Online Personalization 101: WHAT it is, WHY You Need to Use it & HOW to Get Started

 
online personalization photographingtravisYou see it all day, every day. You open your inbox and there it is: your name in the subject line. You get home from work after a busy day, kick up your feet and flip on Netflix—and there it is again: your name. You sign into Facebook and you see an ad pointing you to a website you recently visited.

Coincidence? Never.

WHAT is Online Personalization?

The aforementioned examples are all instances of online personalization (sometimes called content personalization). BusinessDictionary defines online personalization as “tailoring the presentation of a website’s content to match a specific user’s instructions or preferences.” This form of custom-tailored marketing is achieved by collecting data about prospects and customers, then using that data to tweak online experiences to perfection.

WHY You Should Care About Online Personalization

Online personalization has become a key part of digital marketing strategies. As humans, we crave customized experiences. A study from the University of Texas at Austin attributes this to our desire for control. Google searches 30 trillion pages, 100 billion times a month. 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute on YouTube. More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month on Facebook.

Get the point? There’s A LOT of content out there! Online personalization helps you break through the noise and improve your marketing ROI.

HubSpot reported:

  • Personalized emails improve clickthrough rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
  • In-house marketers who personalize web experiences (who are also able to quantify that improvement) see a 19% uplift in sales, on average.
  • 40% of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels.
  • Leads nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.

And the list goes on. Hey, online personalization works!

HOW to Get Started with Online Personalization

Not every business can be a giganto expert at online personalization like Amazon.com (constantly pulling data and signals to personalize their users’ shopping experiences). However, there are a few basic things you can do to hop aboard the online personalization train, today.
 

1. Segment Your Email Marketing

Online personalization in email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient methods. Don’t always send the same email to everyone on your list. Break your lists down into various segments and tweak your messages accordingly.

Examples:

You’re in the staffing business and you work with companies looking to fill positions in marketing and IT.

  • Segment out the companies that have a need to fill marketing positions into one list. Then, send a monthly email featuring your top marketing candidates.
  • Likewise, create a separate segment for companies looking to fill IT positions. Send a separate monthly email featuring your top IT candidates to this list.

Sending a monthly e-newsletter? Most email marketing software (like MailChimp and Constant Contact) offer the option to insert a ‘receiver name’ field. Use it!
 

2. Segment Your Social Media

Facebook uses data in ad targeting that’s fairly easy to implement. Let’s say you offer computer repair services to small- and medium-sized businesses and you’re only able to offer those services within 50 miles of Brookfield, Wisconsin. You’re not going to want to run a Facebook ad that will be seen by everyone and anyone in the entire United States. Determine what your target audience looks like and set up your ad accordingly.

Here’s what your targeting might look like…

online personalization

Online personalization is not only a great way to break through the marketing noise and improve your marketing ROI—it’s also a really fun way to get creative with how you market to your audience! Give it a shot and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Need some help getting started with online personalization? Contact Cultivate Communications.

 


Image “Hello My Name Is” courtesy of Flickr user Travis Wise licensed under CC by 2.0.

4 Steps to Creating a Big-Picture Customer Touch Plan

 
If you don’t have a customer touch plan, you’re not alone. We’ve run across quite a few small business owners who weren’t even familiar with the phrase—yet, a customer touch plan is one of the most effective marketing tools for small businesses.

Let’s start with a no-frills definition…

What Is a Customer Touch Plan?

“Touch points” are every contact you have with your customer, whether online, in person, on the phone, by direct mail, via email, on social media—or any other potential contact point. Every time your brand gets on prospect or customer radar, that’s a touch point.

A customer touch plan consists of the deliberate efforts you employ to create those touch points. To communicate with your customers, you create those moments—they’re opportunities to get your customer thinking about your brand, your products, or your company.

