B2B Personalization Revisited

How many times have you heard the phrase “one-to-one” in the last day… week… month? Books are titled with it, and entire businesses have been built around the idea.

One-to-one marketing is rapidly becoming the standard by which all marketing is measured. But it still isn’t fully understood, or always effectively implemented, by business-to-business (B2B) marketers on the Internet.

Underneath the surface of Internet one-to-one marketing is Internet personalization. Although the original definition of personalization in marketing meant using a person’s name or other personal information in a communication, today it has taken on a much broader meaning. Personalization, in fact, often crosses lines with customization, which is the packaging of information in a customized way. For example, Dell Computer customizes Web pages to meet the specific needs of its major customers. By customizing these “Premier Pages” for each customer, Dell provides a very personalized experience. More important, this customization makes it easy for customers to always know the discounts and other terms and conditions of their relationship with Dell, thus making it easy to do business with the company.

Another example of highly personalized customer service is the way Amazon.com advises its customers on purchasing. Amazon makes “instant recommendations,” suggests items that the customer might be interested in based on previous purchases, and offers ideas for complementary items (e.g., select a computer printer, and Amazon will recommend cartridges and printer cables to go along with it). Amazon also provides “1-Click ordering,” which customizes the ordering process so returning customers don’t have to re-enter basic data already on file.

The presence of “my” pages at a growing number of sites, at portals and search engines in particular, is evidence of the growth of personalization. “My” pages give users considerable individual power to customize home pages and other Web pages to meet their specific needs. These pages typically use personalization engines and tools that provide users with choices, usually in the form of check boxes, from which to select personalization criteria. By answering a few simple questions, the user instructs the Web site to “learn” his or her preferences, so a personalized page appears the next time.

Personalization isn’t only for Web sites. More and more, email programs are incorporating sophisticated use of personalization, not just a name within the email copy but personal information throughout the email strategy. Programmed email is used so that an individual receives the right email at the right time. Today it is possible to design email programs to “follow” a prospect and cultivate his or her interest or to prompt a customer to purchase again when appropriate.

For a continuing dialogue about Internet personalization, check out Net Perceptions . It will provide you with more than you will ever want to know about the subject.

Another valuable source of information covering personalization as it relates to marketing and customer service is the print publication, 1to1. Published by DIRECT magazine in association with the Peppers and Rogers Group, the acknowledged one-to-one pioneers, the publication reports on one-to-one customer marketing innovations. Check out the Peppers and Rogers Group Web site as well, itself an excellent example of a personalized site.

Also worthy of review is a report titled “The Year’s Ten Best Web Support Sites,” published by The Association of Support Professionals. The 2000 report is available on the association’s Web site. The 1999 report was significant because it suggested the broad implementation of personalization across the 10 winning sites: Iomega, Cisco, Sybase, Microsoft, Intuit, Intel, Symantec, CambridgeSoft, Dell, and Macromedia. According to report editor Jeffrey Tarter, “There’s a clear trend toward personalization and audience segmentation, deeper use of clickstream data, better online forums, and greater intelligence in search tools and knowledgebase design.”

In the context of building customer relationships, there does appear to be strong evidence that customizing and personalizing the Web experience leads to greater customer loyalty and higher customer retention rates. According to eMarketer, a recent study reported that 63 percent of U.S. consumers are more likely to register at a Web site that accommodates content customization and offers personalization features.

However, personalization, customization, and one-to-one marketing are not gimmicks to dazzle customers or Band-Aids to fix poor service. They are a strategy to which a B2B marketer must make a serious commitment.

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