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    Anonymous Personalization: Part I

    Personalization versus privacy. It's not a question of which will ultimately prevail. But rather, how can we have both?

    Conventional wisdom says personalization and privacy are like the opposite ends of a teeter-totter. To get one, you have to give up the other. But I'm a firm believer in both personalization and privacy. So I want to make sure both can live together on the Internet by using anonymous personalization to help both web marketers and their customers.

    The benefits of personalization are apparent to practically every marketer who has wanted to target marketing messages to the right people, tailor those messages to match each individual's interests, and make a sale.

    Why do some salespeople have a 50 percent closing rate, while most direct mail can't sell to more than 2 percent of the people receiving that message? It's because the best salespeople treat individuals as, well...individuals. By that, I mean that they show respect for the privacy of a prospect while getting answers to questions they need to tailor the presentation.

    Great salespeople will tell you that the key to selling is the relationship. And the way to achieve a close business relationship is to ask a prospect questions about their needs and interests, then respond with what you learned by tailoring your presentation to meet those needs.

    Have you ever seen a salesperson ask a prospect for their name, title, company, phone, fax, email and purchase authority before they even give the prospect a brochure? Probably not. So why do web marketers think that personalization requires having people answer detailed questions to customize their web information base?

    Asking detailed questions too early in a relationship is usually considered an invasion of privacy. Yet, the same questions can be asked, one at a time, when the prospect understands that answering those questions allows them to receive the information needed to make a purchase decision.

    What's the difference? It's more than timing. It's understanding when to ask questions, and knowing which questions a prospect will agree to answer.

    In other words, salespeople use the "Three I's" of personalization (interest, interaction, involvement) to gain the trust and respect of the prospect before they ask the more personal questions necessary to close a sale.

    Which brings us to the concept of anonymous personalization. How can something be personalized when the person is anonymous?

    There are many examples in the physical world where products are customized for the consumer without revealing personal information. One of the most basic forms of personalization occurs with the most basic of necessities -- food. When you order a hamburger with no tomatoes and extra pickles so you can "have it your way," you are experiencing anonymous personalization.

    The clerk behind the counter didn't ask for any personal information. He or she probably simply asked, "Do you want to super-size that?" The clerk not only personalized the order, but also asked an "upsell" question to increase the order size! And they did it without knowing any personal information about you. In other words, they used anonymous personalization to customize your order and meet your needs.

    When was the last time you saw a web site -- even one of the famous personalized web sites -- ask you if you wanted to add a specific product to your order? Probably never...because even well-known personalized sites just include static links to other products without providing a benefit or even asking if you're interested in other products.

    The solution is to use the Three I's of personalization:

    • Interest -- Provide interesting information that is tailored to the individual's interests so they will explore your web site and examine how they can use your products.
    • Interaction -- Engage each individual with a variety of interactive experiences that lead an individual to discover how they will benefit from your products.
    • Involvement -- Encourage people to share their personal opinions and experiences to create a loyal community of customers who will help promote your products.

    These personalization techniques can be implemented on most Web sites without requiring people to provide the kind of personal information that turns many people away if asked too early. It's important, though, to guide Web visitors through this process, so they will feel comfortable providing the personal information needed to make the experience beneficial for them, and profitable for you.

    In a future article, we'll cover exactly what questions to ask -- and at what point during the Web sale to ask them -- in order to help make your Web site perform as well as your best salesperson. Until then, hold the pickles and super size that Coke!

    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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