, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to predict customer behavior. In this hyper-competitive market, the de facto approach to use demographics, past purchases, and best guesses isn’t going to cut it. We’ve seen companies spend millions on campaigns, creative, mobile app and website updates, and digital product redesigns without ever looking at actual customer journey maps and engagement and conversion data to learn more about their behaviors holistically and better understand their intent.

Successful brands can bridge this gap by implementing an iterative test-and-learn approach to find the digital experiences that engage and convert their audiences, and to deliver those modified experiences in the lowest-risk and highest-return method possible. By running experiments (A/B tests), you eliminate guesswork regarding audience preferences and what experiences are working or not. What’s more, you’ll come away with a better understanding of behavior and valuable data-supported learnings to apply to future, intent-based experiences. When you experiment, it’s like having an open-book test on what your customers actually want — not just who they are and what they have previously purchased. Why wouldn’t you use the information right at your fingertips?

Experimentation not only helps improve individual customer interactions, but it also enables marketers to deliver faster and with more confidence at every touchpoint throughout the customer lifecycle. It is the engine behind optimizing the entire online experience, helping to drive engagement, increase advocacy, and grow the business. And every organization — regardless of size and budget — can take advantage of experimentation to steer a marketing program that delivers impactful, useful experiences based on holistic consumer intent rather than simply personalization.

Jo Ann Sanders
Jo Ann Sanders is VP of Product Marketing at Optimizely, and has over a decade of leadership experience in marketing and product management for top Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. Her expertise spans digital marketing, digital transformation, mobile, cloud, diversity and inclusion, and executive leadership.


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