How to create an ongoing culture of experimentation

Continuous optimization of the customer experience stems from instilling a deep sense of understanding around new concepts, mentalities, and goals.

Director of Marketing, Dynamic Yield
Director of Customer Success, Dynamic Yield

Companies across industries from all over the world are getting into the business of personalization at faster rates of adoption than ever before. A powerful driver of revenue, at one time (not long ago), executives and marketers questioned the importance of tailored interactions on the customer experience – now, they’re asking how to deliver them. 

A complex field with lots of moving parts and various potential applications that transcend marketing channels, without a proper ecosystem built around it, even the most comprehensive personalization tool will flounder to generate meaningful results.

In this post, we’ll walk through the organizational commitment and collaboration necessary to create a culture of experimentation.

Personalization is a full-fledged discipline

Like any marketing area of specialty within the org, effective execution relies heavily on selecting the right talent, orchestrating relationships and collaboration between departments and stakeholders, prioritizing initiatives, and then baking personalization into current workflows and processes for ease of implementation. 

Back when personalization meant connecting CRM data to an email service provider (ESP) for customization of a *|FNAME|* in the body of an email, it was easy enough for an Email Marketing Manager to connect with the Retention Specialist to make this happen. Although, poor data management practices meant this often backfired, leading to a less than optimal experience. 

But long gone are those days, and today, the number of personalization use cases are so vast, marketers can no longer simply stop by Susie’s desk and request a spreadsheet of the most up-to-date customer list to import for the next email blast. Spanning channels, strategies, and teams, cross-functional orchestration of personalization is not just optional, it’s required. 

This can be particularly difficult as it tests organizational communication in a way that other digital competencies do not. Not only must technical, business, and creative teams work closely together but every department from brand to acquisition, merchandising, and development will be impacted. 

Personalization is rooted in experimentation 

A strong executive sponsor or senior management team must invest heavily in tearing down any existing organizational silos, communicating clear objectives to the various stakeholders and departments, as well as how they will begin working together. Programs can quickly lose steam right out of the gate if the individuals involved do not fully comprehend their roles or the potential impact personalization poses to the larger business strategy.

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This person(s) is responsible for empowering teams to execute through a “fail fast, fail forward” approach, instilling the idea that all campaigns are important learning opportunities, even those that produce negative results. Giving teams the space to experiment fosters acceptance and commitment, ultimately accelerating the ability to launch campaigns and maximize performance. Bogging teams down with burdensome requirements limits this, and by definition, waters down a team’s creativity, obstructing powerful experiences from positively impacting the business.

For those well-versed in the land of A/B testing, a test and learn mentality may already be a part of an organization’s DNA, making the transition into the world of personalization more fluid. However, with a unique set of new applications and complexities, a deeper level of optimization is necessary to achieve true personalization. Therefore, previous notions, concepts, mentalities, KPIs, and ways of operating will have to evolve, level setting those entering the field. 

Finally, serving the right content to the right audience at various stages of the customer journey relies heavily on data, so organizations should use this to dictate action rather than opinion. 

Personalization is an ongoing process

Decoding a customer’s needs, wants, and behaviors stems from continuous optimization, the process of coming up with new tests based on available data, prioritizing them within a testing roadmap, and then executing, analyzing, and iterating on campaigns for efficiency. This cycle is never-ending, and organizations need to understand that even with the most advanced technology (which can automate aspects of this work), personalization is not meant to be set it and forget it. 

In addition to patience and persistence, teams must be pushed to think very strategically about whether a test has a clear objective, what insights are meant to be extracted, how an experience ties back to business goals, and most importantly if it’s customer-centric. Asking these types of questions is key to ensuring scalable results, which is why personalization should be thought of as a long-term program and not a series of smaller projects.

Getting it right is worth the energy

Companies need to do their due diligence, ironing out how personalization fits into the larger business strategy as well as the exact impact on key stakeholders and their respective teams, jobs, responsibilities, and even MBOs. A vision for personalization should be well-documented, with clear goals set for what is wished to be accomplished, and frequently communicated to ensure alignment throughout the organization.

Doing all of this work upfront will allow businesses to quickly see ROI, and early success stories can do wonders for the acceptance and sustainability of a program, turning into exponential growth.