Fulfilling the Promise of Personalization

What’s involved in delivering direct, one-to-one digital marketing at a broadcast level today? I decided to explore that question with two experts.

Today’s column features my interview with Darren Johnson, vice president of sales at Omniture Test & Target. I sought out his thoughts on what’s happening in the marketplace and the emerging trends he’s seeing with his customers.

In part two, I’ll feature an interview with my colleague, Nigel Morgan, and one of his more sophisticated clients. They’re working on a project that involves real-time media behavioral targeting with creative display testing and real-time site-side optimization of the traffic.

Shane Atchison: Thank you for joining me Darren. Can you quickly let us know what optimization is and how can it be leveraged to move the business results needle?

Darren Johnson: Optimization is an umbrella term for making the assets you have work better for you through testing, behavioral targeting, and by employing smart data-driven decision making. In these current market conditions, it’s a very relevant topic. Most companies have a lot of great data, people, and opportunity. Optimization is what they do to get more yield out of those assets. To move the needle consistently you need to implement a sustainable, repeatable program, not just a one-off project. There are too many ‘initiatives’ where companies want to “just run an MVT test.” MVT [multivariate testing] is a great technique, but when you’re looking to make a real/sustainable business impact, you need to look at testing as a component/technique in an optimization program. The clients we serve [and your clients] have real, sustainable, continuous programs and this gives them a serious competitive advantage.

SA: Do you find that both testing and targeting together make a real impact for online marketers?

DJ: You really need to do both — test and target; the results are exponential. When you layer in site-side testing and targeting with a total campaign view both off-site and on-site, you can drive outstanding results. We are just scratching the surface of this capability today. Almost every campaign/test we run shows that the deeper we target, the more relevant we can make the experience. When we test it, we prove the old adage of “the right content, to the right person, at the right time” and can finally execute on the old personalization promise. I recently viewed a GMAC campaign where the better performing experiences on a landing page had significantly different answers for visitors coming from certain e-mail campaigns vs. paid search vs. organic. Testing proves marketing efficacy and targeting enables our clients to deliver relevance.

SA: Do you have any examples that you can share of companies that have a total view and what makes them different?

DJ: It sounds a little obnoxious, but any company trying to deliver better/more relevant experiences and making decisions with data are different and have a competitive advantage. There are over 300 Omniture Test & Target clients and this capability gives them an advantage and makes them different. Some of the best, most advanced online marketers that I work with include companies from all sectors like E-Loan, Intuit, Musician’s Friend, GMAC, Fandango, Esurance, T-Mobile, VeriSign, etc. Intuit’s TurboTax group employs a fantastic program of constant improvement through actionable analytics and employee enablement. They understand the need not just for the tools, but also the expertise to manage the tools and, most importantly, they give the managers and employees the power to make their own decisions and base those decisions on data. I heard TurboTax’s VP of marketing state that they will not do anything on their site or launch a campaign without targeting the experience in some form and testing/validating its impact on their key metrics. They refuse to keep guessing and, based on how well they continue to do, I’d say this mindset serves them well.

SA: What is the biggest misconception/hurdle you face when selling this concept/program of optimization to online marketers?

DJ: The perception that technology can be a “magic pill” that automatically drives metric improvement. Even with all that math/technology/automation, you still cannot replace smart marketing. The key is that even the best technology cannot deliver better marketing without a “smart marketer.” Technology can help marketers do things faster, more accurately, and with quantifiable data…but it cannot replace good ideas.

SA: I hear you talk a lot about “speed matters,” which sounds a bit of a cliché. What do you mean by this and how does it impact online marketers?

DJ: A really smart guy I used to work with at Offermatica once said, “You can stare at a tortilla until you see Jesus the same way you can stare at data until you see an answer.” A lot of smart statisticians/economists have been working on answering the question “are we in a recession?” for over a year and just validated that we are (thanks guys). Smart online marketers started reacting to the current market conditions 18 months ago. I would suggest that any businesses that are only now reacting after this recession was “made official” will be at a competitive disadvantage. Only stare at the tortilla for as long as you need to. Speed matters.

SA: What do you see as the next big marketplace adoption?

DJ: All too often, our media groups do not communicate with our site teams. Visitors may anticipate a certain experience based on why they came to the site (display ad, e-mail, search term, etc) and then leave when they’re disappointed in the (less than relevant) result. I see 2009 as being the year when the smartest marketers — from media teams, site-side teams, and social media teams — finally provide a seamless experience across the entire Internet ecosystem. Targeting the right visitors, then testing various content elements to see what is most relevant to each segment is the next frontier.

SA: Thank you for your insight Darren. I look forward to seeing you at the Omniture Summit this month.

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