Your touch plan may include:

  • Distribution of digital, TV, or physical marketing materials and ads—this can include both content marketing and direct mail
  • Employee contact with customers (customer service, billing, sales, management, security, help desk, etc.)
  • Website visits, downloads or emails
  • Social media/promotion/shares

Opportunities for customer touch points come along frequently, but taking advantage of every possible opportunity can be both overkill and creepy. Your customer touch plan should be carefully crafted and designed to be personal, but not intrusive.
 
customer touch plan

Step 1: Gather Your Customer Data

You probably already have a wealth of customer data at your fingertips. Most people are connected by their email address to social media accounts that will yield location, birth date, age, gender, and other personal details. Other handy details include past purchases, reasons that customer has contacted your company, and what type of device they use to access your website.

Data-driven marketing is all the rage—and for good reason: it works. Therefore, your first step is to consolidate and organize your customer data. If you’re not using customer relationship management (CRM) or other project management software to manage your customer interactions, it’s time to adopt and adapt.

Step 2: Use Your Customer Data

With data in hand, you can decide when you want to contact your customer, plus the best channel to use to reach that customer with a personal message.

Data-Based Customer Touch Point Ideas:

  • Send a greeting or special offer on your customer’s birthday. If you really want to stand out, send them a present. What would get your attention more? A computer-generated birthday postcard or a product sample? If you don’t sell goods, how about something really unusual, like a small box of chocolates with a real card? Great customer service is about going the extra mile.
  • When a subscription is set to expire, treat it as a new sale. Send your potential repeat customer updated information, current offers, and whatever you would send to a new customer who is deciding to buy. Win their continued loyalty. Sadly, most companies take loyal customers for granted—but repeat customers are your hidden GOLDMINE.
  • Location-based touches might include references to local sport teams or local events.

Step 3: Interact on Social Media

These days social media IS customer service, so be hyper-responsive, don’t skimp on the details, and don’t leave social media management to your inexperienced intern.

Your social media plan should include interactive content such as polls, surveys, and answers to comments. Document your social media engagement (here’s where that CRM comes in handy again) and look for the types of engagement your customers best respond to.

Step 4: Follow-up

When should you follow up? Almost every single time: whether it’s new sales, customer service issues, mailings, surveys, or social media. The goal is to ensure your customers are satisfied with your response. Put an internal process in place to ensure every interaction receives a prompt and thoughtful follow-up. Be sure to take notes so everyone in your organization knows each customer’s current status.

………

Your main objective: Build a customer touch plan strategy.

After you’ve explored all these steps in-depth, go back to square one and create a customer touch plan strategy that incorporates all of these elements, but be sure it’s tailored to your business and to your customers. Keep your strategy flexible—you’re going to be adjusting it over time based on what works…and what doesn’t work.

Over time, as you craft a more refined customer touch plan strategy, you’ll be loading your CRM with great information you can use to better understand your customers, which will also help you craft a more targeted marketing plan. As your customer data becomes more refined and personal, you’ll be able to confidently reduce your random marketing efforts and send only highly targeted campaigns. The goal of an effective customer touch plan is to make your customers feel appreciated, not hammered with spam.

Questions? Let us know in the comments!
 

Branding, Content, and the Sales Pitch: Finding the Right Balance

 
rsz_thinkstockphotos-478029673
The temptation to hammer your audience with a peppy sales pitch when you’re trying to write content can be hard to overcome. Marketers are supposed to market, right? So why shouldn’t we be screaming Buy! Buy! Buy! like freakshow carnival barkers?

Oh, wait, that’s actually the answer. Yikes.

Aggressiveness is out. Instead of demanding action from your customers, you have to give them answers to entice your customers to come to you. What you use to attract them determines the quality and longevity of your relationship.

Why We Had to Kill Frank…

Imagine you live on a cul-de-sac in a quiet suburban neighborhood—that is, until a new neighbor moves in. You know it’s going to get ugly when a panel truck with an LED display offering a miracle health product pulls into the driveway.

But, being the good neighbor you are, you bake a nice casserole and go over to introduce yourself. Your new neighbor Frank tells you all about how you can earn money by selling his miracle product…and all about how the pyramid scheme works. You buy a jar of miraclestuff to be polite and excuse yourself.

