Personalization defined: What is Personalization?

Find out what personalization really means, and see examples of personalization in action.

Personalization defined

When a friend gives you a personalized gift for your birthday, a holiday, or a special occasion, it shows that they really know you and care about you. A more generic gift that doesn’t align with your interests may lead you to believe that your friend doesn’t know you as well as you’d hoped.

The same can be said for companies when it comes to personalized marketing. The term “personalization” is used all the time in the world of marketing, but its true meaning can sometimes get lost.

Personalization is defined as using data to target and retarget leads with a brand message that speaks directly to their specific interests, demographics, and buying behavior.

In this article, we’ll look at what marketing personalization really means and some examples of it in action.

Tailoring experiences with personalization

What types of experiences can be tailored? Most of the channels where customer interactions happen can be personalized. Some of the main personalization solutions include:

  • Websites: Personalization on websites involves tailoring the content, layout, and user experience based on individual preferences. For example, showing personalized product recommendations, adjusting the homepage based on browsing history, or customizing the navigation menu.
  • Mobile apps: Mobile app personalization aims to enhance user engagement by providing relevant content, personalized notifications, and customized features. Apps can adapt based on user behavior, location, and preferences.
  • Emails: Personalized email marketing involves sending targeted messages to specific recipients. This can include personalized subject lines, product recommendations, and dynamic content based on user interactions.
  • Web apps (like a SaaS application): SaaS (Software as a Service) applications can personalize the user experience by tailoring features, dashboards, and settings. For instance, customizing reporting tools or adapting the interface based on user roles.
  • Online ads: Ad personalization aims to display relevant ads to users based on their interests, demographics, and behavior. Ad platforms use data to serve targeted ads across websites and social media.
  • In-store/in-branch communications: Personalization extends to physical locations. Retail stores, banks, and other businesses can tailor in-store experiences by recognizing loyal customers, offering personalized discounts, or providing relevant information.
  • Online chats: Chatbots and live chat services can personalize interactions by understanding user queries, preferences, and history. They offer real-time assistance based on individual needs.
  • Call centers: Call center agents can provide better service by accessing customer profiles, purchase history, and previous interactions. Personalization helps address inquiries efficiently and empathetically.

Personalization uses known information about a customer to create a tailored experience or interaction with a brand. It’s essential for businesses to meet customer expectations and enhance loyalty while walking the fine line between helpful and intrusive.

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How Personalization Works: Key Data Points for Tailoring Experiences

What kind of information can be acted on to tailor experiences in those channels? It’s basically an unlimited list that contains any information a company can collect about its customers and prospects. Some of the most common include:

  1. Geolocation: Knowing where a user is located allows businesses to customize content based on regional preferences, local events, and language.
  2. Source: Understanding how users arrived (e.g., search, email, social media, paid ads) helps tailor messaging to their context and intent.
  3. Firmographic Information (B2B): For business-to-business (B2B) interactions, details like industry, company size, revenue, and technology stack inform personalized communication.
  4. Buyer Persona: Creating profiles of different customer types (personas) enables targeted messaging and product recommendations.
  5. Buyer Status: Distinguishing between existing customers and prospects allows tailoring content accordingly (e.g., upselling versus nurturing).
  6. Time of Day: Serving content at optimal times (e.g., morning vs. evening) enhances engagement.
  7. Browser or Device Type: Optimizing content for specific devices ensures a seamless experience.
  8. Behavior Metrics:
    1. Site Visits, Logins, Pages/Screen Views: Tracking user interactions helps personalize subsequent visits.
    2. Active Time Spent: Identifying peak engagement periods informs content delivery.
    3. Time Elapsed Since Last Interaction: Timely follow-ups prevent user disengagement.
    4. Purchases, Articles Read, Videos Viewed: Tailoring recommendations based on past behavior.
    5. Lifetime Value (LTV): High-value customers receive special treatment.
    6. Mouse Movement: Analyzing scrolling and hovering behavior provides insights.
    7. Affinity Toward Content and Products: Understanding preferences (categories, tags, brands, etc.) drives relevant recommendations.
  9. Email Opens and Clicks: Personalizing email content based on user engagement improves open rates and conversions.
  10. Push Notification Dismissals or Click-Throughs: Adjusting push notifications based on user preferences.

Remember, effective personalization goes beyond simple name customization. It’s about understanding user goals and helping them achieve those goals through tailored experiences

Personalization Examples

There is a seemingly endless number of ways you could use this information to affect experiences in the channels mentioned.

For example, a B2B tech site that modifies its website homepage experience to speak differently to specific companies is using personalization as part of its ABM strategy.

