LiveArea’s Douglas Hollinger on educating clients in a new personalization-driven world

The Senior VP of Strategic Consulting for LiveArea discusses the evolution of personalization and what educating clients looked like in the early 2000's versus now.

Director of Marketing, Dynamic Yield

Our Partner Spotlight series interviews experts from our killer network of solutions partners and highlights their impact in the field of personalization.

Douglas Hollinger is the Senior VP of Strategic Consulting for LiveArea, a global commerce services provider which focuses in the areas of strategy, design, technology, and digital marketing. He’s a big picture thinker, resolutely focused on helping clients achieve breakthrough results leveraging emerging commerce thinking and digital technologies.

Catch a snippet of our conversation below, or listen to complete audio session:

Dynamic Yield: In your experience consulting brands to become more digitally-forward, how has personalization shaped the way you educate the market now vs. maybe even a few short years ago?

I’ve been in this market since about ’99, and when personalization was first talked about, it was sort of a pipe dream, or like consultant-speak. ATG and other platforms used to say they did personalization – they had some capabilities but I think people were a little unsure about how to do it. It sounded like a miracle, tailoring things to individuals. But more recently, as we talk to clients, this is really an assumed approach now. That in order to succeed in today’s market, and with all the threats we hear about in terms of retail and direct-to-consumer (DTC) in particular, personalization is a must-have.

It’s not a pipe dream, it’s something that’s expected from digital businesses. We don’t have to sort of sell people anymore on the value of personalization, or necessarily all the ways it’s used.

The way we educate the market now is more about how personalization looks for each client in their industry or for their particular situation, given their maturity. If they have a very traditional, go-to-market approach, are doing things very manually, or with these broad customer segments, then sometimes it’s part of an overall push to help them think about being more customer-centric and acting like a digitally native brand.

And for us, that means instilling a sense of continuous testing and learning – putting data at the center of the decision process. Learning to take your hands off the wheel a little bit from everything being done manually, or having somebody just relying on their personal background and experience. It’s about taking tools that assist with personalization and putting them at the center of your planning along with the data you’re generating online and in-store, and then feeding that back into the business… into the personalization loop.

Where we have to educate people may not be a technology issue all the time. It may be an organizational or a personnel issue. It may be helping them understand, in concrete ways, how to leverage these tools across different channels, touchpoints, or categories.

DY: As technology and commerce have become so closely intertwined, when advising clients on what to integrate as a part of their marketing stacks, do you work on adjusting what they already have in place or do you take a revolutionary approach?

It really depends on the client and where they are on that maturity curve. If they’ve already made some investments and things aren’t working, we try to maximize their current solutions and toolsets or add on a new piece like a Dynamic Yield if they don’t have certain capabilities. If they are further down the path and have done some A/B testing, we’ll look at the next two-to-five years and get really aggressive.

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Part of this is determined by the client’s mindset… their own confidence in the ability to execute on what we’re talking about, both from an infrastructure and organization perspective, and that readiness. If there’s an appetite for transformation and growth, we tend more to the revolutionary and focus on how to really distinguish them. Instead of copying other people, it becomes about getting them to stand out in a crowd and serve up truly delightful experiences to customers versus just playing catch up.

A lot of folks dip a toe in the water and have champagne expectations, but don’t really know how to get there – it’s all kind of theory for them. It’s easier to be more transformational and revolutionary when there is real leadership behind it. And again, if they are already used to that test-and-learn approach, it’s helpful.

DY: What are some of the biggest barriers you’ve witnessed when it comes to brands successfully rolling out an omnichannel strategy?

Sometimes you don’t have one owner of the customer or overall sales approach, meaning marketing will continue to happen through different channel divisions, leadership, or categories. Maybe you have to build an extra organizational layer in to leverage data properly across the organization and make it consumable. That’s sometimes the nuance – where the company is in their ability to work together. Do they have a clear vision of what they’re trying to achieve or their customer’s behavior? Is it shared? If it is, that unblocks a lot of the progress you can make when it comes to omnichannel experiences and really putting the customer at the center of it.

DY: What’s your theory on the future of personalization? Is it just another fad or do you expect to focus more heavily in providing services in this area as more brands begin to make the transition into more heavily individualized experiences?

There’s a sort of cycle to hot terms or ideas, right? Like how CRM went through this evolution where at first it’s all exciting, and then there are some challenges in implementation or execution, it ends up losing credibility, but finally comes back and is recycled.

With personalization, though, this idea of offering tailored experiences in order to really get folks what they need when they need it, is here to stay.

We won’t be talking about personalization explicitly because it’ll be assumed that’s what you do. It’s just going to be absorbed into an expectation of how you conduct business and commerce, whether that’s through additional improvements in automation and AI or the kinds of data we can play with. The mentality that this is essential is already there, it’s just about how well can I do it and how sophisticated can it be, while respecting the customers’ ability to change their mind or behave differently each time they interact with me. In the future, personalization is just how you do business and treat the customer – it’s built into everything we do.

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