Covid-19 has accelerated the importance of digital transformation. Suddenly digital is the ONLY way many companies can deliver their experiences to consumers. Of course, just having a digital channel is no longer enough. Everyone wants to deliver personalised experiences to their audiences, but how exactly do you do that?

Personalisation is not easy to do, and even harder to do well. While technology is essential, it takes more than just the right tech to get it right. Personalisation requires a new approach to content and a new way of working for most marketing organisations.

The first thing to know about personalisation is that it transforms the traditional marketing approach to the content lifecycle. In the traditional approach, the content lifecycle is reasonably linear. You select a market, you develop a proposition and concept, you develop content in its entirety, you publish and eventually close that content down. Personalisation changes this process by making it more cyclical and iterative. Publishing is no longer the culmination of the process. Instead it is merely the start of the refinement of the process.

The way in which content is conceptualised changes too. You are no longer thinking about content as single, comprehensive pieces. Instead content is assembled and optimised dynamically depending on the audience. This has a significant impact on how content is created, managed, retrieved, displayed and measured. It also has an impact on governance, particularly in regulated industries where there needs to be an audit trail of who saw what, and when.

Here are six essential business capabilities needed to deliver effective personalisation.

1: The ability to generate insights about audiences

This might seem straightforward: you need to know what you need to say to each audience to inspire them to take action. In the world of personalisation, this extends beyond simply having general demographic information. It is also fuelled by the audience-specific insights you have built up on your unique customer base. What sort of imagery works? What tone of voice resonates? How much text is optimal? What layout works, which concepts engage? Which digital channels are the most effective? The answers to these questions are fed by the testing and learning that you are constantly running on your audiences (more of that later).

2: The ability to create and manage flexible content

There are two distinct parts to this capability. First, there’s the ability to use the insights you have gained about your audiences to create a brief that specifies what each audience should experience for you to generate the right outcome. This should describe what each element and variant of your digital experience is, be it text, images, video or tools.

Secondly, once these elements are created, how will they be stored, found, and retrieved? How should they be used? How can they be adapted for use across different channels? Part of the answer to these questions is in having the right tooling, such as centralised digital asset management tools, or a hub to store content. But it also depends on having the right business process, discipline and skills to ensure the content is used and managed properly.

3: The ability to plan and orchestrate experiences for each audience

So, through insight you know what each audience likes, and you have a repository of the right content ready to use, but how do you decide exactly who should see what, when? In personalisation this is driven by segment-based rules, behavioural rules and event-based rules. You need to know how these rules will be executed, in what sequence and which take priority. This builds the ruleset to instruct your experience platform on what to do when a customer arrives.

4: The ability to deliver experiences in real time

With your content and experience rules in place, you need to be able to assemble and deliver the experience the instant your customer arrives at each step in their journey. This is a particularly technology-intensive capability depending on decisioning and experience management tools. There’s a huge range of tools available and selecting the right one will depend on the scale of the audience you are personalising for, the sophistication of the ruleset, and the tool’s ability to integrate with other back end systems.

5: The ability to test and analyse the results and enhance your insight

Personalisation is a complex and effort intensive process. You need to know whether the effort is really paying off meaning you need to be constantly testing the effectiveness of different iterations of your experience to see which works best. This testing needs to be attributed to real financial outcomes to prove value.

It’s also about taking the outcome of those tests to generate further insight into your audiences the next time around. This feeds back into the audience insights in capability 1. Doing all of this effectively not only requires the right tools to collect the data but also the right skills in your business to be able to convert all that data into insights.

6: The ability to do all of this securely, remaining compliant with regulations

Finally comes the often-overlooked capability of executing all this technical and logical brilliance in a way that is secure and compliant. You need to be sure you are using customer data in an appropriate and secure way to comply with regulations such as GDPR. You also need to be compliant with local or international regulations, or those that are specific to your industry. For example, many countries have regulations governing the circumstances in which the image of a child may be used. Other markets have strict rules on accessibility, while regulated industries also need to provide audit trails of legal compliance and be able to prove exactly which customer saw what.

Every company is different. They have different audiences, data, levels of personalisation and ways of working. When setting out on your path to personalisation, establish a plan to clearly describe how you will address each of these six areas. Your plans should not only cover the technology requirements at each stage, but also the skills, data, content and operating models required to comprehensively address each of them.