A CTO Gets Personal about Personalization

By Brian O'Neill

January 24, 2018

I joined Monetate because I believe in Personalization and Individualization. I shop almost exclusively online. My home is fully automated. I'm an avid traveler, and I'm terrible at keeping up with my personal finances. The internet knows all of this, and I believe it should use that information to make my life easier, more fun, and more rewarding. While it’s at it, it should make me healthier and less fat, too.

In return, I would gladly hand over my expendable income. As you can imagine, there is a single brand that has a disproportionate amount of that right now, but it doesn't need to stay that way.

I believe that Personalization, with a capital P, is the number one thing that can drive my loyalty to a brand.

The Reality of Personalization...

Now, since I've been at Monetate, I've been living the day-to-day challenges, where the vision of Personalization runs head-on into the wall of reality.   

Some of those challenges are technical. To deliver on the value of Personalization, you need to be able to react to and learn from billions of customer interactions per day. This means you need a platform that can ingest a massive amount of customer data and process it in an instant. Which means you need a globally distributed machine-learning engine. That is exactly what we’ve spent the last few years building at Monetate.

While solving the technical challenges, I also got to see the market and organizational challenges. I'd like to address those by shouting three things from the top of the tallest rooftop.

Stop expecting testing to drive business results!

Please stop expecting a huge impact on business results when you experiment with testing. Ninety-seven percent of tests do not reach statistical significance. Ninety-seven! The approach is costly, leads to diminishing returns, and is all too prone to failure. What it does do, is help the marketer learn, and it should be used that way.

Instead of testing, Monetate envision a process and system whereby marketers identify their goal, introduce differentiated experiences and content to achieve that goal, and leave it to the system to identify the individuals for whom that experience works. Content might only be appropriate for a niche few, but it might be highly impactful for those few. In this paradigm, effort on creative and experience development isn't wasted. This is a much better way to live.

Product Recommendations ≠ Personalization

Product recommendations are a commodity at this point. Everybody needs them, but the algorithms are well-understood and the performance has plateaued. You will reap some rewards by putting "purchased also purchased" type algorithms in front of consumers, but you aren't going to make them happy or loyal to your brand.

Product recommendations also do not solve for customer engagement during the majority of the year that your customer is not in a buying cycle. Brands need to evolve to an ongoing dialogue with their customers that does not assume they are always looking to buy something.

What will make them happy is taking their individual situation into account and responding to it. For example, I'm a tall extra-large size. The internet knows this. The internet also has product inventory information. Lastly, it knows that I'm frugal to a fault and I will buy anything that is on sale. This presents a huge opportunity that is being missed with product recommendations: they don't take all of this into account, and the brands don't follow up with me as inventory changes and prices change!

Personalization Needs to Happen Everywhere

And while I’m at it, I need to put a plug in for my wife. You see, she sometimes goes into stores to make purchases. She, like me, does a lot of online browsing, but she buys most of her clothes in-store. Personalization across these touchpoints would make her life SO MUCH EASIER (and probably save me a few bucks).

Imagine a world where she browses online. Maybe she’s a loyalty member with that brand. Afterwards, she receives an email or even a postcard telling her that the items she browsed are available in our local store. Maybe it even mentions that they’re a good match for the pants she bought last week. When she enters the store, the associate recognizes her and is able to help her complete the sale, showing her the things she browsed online and some other items that go with her recent purchases.

In the end

All of these capabilities are available today, offering brands the ability to make my life (and the lives of millions of other shoppers) easier and more rewarding. But I still spend hours searching the internet for TXL polos, and I'm certainly not less fat.

Please take action. Help me help you deliver on Personalization. Together, we can make the world a better place.  

Learn more about the Monetate Intelligent Personalization Engine, click here.

Brian is CTO at Monetate, where he lives at the intersection of innovation and execution. Brian has a proven track record of applying open-source solutions to enterprise-scale data and analytics problems, specializing in big data, high-throughput, real-time systems.

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