The next morning, Frank is at your door. He hands you a single flower from his garden, invites himself to breakfast, and tells you more about the product and the pyramid. Frank doesn’t care what you want, he only cares about selling you so he can make more money.

You’re forced to choose your own adventure: You can either kill Frank or put your house on the market and move to Tucson.

Pushy, one-way relationships were common in the early days of the Web. Intrusive banner ads, aggressive popups, spammariffic emails…

The good news? Technology killed Frank. We’re all very happy about it.

Moving to Tucson

Marketers had to find something more effective than Frank InYourFace—and the growing popularity of blogging and social media provided the perfect vehicle. For the first time, business owners and marketers had a forum to talk about solutions, issues, and pain points…all things your customer is interested in. And it worked.

Don’t worry, you still get to brand your business and sell your product. It’s just a more organic process today. A good relationship involves trust and rapport. Understand your customer’s needs and provide answers. They will remember your brand. Loyalty is human nature.

Making an Impression

Consider what you want people to think of your brand. Do you want to be seen as a thought leader? A company concerned about sustainable products? The manufacturer of the best widget available on the market? The low-price leader?

If you build your content around your desired image, you reinforce your brand and company values with every piece of content—WITHOUT selling. Your website should be filled with quality information about you, your company culture, your products, and your customers. That’s your branding. Authentic reinforcement of your message.

The Selling Part

You’re going to have to cut to the chase and promote some sales copy, and you don’t have to betray the trust you’ve built to do so. Make it relevant and timely and your customers won’t want to hit you with a shovel.

3 softer-selling secrets:

  1. Get Personal. Even with all the changes in delivery, the basic principles of marketing still hold true. The amazing depth of information you can gather on customers and their behavior eliminates the guesswork. You can send an offer so personal and timely it’s hard to resist:

“Dear Elizabeth, Last year, you told us you loved the yellow duckie raincoat and matching umbrella for your 3-year-old daughter. It’s almost rainy season again, and we thought you might like our outstanding selection of Dora the Explorer raingear in just the right size. We even have a matching backpack! It’s all on sale this week. Oh, and while Dora is the best-selling choice for girls her age, we also have a big selection of alternative characters, prints and solids, all on sale right now.”

  1. Weave Your Selling Point into Valuable Advice. Basic Selling 101: Identify a pain point (like the coming rainy season in the example above) and offer a solution. Your content marketing goals aren’t just to sell an item, but to be so useful and full of great ideas that your customers will come back just for the edutainment.
  1. Ask for Opinions and Advice. Customers love to give input and to be heard, so don’t be afraid to ask—then make changes based on their answers.

Back to Frank

Imagine your new neighbor, Frank, moves in without fanfare. You take over a casserole, introduce yourself, and exchange pleasantries. He invites you over, grills steaks, and pours a few beers. You become friends.

Over the course of the friendship, Frank never asks you to become involved or tries to sell you product, but you do notice how healthy and energetic he is. You ask, and he tells you he likes to get plenty of rest and exercise, along with a healthy diet including a special supplement.

A few months later, a different friend mentions he’s looking for a side business, something he can really believe in. He mentions he’s been slowing down lately, feeling run down and tired. You find yourself telling him all about Frank. While you’re talking, you wonder if that supplement would make you feel as energetic as Frank feels. You decide to ask Frank if you can buy a bottle of his supplement.

That’s how content marketing works.

 
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Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how to:
  • Increase Your Referral Rate
  • Increase Your Social Media Reach
  • Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
  • Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
  • Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource
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4 Ways Small B2B Businesses Can Nab More Sales

Small B2B businesses face complex problems in today’s marketplace. You’re dealing with stiff competition from global importers who drive down prices and, at the same time, trying to get a foothold in an industry full of well-established and anchored domestic competitors. If you can’t offer the lowest prices or the lightning-fast service of big, high-volume operations, how will you compete?

