What vs. Why

A recent study indicated that only 14% of tablet experiences and 13% of smartphone experiences are personalized. Why are these numbers so low? The concept of personalization has been in play for quite a while, and some mobile websites do a great job of tracking interests and making recommendations, with Amazon probably being the best example. Although in fairness, they are in a nearly perfect position to drive personalization. They have a vast product offering and tons of data to work from; most of their recommendations are driven by a collaborative filtering engine (people like you bought stuff like this) that is continuously being refined via billions of transactions. They are arguably the market leader at addressing the “what” of marketing, perhaps less so at the more critical question: “why?”, which is what drives deep personalization. If they are the market leader for “what” personalization technology, and they’re struggling with “why”, you can well imagine what little has been done by other sites. What’s up with Why?

The “why” of mobile personalization requires a more nuanced interpretation of consumer behavior, and one of the potential benefits of mobility is that it can add that layer of nuance. Why? Because unlike desktops, the mobile device (specifically a smartphone) is always with the consumer, and always on. As mobile devices become more powerful and useful, we’ve come to rely on them almost continuously, and that heavy usage is where the subtleties that can address “why” come into play. I may shop at Amazon once or twice per week, but I am on my phone pretty much non-stop in one form or another.

So what is holding back personalization on a mobile device? Everyone (correctly) expects a rich and relevant experience when surfing from a desktop, but what happens when you move to that cool gadget in your pocket? There are several antecedent questions:

First, what kind of device? Tablet or smartphone? Which operating system and which release? Which browser and which release? What’s the screen size? Are your email messages and associated landing pages optimized for a mobile experience, or do you cram a PC site onto a mobile device (you’d be surprised how often this happens)?

Second, what data can you capture? Do you have a history of the user’ interaction with your brand? Have they opted in to having personal data collected? Have they bought from you before or are they a newbie? Are you able to track their movement through the funnel and map your messages to match their stage of interest?

Third, what do you do with the data? Are you able to tease out attribution? Assuming a multi-touch campaign (which applies to all non-impulse purchases), how do you know which ad exposure was the tipping point? Or does the last touch get all the credit? Knowing exactly what worked is incredibly valuable information for future initiatives designed to create those moments of serendipity that can delight your customers.

Fourth, how do you manage the complete customer lifecycle? Regardless of what you’re selling, customers will buy more that one of your product (exception: caskets). Marketing is not a process with a beginning and end, it’s a continuous loop of replacements and upgrades. Knowing how to cultivate a long term relationship can add multiple zeros to your bottom line.

So the why of mobility is not just about the device, it’s about the contextual use of the device, the contextual framework of underlying data and what is done with it that can lead to as rich an experience as you’d expect on a desktop, translated to a mobile device. It is the confluence of mobility and social media where “why” will really come into its own; consumers pouring the minutia of their lives online, then accessing it via an always on device. It is, as you can see, complex, subject to rapidly changing dynamics, and requires skills that are still beyond the grasp of most companies (particularly SMBs). However, the first company to figure out how to address “why” at scale is where the next crop of billionaires is likely come from.

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