Marketers “sitting on a gold mine of data”

As rhetoric flies around the topic of ‘big data’ – that concept that everyone’s talking about but nobody seems to know how to define – a business optimisation expert has told Marketing that marketers should focus less on worrying about how to collect data and more on effectively using the data they already have to boost business outcomes.

Lars Petersen, head of business optimisation services at global software company Sitecore, says that in the digital world segmentation, or at least the traditional implementation of it, is being turned on its head. Instead, the process online is much more  flexible and continuously changing. Online visitors can be assigned a persona, and that persona can be used for both personalising their experience and collecting data to optimise the whole process.

“Marketers are actually sitting on a gold mine of data,” says Petersen. “Most organisations already have a lot of data that they can use.”

By way of example, Petersen gives personalisation: dynamically presenting website content, emails and other communications based on an individual’s profile. That profile is obtained through a user’s online behaviour, such as what search term brought them to a business’ website, or what content they’ve engaged with once there.

“Thinking about web analytics data, there are many different types you can dive into. For instance, which keywords are businesses using to find your website? Those keywords reveal intent, and then those keywords could be used for personalisation of the website.”

From the audience’s perspective the benefit of personalisation is the relevance of content presented to each user. “I think it’s something we can relate to in our everyday work when we go to a website… Even though you have come from Google and you have searched for specific keywords, you go into the website and the first page [may be] relevant to the keyword. But then when you break away from that page, for instance, going to the front page, it’s the same aesthetic front page that they show every visitor on the website.

“The real benefit from a consumer perspective is that you are able to be relevant. You can actually set up a conversation based on the intent, and the intent could be very real.”

In addition to the intent that can be determined by the keywords used, Petersen says a customer’s browsing behaviour can be another source of information. “And even if you go on the website and click 10 times on a specific product or service, [when you] go back to the front page it still shows the same standard content as it shows everybody.

The biggest challenge marketers face, according to Petersen, is getting started. “Marketers have a lot of tasks on their desk, just to keep up with their everyday job. So to get started on a personalisation initiative, to take that step, is a challenge for many, because they don’t have enough time for it. That’s the first step. But once they get into it and they start proving the business case, then of course it’s easier to get more time and budget for doing so.”

In order to prove the business case, Petersen recommends baby steps, rather than taking a plunge and the risk that goes along with it. “There are different techniques to [prove the business case]. The easiest one is basically setting up a test, you test your normal page, and then you test it with another version of the front page that has exactly the same layout, but the only difference is you’re using personalisation on this version. Then you can clearly see how personalisation will impact it. Will it perform better?

Then the next step, once you have proven the business case, is to look into which personalisation messages are delivering the best outcome, so you can go in and be more specific about what works and what doesn’t and what needs to be changed.”

Is the idea of target market segmentation dead? No, says Petersen. The concepts are still useful, but the difference is less need for qualitative, inefficient research. “Most organisations today use personas to influence design decisions. Basically they create these personas and discuss them: how should the experience look like for John, versus how should it look like from Anna? Then once they implement the website, all these personas are left in the drawer, and they’re not used anymore.

“What we are doing is making sure that you use those in your website, so you’re able to map every single visitor to which personas they are, and then you can use that for personalisation, but also for data collection. The five-step process that we will be covering in the webinar [Petersen is hosting a webinar on 26 February for Australian marketers interested in learning more about this topic] is basically how to, in the first place, create a persona, and that is step one: research.

“As soon as you start doing segmentation based on that research, different personas with different goals, behaviours and attitude appear. Step three is to validate those using the data and then step four is prioritising those – so you split them up into other pockets, like which are the primary personas? Which are secondary? Which are unimportant? And then step five is making the personas real: basically setting up different information sheets about personas, who is this person with a picture and a description and what is their behaviour? You also get a sense what their goals are and how to have a conversation with them. And then we use that information to basically put them into the website and make them come alive.”

One high flier in online personalisation and optimisation that Petersen points to is Easyjet. “They started out using personalisation in 2011. They also went through the process of proving the business case. Basically all revenue comes from their website because they sell online, so, of course, this has a great impact if it works, or if it doesn’t work.

“They started off by choosing a small portion of the website for personalisation, and then they worked a little bit with it, but what they saw was that this had a really, really great effect on their conversion rates, and their conversion rates were clearly correlated to real business outcomes with revenue. So they started using personalisation at a much faster pace than they had originally thought, and they’ve seen double figure increases in their conversion.”