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Why personalization is a must-do

Q&A: What do Alaska Airlines, Spotify, and your favorite dry cleaner have in common? They’re acing the personalization game. Learn how to follow their lead in this Q&A with Slalom’s customer engagement experts.

Slalom’s Brian Ladyman, Anthony Gould, and Jen Glass will host a webinar on July 26Let’s get personal: Enabling your business, tech, and data for personalization success. Ahead of the webinar, we sat down with them to hear their tips for succeeding with personalization—and some shifts companies should make to see big results.


What types of organizations can benefit from personalization?

Ladyman: Every single type of organization. It can be your local dry cleaner that knows your name and says, “Hi, Carol” whenever you walk in the door. It’s Alaska Airlines, with flight attendants that come to your seat during a flight to thank you for being an MVP Gold member. It’s Amazon, with its “Recommended for you” engine that brings in 35 percent of its sales. Every organization needs to dig into what their specific customers want and need, and then develop a strategy to deliver that personal experience to them.

Gould: It’s really easy to give examples of B2C companies, like Nordstrom knowing what shoes you’ve looked at, but there's a definite B2B impact here as well. B2B businesses need to serve their clients and employees in the way that works for them.

Glass: A good B2B example is something we’re working on right now. We’re partnering with an insurance company to help personalize the information it shares with agents to help agents do their jobs better. It’s a great way to empower the sales folks and save them a lot of time.

“We often recommend that organizations start with some personalization, maybe a little earlier than they might expect, because it takes so much care, feeding, and learning over time.”
– Jen Glass, Slalom practice area lead

Why has personalization shifted from a nice-to-do to a must-do?

Gould: Customers’ expectations are getting higher and higher every day. We want to buy from companies that know us. If you think of companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify—they know you and understand you. If you go to a retailer’s website and see products that don't apply to you whatsoever, your trust and goodwill toward that company go down. We’re becoming personally invested in the companies that get us, and we’re leaving the others behind. Even something as simple as just having your name in the top of an e mail gets a six percent lift in people opening that email. Small, simple tactics can make a big impact.


What are some common personalization challenges you’re seeing organizations face?

Ladyman: Silos of data, not having the latest technologies to surface content in the right ways, not having enough content. You can have the right CMS platform, but if you don’t have a team behind it to produce different content for different audiences—like emails to people who have never bought your products and emails to long-time customers—you won’t succeed. And most organizations don’t realize the amount of time it takes to invest in having enough content.

Gould: To expand on what Brian said about silos of data, companies often spend a lot of money on new platforms or new technology. And all of a sudden they have a very complex, siloed environment, and they don't know if the money going out the door is actually delivering the personal experiences they want it to. You have to shift from that complex environment to a more unified environment so you can pull data insights and measure the impact of your personalization activities.

Glass: Another challenge I see companies facing is having a barrier between IT and marketing. These two departments tend to not work closely together, and they often butt heads, but it’s important to bridge that gap and bring the teams together. Marketing needs to think about the strategy—like what segments of users they want to target and what content or experience they want to deliver. And they often need to leverage IT to make their visions a reality.

“You can have the right CMS platform, but if you don’t have a team behind it to produce different content for different audiences…you won’t succeed.”
– Brian Ladyman, Slalom managing director

What’s a common misconception about personalization?

Ladyman: That it’s all about technology. Technology plays a major role and is critical for scale, but you also need strategy, the right content, people with the right skills, training, and the right organizational structure to be effective. With our clients, we dive in to the ins and outs of their organization and then work together to figure out the right solution to move the personalization ball forward.

Glass: Some think that personalization is something you do once. Many organizations think they put this plan in place and then they let it run, but it's really something that involves day-to-day massaging and growing and learning from. We often recommend that organizations start with some personalization, maybe a little earlier than they might expect, because it takes so much care, feeding, and learning over time.


What’s one of the coolest examples of personalization you’ve seen recently?

Ladyman: My colleague completed a half-marathon at Disney World, and she had dinner reservations at Victoria & Albert’s after. When she got there, the menu had a special message at the top—addressed to her—congratulating her on finishing the half. Pretty cool.

Gould: At the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado, the hotel staff at the beginning of the day works to understand the guests that are showing up. They then try to address the guests by name, and make sure that they know something about them.

Glass: For me, my favorite type of personalization is when I don’t even notice it. It's so easy for it to be a little creepy. I like when Airbnb surfaces advertisements to me and I go on those vacations without even really realizing that they were personalized because it was so streamlined. Did I become interested in the location because I saw it on Airbnb? Maybe. But it didn’t feel like, "Hey, you bought this and you also might want…" That’s too salesy. I want it to feel subtle and natural versus annoying.

“You need to be intentional and think of the ramifications. Just because you have data, doesn’t mean you should always act on it.”
– Anthony Gould, Slalom solution principal

What are some mistakes you’ve seen organizations make with personalization?

Ladyman: I've heard people complain about grocery store clerks reading their names off their receipts, often mispronouncing the names. When it's awkward for both the person at the checkout to read your name and for you to hear your mispronounced name, that’s not the right path. Even stuff that sounds easy can be kind of complicated, so you need to make sure you execute it correctly. You need to figure out what your specific customers want.

Gould: There’s also the Target pregnancy example. They pulled pregnancy prediction scores based on customers’ purchases of things like cocoa butter, big purses, and vitamins, and then started sending coupons for baby items. It crossed the line into creepy and invasive. You need to be intentional and think of the ramifications. Just because you have data, doesn’t mean you should always act on it.


What direction is personalization heading?

Glass: I think we’re going to start seeing more mixed in-store and online experiences. Imagine walking into your mobile phone carrier's store, and the staff knowing who you are instantly because you have your phone in your pocket. They know that your contract is almost up for negotiation, that you haven't bought a new set of headphones from them in three years, and that you just added your mom to your account and maybe she needs a new phone. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these types of experiences in the future.

Gould: We’re going to start seeing more of an algorithmic approach—known as machine learning or AI [artificial intelligence]—to be able to quickly gather insights from large amounts of complex data. Without machine learning or AI capabilities, it can takes a lot of man hours and a lot of iterations to be able to draw those insights. And by that time, the data might be outdated. The shift toward these analytical approaches will be the solution.

Brian Ladyman

Brian Ladyman is the managing director of Slalom’s Customer Engagement and Experience Design teams in Seattle. He has over 20 years of marketing and sales experience, including leadership roles at PeopleSoft, Oracle, A.T. Kearney, and McCann Worldgroup. Ladyman is all about trying to help Slalom’s clients really understand their customers (what’s going to wow them?), determine the right strategies based on that understanding, and figure out how to practically make it happen. Follow Ladyman on LinkedIn.

Jen Glass

Jen Glass is the practice lead for Slalom’s Digital Experience Management team in Seattle. She has over 12 years of experience bringing together business and technology to provide engaging user experiences for customers, employees, and partners. Glass believes that a strong focus on the user will provide the best outcomes when designing new solutions. She is excited by the opportunity today’s technology and data provide to create personalized interactions, from simple to complex. Follow Glass on LinkedIn.

Anthony Gould

Anthony Gould is a solution principal on Slalom’s data science team within the Information Management and Analytics practice in Seattle. He has a passion for building collaborative analytics teams that drive more data-driven insights to critical areas of the business. Gould has been the Seattle Tableau User Group leader for over three years and was recognized as a Tableau Ambassador. He also recently won a Tableau data viz competition, and his work is featured in Tableau’s public gallery. Follow Gould on LinkedIn.