Experience: Tailor homepage hero image, copy and calls-to-action
Information used: Company name

A B2C shoe retailer that features nursing shoes on its homepage only to visitors that have shown an interest in nursing shoes is using personalization.

Experience: Tailor homepage hero headline, image, and call-to-action
Information used: Past browsing history and time spent by category

Personalization vs customization

This definition of personalization may sound similar to another concept: customization. But there is a clear difference. With personalization, a company modifies an experience without any effort from the customer. Customization, on the other hand, allows the customer to modify the experience themselves intentionally.

For example, when you adjust your Gmail settings to indicate the number of messages you want to see per page and add a signature, you are customizing your email experience. But when Gmail displays advertisements based on your interests, it personalizes your experience for you. In the first example, you’re intentionally changing the experience. In the second, you receive more relevant ads without taking any direct action yourself.

Let’s explore another example we’re all familiar with: online shopping. Many e-commerce sites allow you to filter the products shown on a page to help you more easily locate the ones that meet your specific criteria.

That’s customization. You are intentionally customizing the products you see on that page to help you find what you’re looking for more quickly.

But a site could deliver a similar result — helping you find the product that best meets your needs — without requiring you to take action yourself. Instead, the site could sort the products on the page and list those at the top that meet the preferences you’ve demonstrated by your behavior. For example, if you regularly shop and purchase home decor in black and brushed nickel, it might display those items toward the top of the list. This way, you can find those products more quickly without needing to scroll through pages of irrelevant gold or white decor first.

In another example of customization vs. personalization, let’s consider email frequency. When you sign up to join a company’s email list (or when you attempt to unsubscribe), companies offer you the option to modify your preferences to dictate how often you’d like to receive emails (daily, weekly, etc.).

This is another example of customization; you tell the company how often you’d like to hear from them.

But you could reach the same end result (more or fewer emails) with personalization, too. In that case, the company would pay attention to how often you tend to engage with their email communications and adjust the frequency of email sends accordingly. Recipients who tend to open and interact with more emails will receive emails more frequently, while those who only interact occasionally will receive emails less frequently. That’s personalization.

With both personalization and customization, the end result is a more relevant experience for the customer. The difference is whether the customer does the work or not.

Benefits of Personalization

There are many reasons why an organization may choose to personalize. It can increase engagement, drive conversions, foster loyalty, and improve a number of other KPIs. But at the broadest level, personalization is important because people have come to expect it in today's world.

For instance, many people use music streaming services like Spotify every day. Users have come to rely on the personalized playlists that Spotify curates for them based on carefully observing what they’ve listened to before.

The same can be said for watching TV shows and movies through Netflix. With all the content competing for viewers’ attention, platforms sift through it all to make recommendations for each subscriber, saving them time and improving their satisfaction with the services.

Even if you don’t use Spotify and Netflix regularly, you can probably still appreciate that personalization is essential to a modern customer experience. Generic experiences fall flat compared to those.

The State of the Connected Consumer report found that 64% of customers expect tailored engagement based on past interactions, but 52% say companies are generally impersonal. The report also found that 71% of customers expect companies to communicate with them in real-time. However, how companies balance personalization with customer comfort levels will be integral to the solution roadmap.

And marketers have recognized that their customers demand personalization. Data shows that most marketers believe personalization helps advance customer relationships, while 92% believe their prospects or customers expect a personalized experience.

In other words, personalization is important to both customers and marketers today. We believe it will only become more important in the future — so it’s something to invest in today.

What Is Personalization Software?

Personalization software is a tool that customizes content based on customers’ characteristics and behaviors. These platforms or add-ons help businesses optimize their offerings by creating a more individualized customer experience. Here’s how it works:

  • Data Collection: Personalization software collects data on customer behavior, preferences, and interactions with your brand. This can include website visits, clicks, purchase history, and more.
  • Segmentation: The software then segments customers into different groups based on shared characteristics (e.g., demographics, browsing history, location).
  • Content Customization: The software tailors content for each customer using the collected data. For example:
    • Website Personalization: Displaying relevant product recommendations, personalized banners, or dynamic pricing based on user behavior.
    • Email Personalization: Sending targeted emails with personalized subject lines, product recommendations, and offers.
    • Pop-up Forms: Triggering personalized lead capture forms based on visitor behavior (e.g., exit intent or scroll-triggered popups).
  • Benefits: Improved Customer Experience: Customers appreciate content that speaks directly to their needs and interests.
    • Increased Customer Loyalty: Personalization fosters a stronger connection between customers and your brand.
    • Higher Revenue: Gartner predicts that successful personalization software can increase digital business revenue by 15%.