Every B2B small business can carve out a niche, even in tough industries. It’s just a matter of finding what resonates with your customers—then making that bit of gold work for you—so you can nab more sales and grow your B2B business.

#1. Find Your Shine—and Share It
Consider what you have to offer and define what makes you stand out. When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can craft your corporate image, branding and marketing in an honest and unique way your customers will love.

Remember that old Avis campaign? “We’re number two, so we try harder.” It worked because of its fresh and honest approach, not to mention its hardworking appeal to the average American—their customers could relate, and gaining that ground was worth millions.

If you’re an SMB, you may never be #1, but you are most certainly unique. You’re not trapped in layers of corporate hierarchy, so find your angle and own it. Show your customers what you’re passionate about. Be fresh. Be honest. Drive your point home.

4 Ways Small B2B Businesses Can Nab More Sales: Advertising Greatness: Avis Car Rental, Circa 1962

Maybe you can’t deliver tomorrow, and maybe you can’t offer the lowest prices on the market. Those are powerful incentives…but not necessarily as compelling as other things you can offer that giant “faceless” companies simply can’t match.

Here are a few areas where smaller B2B companies can deliver more—and shine:

  • Share your expertise. Make knowledge your top selling point by hiring and training well-qualified employees and giving them enough autonomy to address each customer’s problem on a personal level. Your people should be able to listen and respond with real solutions, not canned responses.
  • Focus on quality. Your customers want to feel valued. Stress the importance of custom solutions built from the ground up. Build your reputation on precision and quality construction and/or service. Small businesses have a reputation for caring more about their customers. Capitalize on that feel-good feature.
  • Cut out the middleman. If you can cut costs by, for example, shipping directly to your customers, consider doing it. If you can offer your B2B services without relying on a third party, consider going for it. Distribution channels add costs you may be able to eliminate…thus lowering costs without lowering quality.

#2. Bring Your Team Together—and Collaborate
After you’ve defined your best selling points, you need an actionable plan to build your brand story and establish your corporate culture. It must be a top-to-bottom marketing solution with every member of your team on board. Management, marketing, sales, product experts, and customer service reps should all be in the know and ready to go.

To put your vision to work, sales and marketing need to coordinate and collaborate. Marketing needs to know how to identify hot leads and sales needs to follow up every step of the way. Treat your existing customers like the old friends they are and offer support and information no matter where they are in the buying cycle. Give your team the tools and information they need to succeed.

harnessed pop culture while addressing a common IT concern: it 4 Ways Small B2B Businesses Can Nab More Sales *Great example: This company compared “moving to the cloud” to surviving a zombie apocalypse.

#3. Keep the Content Flowing—and Connect
Fresh, informational website content will help keep your existing customers engaged while helping you sell to new customers. Tailor all your content marketing efforts to address specific needs within your customer’s industry. What are your top 10 customer FAQs? Be sure your website content points your customers straight to helpful, informative answers.

Visual presentations, recent testimonials, detailed case studies and industry-specific product and services comparisons can help you communicate your value to potential B2B customers. Appealing content includes slideshows, photos, and even video—not just endless streams of text. Your customers deserve better. If your customers need technical specs, present them in a fact sheet with easy-to-scan bullet points, instead of a headache-inducing jungle of words.

#4. Get Clever—and WIN
Sungard AS won big a couple years back with a clever marketing ploy. They did something pretty unusual in B2B…created an infographic that harnessed pop culture while addressing a common IT concern: it compared “moving to the cloud” to surviving a zombie apocalypse. Yes, you read that right. The infographic went viral, and Sungard ran with the concept, building out more zombie-themed informational content. And guess what? Yep, their target market LOVED it.

You’ll close more deals if you work to understand both why your business is unique and how you can best meet and exceed your customers’ needs. Pinpoint your customers’ pain points and create targeted content to draw in new customers and keep your existing customers happy. Answering your customers’ and prospects’ questions and concerns while educating them about your small B2B venture—now that’s always win-win. Tie it all together, collaborate and get creative and you’ll nab more sales than ever.

