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    Applying Personalization to the Purchase Decision Process

    The idea of personalizing Web and e-mail content is becoming well accepted because most of us already personalize the person-to-person communications that we use every day. However, planning a personalized web site has proven to be more of a challenge than many marketers had imagined.

    The first step is learning about customer motivation, which makes strategic planning for personalization much easier.

    One of the first challenges that many marketers run into when converting a static Web site into a personalized Web site is deciding what to personalize. There is so much personalization possible that it's hard to determine which items are actually worth personalizing.

    Early in the planning process, it's important to establish clear goals that can guide you in choosing what to personalize.

    For instance, if the goal of personalization is to increase loyalty, then adding features to increase return visits would be desirable. On the other hand, if a company's customers usually make large purchases that involve a significant amount of research and evaluation - but customers don't benefit from return visits to the site after the purchase - then the personalization focus should improve the ease and quality of the customer's decision-making process.

    Once the goals for personalization have been determined, the next step is to look at how customers gather information and make purchase decisions.

    Salespeople and telemarketers who talk with customers every day learn from experience how to gather information and tailor their presentation to match each type of customer and the stage of the purchasing process. They've learned how to tell the difference between people who are just starting to investigate making a purchase and those who are on the verge of making a purchase. Sometimes the difference is which questions they ask. At other times, it's the order in which they ask them.

    It's not yet easy to carry on a voice conversation with a customer through a web site, so we need to anticipate the various ways to profile customers so a site can select the most appropriate marketing messages.

    One of the best sources of information about the different types of customers and their motivations are the successful salespeople who are in constant contact with customers. Visit with your salespeople and product managers, and you're likely to turn up some very interesting insights about what customers are looking for.

    Some consumers are brand-conscious and want the reliability and consistency they associate with the brand - or something about the image projected by the brand appeals to them. Consumers look for brands they recognize and value, and are not necessarily looking for descriptive content educating them on why they should buy particular brands.

    Other customers want to be educated about a product category or informed about specific products. These customers may need to be guided through the information-gathering process by helping them compare the features, functions, and benefits of similar products.

    Between brand buyers and consumers who want to be educated are prospective customers with a mix of attitudes, needs, feelings, and fears that we can deal with using personalization. But before we can implement marketing techniques on a web site, we need to know the paths that customers follow as they prepare to make a purchase decision.

    For example, if a company sells to some people who are brand-conscious, others who are price-conscious, and a third group that seeks the best value, then messages need to be tailored to each buying motive. In addition, some people may just be investigating the product category, some know what they need and are comparing products, while others are making a final decision.

    When you take into consideration the three different buying motives and the three stages of making a purchase decision, there are nine ways to personalize marketing messages! Below is an example showing the nine different message themes that would be appropriate in each situation:

    Once you have mapped out the different themes that appeal to each segment of your market, it's much easier to plan the actual personalized Web site and supporting personalized email marketing. Then you're in a much better position to know just what to personalize on your site, and that will pay off in making people feel comfortable buying from you.

    Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.

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