A Web Developer's Take on Personalization

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    Developers write code that allows Marketers to personalize content to website visitors

    As developers, we're ingrained into every business team. Sales, marketing, and HR trends directly impact our job. And, they most certainly change our deliverables. We have to be on-our-toes when it comes to trends. When businesses start calling for that latest marketing strategy, you have to be ready to deliver that strategy at some level.

    One of the hottest industry buzzwords right now is "personalization*." And, it probably has more to do with developing and website management than it does with marketing.

    In this post, let's talk about website personalization from a developer's perspective and go over some of the current industry challenges and opportunities surrounding this marketing trend.

    * To be clear, I'm not going to talk about deep personalization and forecasting using BI tools, data warehouses, OLAP analytic workloads, etc. This is all about website personalization (a.k.a delivering and developing customized experiences for website users.)

    What is Personalization?

    For developers, personalization is the ability to deliver content granularly to personas based on existing explicit data. This typically is done by using multiple datastores to deliver that content in fractions of a second based on consumer behaviors, interactions, etc.

    Why is Personalization Important?

    From a developer's standpoint, personalization is a critical lever of delivering a superior product. To understand how valuable personalization is to businesses (a.k.a. the bread-and-butter) let's talk about how important it is for customers.

    • 78% of customers refuse to engage in offers that aren't personalized.
    • 63% of customers say that relevant and personalized content gives them a better brand impression.
    • 77% of consumers have paid more for products or services from brands that offer personalized experiences.

    As the development world races towards faster launch times and increased collaboration (i.e. DevOps, Agile, etc.) the marketing community is chasing personalization. It's the differentiator. In fact, Walker predicts that brand will overtake price and product as the single most important component of the business strategy by next year. And, 87% of consumers say that personalized experiences change how they feel about (and engage with) brands.

    So, this makes personalization a development issue. After all, personalization is just data. And, finding ways to use intelligent website management to deliver content based on past experiences, interactions, etc. falls right into developers' laps.

    The 3 Challenges

    There are three challenges in the personalization space that developers should be aware of. These are the problems you'll run into as soon as you start a conversation with your client, team, or boss.

    1. Scope

    Like any marketing buzzword, the term personalization immediately creates scope issues. When businesses ask you to bake personalization into their website, you really need to figure out what exactly they want.

    So, it could be something as simple as setting up some if-this-then-that executions to deliver dynamic content across their website. Or, they may be looking for some complex workflows that utilize datastores to deliver fast real-time personalization across a variety of parameters. Even still, you may be working on some really complex personalization projects that utilize Hadoop or YARN and get into all of the fun big-data analytic junk.

    Either way, you need to know what's expected. The word personalization isn't granular enough to be insightful. If you're a freelancer, trying to figure out precisely what a business wants in terms of personalization can be a headache. And, they can have some broad ideas that aren't executable. Or, they may not provide you the type of information you need to get actionable. 

    2. CMS

    This is the biggest barrier. The CMS you use will determine your personalization flexibility. The languages it supports, integrations it accepts, and the ways it behaves are going to cement you into specific workflows. So, if you're using a CMS that isn't personalization-centric, setting up personalization models can be frustrating, time-consuming, and painful. This is especially true if your CMS is locking out critical data that you need to set up personalization workflows. But, if you're using a developer-friendly CMS that gives you code control and datastore management, setting up personalization can be a breeze. It really depends.

    3. Silos

    Surprise! Data silos are an issue... that's new! The data silo problem isn't going away anytime soon. And, when businesses have all of this data locked away in different silos, it can make personalization extremely difficult. You need tons of data to deliver on the personalization promise. Data silos are the kryptonite of fast, reliable, accurate data processing. At the same time, data lakes can be a hindrance on their own, especially when all of that unstructured customer data is dumped right into the same lake as critical data.

    How Do You Deliver Personalization?

    Let's make this clear — personalization is hinged to your CMS features. So, the CMS that you're using will be the lever that unlocks personalization. There are some cool tools in the developer-friendly CMS space that are great at enabling personalization. Template languages like Liquid can help you set up some pretty sophisticated personalization features — like drip campaigns and dynamic content display utilizing loops, if/then logic, etc.

    Content Delivery Networks (CDN) can hack content delivery speeds, which is extremely useful when we're talking about personalized data. And, the level of code control you have at the backend is obviously crucial for the entire process. A flexible CMS that lets you take control of coding, gives you the resources you need to deliver rapid, personalized content, and has good personalization features (think Liquid, CDN, datastore customization, etc.) is a key component of successfully delivering on the promise of personalization.

    Getting CMS Flexible

    Next time you get asked to build personalization workflows, I challenge you to think about the CMS you're using. It's going to be your limiting factor. Try to work in an environment that gives you the native tools you need to deliver on your project without spending your paycheck on Tylenol. If you're blockaded by the CMS you use, discuss that with your project manager or the business you're working with. A change in CMS can be the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to dealing with personalization projects.

    Are you dealing with a personalization project right now? Let us know in the comments. We're always interested in hearing your stories.

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