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Additional Resources

Manufacturer’s Guide to Attracting More Customers: How Top Manufacturers Are Driving New Revenue By Attracting More CustomersCheck out these five case studies to learn replicable marketing strategies from leading B2B manufacturers. No matter what industry you’re in, the competition is heating up. Traditional marketing methods simply aren’t enough anymore.

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Get this step-by-step guide for creating a workable content and social marketing strategy for your B2B enterprise — Get ahead of the curve.

What are the top 4 things I should know when building a mobile-friendly website?

On April 1st, ESPN rolled out their new mobile-friendly website and detailed why they chose a mobile-first design: in January, they clocked a record 94 million unique visitors to their site—and a staggering 61% (57 million users) accessed the site on mobile devices only.

What are the top 4 things I should know when building a mobile-friendly website?…and they’re not alone.

Last year, mobile use surpassed desktop use by a wide margin. It’s clear the “days of desktop dominance are over” and mobile-friendly websites are a necessity for every business today. In fact, in a rare move, Google recently announced that as of April 21st, websites without a mobile-friendly version risk penalization in search rankings. That’s a BIG deal, folks.

Ready to make the move to mobile? Here are 4 things you should know.

Responsive web design is more important than ever with the variety of devices available today. Find out why your business needs a responsive web design.1. Google recommends responsive web design.
Not only does Google recommend responsive web design (RWD)—it’s a lot more practical for you. See, there’s a difference between mobile-friendly and responsive design. If you create a separate mobile-friendly version of your site, you’ll have to update both your original desktop version and your new mobile-friendly version.

But with RWD, you get an elastic style that adapts to fit and be readable on any device (desktop/mobile/tablet/etc). Users simply go to the same URL from any device and the responsive design makes your website look great on any-sized screen. This way, all your readers see the same content on any screen—and you can update all versions of your website at once.

2. To be cost efficient, invest in a design that can expand and grow with your business.
One of the best features of mobile first design is clean, uncluttered pages with easy navigation. Choose an extensible, dynamic template or design that that can expand and grow as your business grows. Your design should allow for added features and functions down the line, without sacrificing clean layout or readability.

Your readers are looking for great content, so it’s imperative to select a great design that lets you give it to them whenever you need to, in a format they can read wherever they happen to be.

3. Don’t handcuff yourself to one vendor.
Choose an open source website platform and design so you’re not tied to proprietary software, website design, and/or website development from a single vendor. It may be good for the vendor, but it limits your options if you want out. Down the road, if that one vendor doesn’t deliver quality, it may be difficult to take control of your own website, and even more problematic to move or expand your content.

You’re looking for a widely used, easily updatable platform (like WordPress) that you can update internally at any time, or externally by the creative vendor of your choice.

4. Hone in on your lead generation strategy with strong CTAs.
The success of your website depends on how well your users can navigate and accomplish their objectives—and how well those objectives go hand-in-hand with your lead generation goals. Prioritize your mobile design and layout by focusing on your users. Analyze and decide which features are most commonly used by your website visitors, then be sure each one stands out as easy to find and easy to click—pushing each user from visitor to lead with a strong call-to-action (CTA).

When designed properly, your new mobile-friendly website will be call-to-action (CTA)-friendly, because meeting your lead generation goals requires those strong CTAs. Use compelling, actionable language, and highlight and isolate CTA links so customers can see and click each one without any issues. Don’t let your leads escape by crowding your mobile site with too many links, making it impossible for your customers to hit the one they want. Give each visitor a reason to click and an easy way to get there. Be sure each page has the targeted content your customers came to see.

Making the move to mobile-friendly is a great opportunity to enhance your marketing strategy. Website design and marketing strategy are two sides of the same coin, so this is your chance to reevaluate how your prospects experience your website, connect with more customers by adding more targeted content, and take the time to strategically turn your mobile-friendly site into a lead generation machine. When website design and marketing strategy go hand-in-hand, you win—and so does your customer.

