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How to Create a Personalized Experience Across the Digital Customer Journey

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

The race is on — if it seems like everybody and every company is talking about “personalization,” it’s because they are! Creating more personalized experiences is the ultimate end game in the digital world where CX reigns supreme.

“Personalization at scale has been the holy grail forever. Technology allows you to [get there] which is really exciting. You just have to rely on machine learning and AI to make some of those decisions.”

Jay Baer, Co-Author, Talk Triggers, Founder, Convince & Convert • @jaybaer

We’ve covered this topic before, but not yet in 2019. And considering the rapid rate of change permeating the e-commerce space, the topic could be covered almost monthly and be well-warranted. How can this be achieved? By adopting an approach of “digital hugging” that provides real-time, relevant experiences for each individual.

Digital Hugging: The New Norm

Have you heard the term digital hugging?

I certainly had not, that is, until I started researching trends facing marketers as we move further into the year. As better tech quickly evens the playing field, so to speak, strategy and creativity come into the crosshairs as the real differentiators.

Digital hugging goes beyond personalization in the sense that it idealizes the customer experience by surrounding customers with love across core channels (and also providing a relevant experience in the context and time most relevant to them).

Digital hugging perfectly summarizes what successful customer engagement should feel like… a loving relationship at every phase. This utopian view of CX is the next evolution of personalization.

What Is the Digital Customer Journey?

The digital customer journey refers to the process a customer goes through with your brand —

from browsing to purchase to post-purchase. For marketers, the key is being able to identify what stage a customer is at, and successfully curating the content they receive based on this stage as if it were served up manually and with great care (technology will automate the who, what, where, and when as you give it quality content and data).

With potentially thousands of customers on your website and even more SKUs, we can start to understand how the whole “right product, right person, right time” ethos comes into play. But let’s get real… Is this idea just another trendy statement prophesied by a blogger, completely infeasible for marketers in the real world? Or are we actually there? Let’s break it down, starting with a typical e-comm journey.

The stages of the digital customer journey

The digital customer journey stages (awareness/browsing, building a cart, purchase, and post-purchase) are fairly straightforward.

  1. Browsing. The prospective buyer has just begun their journey. During this stage, the customer isn’t quite sure what they’re looking for yet — the good news is, you’ve at least piqued their curiosity.
  2. Building a cart. Ahh, the customer has found what they were looking for! However, they must still weigh their options — it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll move on to the next stage: purchase.
  3. Purchase. The final stage. The customer has committed to making a purchase… whether a first-time or repeat transaction. Now the question is how to turn this customer into a returning/loyal customer.
  4. Post-purchase. The majority of customers are “one and done,” and it’s harder to acquire than retain. So this stage is all about inspiring further purchases — ideally with some genuine digital hugging!

Let’s take a look at an example of how these stages might flow.

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Example: Retail

 Browsing. A customer walks into her local phone shop to buy the latest smartphone. Upon entering the store, she can see the various ads for the top-selling products that everyone is talking about. The customer, looking at Smartphone X, is approached by a member of staff who offers Smartphone Y as an alternative.

Cart and purchase. Once the customer has chosen Smartphone Y, the staff member then suggests buying a matching case and phone charger — brilliant, right? The customer leaves happy, the staff are happy about their up-sell, and everyone rejoices in a successful experience.

Post-purchase. Then with that transactional data stored in the database, the brand can follow up with the customer and earn their business when it’s time to renew for an upgrade.

Things are more difficult online. On average, 97% of your website visitors won’t buy, and 70% of those visitors who go on to the cart stage end up leaving the item behind. You can compensate for not knowing who a customer is to a degree, when they enter your store, with friendly staff and associates who can provide an exceptional experience.

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We’re just now beginning to identify anonymous website visitors, but it’s no easy feat to coordinate, curate, and create meaningful experiences with everyone every time. For pure play e-comm brands, since all these stages will incorporate your website, the advantage goes to companies that can convert and acquire subscribers — including unknown traffic — then personalize throughout the lifecycle and nurture until purchase.

Creating Personalized Experiences Across the Digital Customer Journey

For a detailed understanding of how to achieve this kind of ultra-personalization from point A to point B, a deeper dive into customer lifecycle marketing is needed. With an expanded perspective, we break the stages listed above into five more advanced journey stages:

Acquisition encapsulates driving traffic via referrals and social media advertising. It also includes getting initial conversions and subscribers by inspiring visitors to sign up.

Conversion focuses on driving purchases with various email and retargeting campaigns.

Growth includes building customer relationships, and inspiring existing customers to spend more and buy more frequently. These campaigns are geared toward known contacts, and it’s the first stage where you can really start using accumulated data to do real personalization.

Retention strategies include tactics like “back in stock” and “price drop.” Promotional emails for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and more fall into this category, along with your loyalty program.

Win-back campaigns remind customers of the value of doing business with you. You can also target inactive contacts via social channels, and try different channels to earn the business of defecting customers.

Leading-edge e-commerce brands like eBags are doing personalization effectively across the lifecycle:

The digital customer journey is just that, a journey. It should feel fluid and not be viewed as being compartmentalized (from a high-level, strategic perspective). The customer doesn’t tell you, “Hey, I’m a brand new prospect, visiting your site for the first time,” or “I’M BACK! I bought once a year ago, and have subscribed to your newsletter since then, but really liked this deal you sent this week.” You’ll have to simply know who they are, providing a seamless journey throughout and regardless.

Is personalization legit?

Personalization means showing customers you really know them. Recommendation engines are designed to display products customers are most likely to buy. This type of personalization is essential to ensuring that the digital customer journey is relevant and successful.

Personalization is the end goal (which most brands achieve to an extent, some fully), but automation is the engine on which that goal can be achieved.

Without technology in  place to help supplement and scale, personalization — especially manually done — is virtually impossible. In cases where marketers (a) start with the tools or tech and NOT strategy, (b) attempt to manually personalize their marketing in real time across the database, or (c) have expectations for immediate (meaning weeks) large-scale return, disappointment is a virtual certainty. True personalization can’t be faked, and, as an investment, can’t be rushed.

Enter: authenticity, automation, and adoration (for your brand fans).

The marketer and machine – creating authenticity and love

Per the namesake of our hub and podcast, it all comes down to your ability to work with automation technology in a way that’s beneficial to your business. And if you’re wondering,  deep down, “why relegate my brand to a machine? Why resign execution of my work to a machine?” you are definitely not alone. Speaking of the podcast, Chris Pirrotta of Sideshow came onto our show and candidly shared his thoughts about AI and ML.

“I love where we’re at with machine learning and AI, but it’s getting close to the non-human line… and feels overwhelming, at times. There’s been a lot of talk about, ‘Oh you just set up the automation, and it just happens.’ In my industry, we have a small number of customers… how do I know it’s really working? I’m still on the fine line of ‘Ehh, I don’t know if I trust it fully.’”

Chris Pirrotta, VP of Marketing, Sideshow

Conclusion

Ultimately, here’s what it comes down to: using martech to complement your strategy, sending perfectly placed recommendations, reminders, and follow-up communications that prove you know and love each individual in your database.

Martech mixed with the brilliance of the marketer — who can create the very humanly authentic connection that customers need — is the secret sauce to doing effective personalization today.

Learn how Emarsys can help you create a personalized experience for your customers.

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About the Author


Michael is a content marketing, audience development, and customer experience fanatic. As Digital Content Manager at Emarsys, Michael helps manage the content hub where he and his team create helpful content for e-commerce and digital marketers.

Connect with Michael: LinkedIn@mjbecker_

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