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One of the key focus areas for digital practitioners at the moment is creating hyper-relevant, personalised experiences for users. Doing so not only makes an offering more meaningful to the individual but also increases their chances of on-going and repeat engagement with a brand or publication.
Personalisation can take many forms, depending on the specific applications at play, however, so for the purposes of this post I wanted to explore the potential for this concept when taken to its logical extreme.
What kind of personalisation?
The gradual shift towards increased personalisation is linked to the way we access our digital worlds. Our engagement with these spaces have become more seamless, whether we’re talking to our digital assistants or using autocomplete to fulfil a search, so expecting the content we engage with to implicitly speak ever more to our specific needs is an innate consequence.
Not surprisingly, businesses have identified personalisation as one of the levers that can be used to get users to willingly part with their data.
In a Deloitte white paper, one in five respondents said they would happily give away their personal information for access to a more personalised service or product. At a smaller sample of 16-24-year-olds, this even goes up to one in four.
In the same Deloitte paper, the three main concepts in the personalisation landscape are laid out to distinguish between the levels of customisation involved. From a standard product (which can be something physical, digital or as a service) you can either engage in:
- Mass personalisation: Where the same kit of parts is reconfigured to give a small measure of customisation. Importantly, there is seldom an active choice on the user’s part required here. The offering comes pre-tailored to a profile.
- Mass customisation: Where a product mass-produced, with a range of limited options that allow the user to create an offering specific to their needs (e.g. choosing the colours and optional extras for a car).
- Bespoke: An often-overused term which simply means custom-made for a single individual, where the customer is involved throughout the process and makes a number of different decisions (the classic example of this is a suit).
In the digital space it is the automation of mass personalisation that is key. Dynamic experiences can easily be created with a simple set of options that offer the ability to generate a content selection that meets a user’s needs without having the custom-make the aggregation of content or even the content itself every time.
Customisation and content
Personalisation becomes even more important when we consider it in terms of its impact on content marketing. This is a broad category, but simply refers to the use of editorial or informational elements as a branding tool. Forbes reports that it will be an industry worth $400-billion globally by 2021.
With personalisation technology you can create not only content but also an ecosystem of relevance around it. You are able to target people using demographics and psychographics on social media, use adaptive content on a page to only show what is most relevant to that user, and then make sure that remarketing and other tools enable retention and repeat visits. This enhanced funnel turns content marketing from one component in a business’s marketing toolkit to an entire focus area in and of itself.
The most immediate potential I see for automated personalisation is in retrieving the humble website homepage from the brink of obsolescence.
Until recently, the need for a portal-like frontpage for your publication or e-comm destination was an absolute necessity. It provided your users with a birds-eye view of the diverse content on offer across the various categories and formats. Nowadays however the average user’s browsing behaviour has been drastically altered by the total proliferation of incredibly efficient search and social platforms that act as mega aggregation filters serving up exactly whatever specific piece of content you are interested in on-demand.
Introducing the concept of the homepage as a completely dynamic space, on the other hand, can make it relevant as a concept again. It is incredibly difficult to create a single static home page experience that appeals to all users with the right amount of depth, and as a result, bounce rates tend to be quite high.
In a market like South Africa too, mass-focussed brands have to appeal to a wide target market, and with a wide range of access points in terms of device usage and connectivity. What I see here, however, is an opportunity to tailor home page content to the browsing habits of the individual user to really enhance relevance again. So the next time you land on your favourite general entertainment brand’s homepage, for example, it should only show you content on the specific shows or music genre you prefer, rather than the latest tabloid gossip you’ve never shown an interest in.
It could even take it a step further to send you personalised newsletters with customised content layouts at calculated intervals based on whatever content you most commonly engage with. Considering every possible action you take on any given website can be tracked, categorised and analysed to extract specific usage statistics and behavioural profiles, it is not at all outside of the realm of possibility to apply this to absolutely any online destination.
So where to from here?
Increasing accessibility to the tools that enable the collection and interpretation of usage data for enhanced personalisation has opened the floodgates for these experiences. Services like Amazon Personalize and Google Cloud’s Recommendations AI have put the immense power of algorithmic machine learning for the use of personalisation in the hands of anybody who cares to wield them.
As with any form of AI however, these tools are only as good as the data you provide it. As the data sets that enable codifying personalisation continue to mature so to will our ability to meaningfully create more and more refined experiences at an individual level.
There is some concern that this kind of technology can lead to the creation of “echo chambers” where individuals are only presented with content that reinforces what they already believe or know, but this is less of an issue in the space we are playing in.
When it comes to media and information, then diversity of sources and content is necessarily more emphasised. When it comes to more focussed missions and services, then efficiency and relevance are key. As with anything in this arena the genius lies in working out the balance between the two and ensuring the best experience for a user.
In the future, we’ll see personalisation being used in increasingly meaningful ways. Netflix is already personalising your home page to show you titles you’re likely to enjoy, but what if it edited content on the fly to create an experience of a show that was tailored to the type of storytelling you like to watch? Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch episode already allowed users to choose their own storyline so this next step is not that far off.
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