5 Epic Social Media Automation Fails: Bots Just Aren’t People

5 Epic Social Media Automation Fails: Bots Just Aren’t PeopleSo you’ve set up your social media automation bot and it’s plugging along automatically updating your favorite social media outlets and even responding to tweets and posts—now you can just sit back and let your social bot do its thing, right? Not quite. While social media automation can be a godsend for any busy marketer, it can also hurt your brand if you aren’t paying attention.

Here are 5 examples illustrating why relying too heavily on social media automation can be disastrous.

1. Life doesn’t always allow for scheduled posts; there’s simply no way to foresee everything and anything…and frankly, life just gets weird sometimes. Let’s say you’re a B2B company located in a city with an MLB team and you regularly send out enthusiastic GO TEAM posts. It works out great because sometimes the team and players respond or retweet and it’s really helped you build your social reach.

But let’s say you schedule all your GO TEAM posts in advance, and one of your messages on game day is, “John Jones is gonna hit one out of the park today!” with a photo of the player in mid-swing. However, a few hours before your post goes live, something bad happens. Maybe John Jones is in a horrific car accident or arrested for beating his child. You forgot to take down your scheduled post and it goes live. Now your innocuous message is suddenly stunningly insensitive.

2. Trolls are everywhere and bots are fodder, as Coca-Cola recently learned when they had to suspend their Super Bowl automated #makeithappy campaign after Gawker pulled a scandalous prank. The intent of the campaign was to turn negative messages to positive by turning tweets into ASCII art. Unfortunately, the bot was unable to filter intent, so Gawker made its own bot called @MeinCoke which tweeted lines from Mein Kampf with the #makeithappy hashtag…and the Cokebot responded in the only way it knew how, by turning Hitler’s words into happy cartoons.
5 Epic Social Media Automation Fails: Bots Just Aren’t People3. Bots don’t get sarcasm…or any other human emotion. Some social auto-responder programs are pretty great; they can run out a whole string of automated responses based on simple keywords and commands. Welcome to the future of social. BUT, be aware those bots can’t interpret emotions or create an emotional connection with your target audience. In fact, their attempts to do so can get pretty ugly, and fast.

For example, a bot response to something like, “Oceanic is such a great airline. You never know where you’ll end up.” might be, “Hey, thanks! We’re glad you enjoyed your flight.” …and it could go on from there. It’s not hard to imagine your Twitter feed flooded with sarcastic trolls baiting the bot, followed immediately by industry blog posts pointing out your gaffe. Ouch. Credibility blown.

4. Bots can go completely nuts. AT&T hired an agency to publicize a Ticket Chasers’ campaign. The intent was to identify and tweet to people who met the following criteria:

  • Bloggers (who would help spread the news about Ticket Chasers)
  • People who live in the cities where the promotion is running
  • People who mention basketball or March Madness

The ideal recipient might be a popular Boston blogger who writes about March Madness. The bot, unfortunately, was set up improperly, and the result was spamtastic. It sent a flood of tweets to anyone who met any one of the conditions. AT&T wound up apologizing for social media gone wild. Repeating the same mistake can get your business banned from Twitter search results.

5 Epic Social Media Automation Fails: Bots Just Aren’t People5. Autoreplies can get you in trouble and draw unwanted attention. Without a human to screen posts, your bot may misinterpret, reply to, or repost an inappropriate or brand-damaging (or worse, obscene) message. Take, for example, when Bank of America’s help bot (@BofA_Help) tried too hard to “help” members of the Occupy movement by responding to their tweets. Yikes.

The lesson here is that automation can save you time and money, but careful monitoring is a must. Schedule posts that simply can’t backfire, watch ALL responses to ensure your replies are in line with their purpose, and check in often to respond to anything unexpected. You might also want to set aside time to go over replies in person. A bot might miss a warm lead by misinterpreting a reply—and that’s just plain bad for business.