Welcome to personalised web journeys

2248298_personalisationThe flat web world of “one-size fits all” is starting to look dated. Every visitor to a site has a discrete and often unique journey they have embarked on and this means that web owners need to provide a method of managing this journey online so the visitor sees the correct information at the appropriate time to support making the correct decision.

With different visitors having wildly differing needs online the provision of a platform that a) identifies the visitor’s needs and b) serves up the most appropriate content is the new nirvana for both commercial and service-orientated site providers. Amazon, Ebay and Google have been doing this for years using in-house technology to great effect. The time is now right for the provision of an off-the-shelf visitor personalisation and journey management tool.

Journey management

It’s a simple enough concept but here is the crux of the new thinking: Recognise and understand the needs of the visitor and where they sit in their journey and then deliver appropriate content to enable or enhance their journey. All the technology tools to do this are already available and it’s only a matter of gluing them together into a manageable process:

  • A visitor cookie can index or passport the visitor to a permanent record of journey progress held on a central server
  • The visitor’s aims and predicted journey should be calculated via learning, testing and good practice thinking
  • Every-time the visitor interacts with the site the journey is re-plotted and the visitor’s “passport” is updated with this new learning
  • The site then delivers content based on the probable journey of the visitor. This content could be something as simple as a call-to-action or journey-specific content but should also include other journey variables into the mix.

The approach is not new, it’s how “sales” have been carried out for thousands of years but the application of this methodology on the web is really rather cutting edge, despite being available from developers and off-the-shelf applications such as VITES™.

Re-thinking marketing

One of the great challenges facing marketing departments is this shift away from “one size fits all” mass marketing to personal messaging and journey marketing. This might go a long way to explain why such an obvious approach has been largely ignored in the last 5 years, it’s too different a mindset and too different an approach for a traditional marketing department to embrace. There are new skills to learn and one of the most important ones is to spend more time listening. Listening to:

  • passengers that get off before they complete your journey, having completed theirs
  • your successful passengers and learning about their journey and it’s key points
  • the identification of key “stops” along the way and establishing good strategies for managing these stops
  • how people get onto the journey in the first place
  • what motivates some passengers to travel faster or further on their journey
  • recognise the white noise of tyre-kickers
  • the time it takes people to start, travel and end their journey
  • the semantic and personal trust networks that exist in and around the journeys

The internet has frequently hailed the death of mass marketing but to the surprise of many the old mass-marketing world is not going slowly into the night – too much experience and knowledge is invested (tied up?) in the old world and too little motivation, skill or bravery exists to drive commercial organisations into this new space.

The next few years will see the explosion of personalisation tools, born from all walks of technology (analytics, testing tools, CMS, behavioural targeting etc) and with no standards in place I expect a wild-west, free-for-all race to develop new tools. Sadly, it probably signals the end of the line for the smaller companies as they simply won’t be able to compete with the muscle of the larger corporations and their software house-sized development budgets.