Spotify continues to heighten consumer expectations of personalization from brands. Last year, the music-streaming giant announced that some of its previously human-curated public playlists will be tailored to the tastes of individual users. That means no two distinct users will have the exact same playlists appearing in the Spotify dashboard. The company made the announcement after extensively testing the popularity of playlists curated by its editorial team and collecting data on user listening times and preferences. The change will be accompanied by new analytics tools for artists and labels.

 

Modern marketers know that personalized messaging is key to reaching an increasingly distracted audience, but recent research from IBM suggests that truly customer-centric marketing is still just out of reach. This is despite the proliferation of data and analytics technologies — and perhaps because of it. As the array of tools and information at every marketer’s fingertips continues to grow, so does the pressure to turn it all into real, measurable results. The reality, however, is that most lack the basic resources — including time and domain expertise — to translate unfiltered data into viable personalized marketing strategies, and agile workflow can help.

Great Expectations

These types of groundbreaking data applications are helping companies like Spotify disrupt and seize control of entire industries. They’re also changing consumer expectations at a rate that’s almost impossible to keep up with for most marketers. Even for brands that are able to offer innovative, personalized experiences, doing so can be a double-edged sword. Once users get a taste for personalization, they come to expect it from your brand. So one-off or occasionally personalized experiences can create a disconnect that detracts from customer perceptions of your company.

If elements within these experiences are constantly changing — like a landing page, for example — overtime, it can be difficult to track the impact of that change on your overall messaging strategy. Plus, marketers are often using personalization tools in silos when making the most of them requires a high level of internal knowledge sharing. When information isn’t shared universally, it can lead to the wrong messaging or messaging personalized to the wrong customer.

 

The Promise of Agile

 

The companies that are having the most success in terms of offering personalized experiences to customers are those that have an agile workflow, regardless of size. This approach allows marketers to incrementally test strategies to ensure they’re effective before investing a large number of resources into implementing them. Agile teams excel at accomplishing big things by breaking them down into smaller tasks with measurable outcomes. Those outcomes then inform future tests, meaning every initiative is built on a solid foundation of knowledge. And every initiative is scalable because institutional knowledge is consolidated, stored, and easily accessible. This is precisely the approach that companies like Spotify use to develop game-changing experiences.

 

Personalization doesn’t happen overnight — it takes time. With agile workflow, though, it takes less time. Here are four steps marketing leaders can implement to begin building an agile foundation:

 

1. Know what tools you need.

Just because your team recognizes the need for personalization doesn’t mean your tech stack is set up to deliver it. Start by focusing on results associated with one specific channel. Mobile apps, for example, are an increasingly vital brand communications channel, yet they’re also one of the least personalized.

 

Once you’ve pinpointed a channel, ask questions. What additional information will you need to make the experiences you offer via that channel more customized? Do you need to augment data for unknown users, or will you focus only on known contacts? Do your tools allow you to accomplish your goals, or will you need a custom solution? Having these answers will allow you to scope out the project and identify where additional investment is required.

 

2. Keep track of your ideas.

Create a backlog of ideas to test for your personalization program, and then stack-rank your backlog with a priority score based on business value, feasibility, and any other high-level metrics that could guide your decision-making process.

 

Try not to limit your thinking to only what you think is possible; the boundaries of possibility are constantly expanding. In the digital age, if you can imagine it, it can be done.

 

3. Define your metrics.

Whatever changes you implement must be measurable. For example, you might want to test personalized taglines on your homepage. If so, you must have a way to prove that the change is impacting your business. When you’re just getting started, prioritize trackable elements such as form submissions, purchase behavior, and click-through rates to quantify the impact of your test ideas.

 

Likewise, make sure the data you collect during testing is stored in a way that makes it accessible. Storing information in a number of disparate systems, for example, ultimately renders your efforts pointless because those insights are unlikely to be reused.

 

4. Make time to reflect.

To ensure resources aren’t wasted, make time to analyze testing results as a team and work diligently to tie those back to return on investment to the greatest extent possible. Document your conversations so that the insights can be easily accessed. Doing this will help you develop best practices that make sustained progress more attainable.

 

If you start small, iterate, and constantly test, you can optimize in real-time rather than wait for campaign results to come to you. In this way, an agile workflow will increase efficiency and productivity and make it easier for your team to try new things and adapt to a changing world.

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