The importance of personalization in phase 1

At Symposium, you always hear a lot of war stories.  I was talking with a key marketing stakeholder from a good sized manufacturer; a newer Sitecore client.  The business manufactures a wide variety of products that serve both B2B and B2C customers.  Because of the diverse product catalog, it's virtually impossible to present relevance to the site visitor without personalization.

The stakeholder was lamenting that their new site is launching with content management only.  They aren't taking advantage of any of the Sitecore XP functionality in phase 1 - No personalization, no testing, no engagement automation, no engagement value, no notion of personas or customer segmentation. 

I asked why...  They didn't intend to launch with CMS only.  During this informal hallway retrospective, he attributed the result to two drivers. 

#1.  There was limited discussion about customer experience design during the envisioning and planning phases of the project.  The planning process was anchored on sitemap and wireframes, rather than customer attributes, user journey design, engagement value development and content modeling.  An old-school planning approach results in an old-school deliverable.  

#2.  A lot of legacy 'must have' functionality from the original website made it into the new scope.  The rationale was, 'we can't afford to drop functionality', fearing the perception that the business was going backwards.  In reality, the stakeholder postulated, there's functionality that doesn't effectively drive to the organization's strategic goals.  The opportunity cost for getting this 'must have' functionality in; personalized content.  

What an unfortunate situation, but it's recoverable.  They're going to launch with a nice, newly designed, responsive site.  They can build on that foundation and start introducing customer-centric personalization.  But, the better approach is to bake customer experience design into the process from the beginning;  even if it means going leaner on phase 1 functionality than you'd ultimately like.  Bolting on customer-centric taxonomy will always require some level of refactoring. 

A good counter-point to this story came during one of the Symposium break out sessions.  Dustin Clark from Camelbak gave a great talk on his current Sitecore eCommerce project (Sitecore + Active Commerce).  He took a very brave position by combining two potentially competing positions within his phase 1 project.  He advocated an ultra lean phase 1 functional base with no (minimal) feature creep.  At the same time, he required day one personalization across diverse visitor profiles.  He pressed on that point because he sees the value in personalization.  He recognizes that Camelbak can't effectively connect with its customers without speaking to them in the context of what they know about them.  Sage advise, and great discipline to drive to this phase 1 state.   

Here are some warning signs that your new experience project may end up only a CMS project.

  • Are you being asked to profile your customer at the beginning of the design phase? Persona and customer segmentation development is a key input to an effective customer experience design.   
  • Are you being asked about the journey from a first time visitor all the way through to a loyal brand advocate?  Another key input. Documenting the customer journey stages, outcomes that trigger the advancement to the stages, along with supporting goals & events is necessary for personalizing content based on where they are in their journey.
  • Talking about outcomes & goals, are you being asked about the relative value to the business of outcomes & goals?  It's important to quantify the value to the business in order to align customer activity to ROI.  It's also necessary to quantify outcomes & goals in order to assign attribution to channels & campaigns.  
  • Are you reviewing content audit results in the context of the customer profile and user journey attributes that are described above.  A customer-centric content model is needed to deliver personalization at scale.  
  • Are you employing component based design?  A best practice Sitecore implementation makes use of an ever growing inventory of reusable renderings in concert with dynamic responsive templates.  

If you're not being asked questions along these lines, you may want to challenge your team to envision how they'll approach personalization, and to see if the current plan supports that.