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    Anonymous Personalization: Part II

    In other articles I have written about the benefits of providing personalized content on a Web site without gathering any private information. Anonymous personalization is accepted, because it doesn't invade anyone's privacy and it gives users control over what they receive.

    So how do we actually apply anonymous personalization on a Web site?

    Ask One Question

    Many times, visitors to a Web site are willing to provide just enough information so that material can be tailored for them based on what they want to see. They want to know, "How can your products help me?" Help them explore your Web site by initially asking them just one question, then personalize your content based on their response about their needs or interests.

    A proven approach to growing a business relationship in the offline world is to start by asking a question, listening to the answer, then tailoring your response based on the answer. By asking people who come to your Web site a single question, you can begin personalizing Web content and applying one-to-one marketing techniques.

    We've all experienced situations where we had no control over what was going on around us -- it's frustrating, whether online or in the physical world. Some personalization systems make assumptions about a person's interests by observing which Web pages they visit, or which products they purchase.

    At sites that rely on that type of personalization, the individual customer is not able to influence their own profile. This means that no matter how good our assumptions are about what someone needs, many individuals need to feel in control of their Web destiny.

    Just as in everyday life, people on the Web want to reveal themselves slowly, starting with the least personal information possible. When a person sees the benefit in providing a small piece of information, they are more likely to provide more information about their interests and desires.

    Which Question to Ask?

    Of course, the first question you ask should be a question that they will feel comfortable answering andwill give you enough information to begin tailoring your content.

    Like what? Well, here are a few initial questions and recommended personalization techniques for you to consider:

    Which industry is your company in?

    Direct the person to a page describing how your products are used in that industry, perhaps including a case study about a company in their industry.

    How do you plan to use a product like ours?

    On product description pages, include a paragraph about how your products fit their application.

    What is your Zip code?

    If they are in a metropolitan area with several of your competitors nearby, direct them to pages with special pricing. If they are in a rural area, direct them to pages about fast courier delivery and telephone support.

    Just as a good salesperson asks a question, listens to the answer, then presents a message based on what was learned, a personalized Web site can do the same thing. Of course, to fully personalize a site it is necessary to ask more than just one question. But it's easier to obtain additional information after an individual sees the value of answering that first question.

    Asking a few questions and doing a modest amount of personalization doesn't require extensive programming -- just a few scripts that guide the user to material written for people like them. When you decide to ask a number of questions throughout your site, you'll benefit from using one of the personalization systems on the market today. As an individual explores your Web site and continues answering questions, you will develop an extensive profile that you can use to respond to that person's needs and create a loyal customer.

    None of these questions require your Web visitors to provide any personal information, yet they receive valuable personalized material from your Web site. This means that both you and your Web customers benefit from anonymous personalization one question at a time.

    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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