Deploying integrated and personalised technology solutions can elevate your customer experience above the competition, but knowing where to start and how to get there requires a unique mix of skills. Steve Renshaw, co-Founder of Ratio:FS, gives an insight into some of those skills.
Personalisation … still as much as a buzzword now as it was ten years ago, and yet still beyond the reach of most marketers, especially in the WAM (Wealth & Asset Management) space. We see this as a common theme across most clients with a traditional B2B focus, where the website is perhaps seen more as a brochure and document repository than a tool that drives sales.
But the audience has moved on. Whether you’re B2B or B2C or B2B2C, ultimately you’re dealing with a person. That person is also a customer of other businesses who do personalisation at unbelievable scale, whether that’s Airbnb for apartment rentals, easyJet for flight bookings or Monzo for banking. When they come to your website they have a pre-conception of the predictive and tailored experience they expect. If you don’t deliver, there’s a good chance they’ll move on to someone who does.
This trend is affecting the WAM sector in two ways: Firstly, few firms are truly digital innovators. A recent Alpha FMC poll of the largest players in the sector found that precisely none considered themselves “digital innovators”, compared to 68% who have some sort of digital capabilities but little in the way of integration and leveraging them. The survey classifies these 68% as “getting organised” – the cynic in me might argue that having a website, email and CRM that don’t integrate in 2020 is far from being organised.
Secondly, and perhaps the more forceful driver for change, is that the WAM sector is shifting increasingly towards a B2C model. We recently did some competitor analysis for a WAM client, and what was clear is that even now most websites claiming to cater for this audience are painfully impenetrable. They have almost entirely adapted IFA content and assumed that an individual new to investing has the first idea what a share class is, or the ability to decipher the endless fund performance information plastered across the website. I guess that’s why IFAs are still such a key audience.
On the other hand you have Nutmeg, Wealthsimple and the like, who make investment look incredibly simple. We talk a lot at Ratio about banking challenger brands and why they succeed (superb user experience, simple journey, clear benefits), and why the big banks are so slow to leverage their expertise for competitive advantage and prevent the gradual erosion of their business (lack of belief, lack of investment, misplaced reliance on their own reputation, and so on).
Like a bank, an established WAM is not going to offer a Nutmeg user experience overnight, but personalisation is a key lever in most WAM’s armoury (assuming a reasonable technology stack) that can be deployed right now as part of a long term strategy to create what we call a “Unique Customer Experience”.
Unique Customer Experience
Everyone is different: we all have different knowledge, needs, motivations and fears. If I’m sat next to my partner at home looking at an asset management website, I’ll be looking for headline figures about what return I can expect if I invest £x in high risk portfolios, whereas she’ll be more interested in sustainability.
We’re giving the website a mass of interesting data about ourselves, not just through our journey activity but perhaps also through explicit selection of behavioural indicators such as risk appetite and values.
Yet we’ll come back the next day to the exact same website that has neither acknowledged our interests or needs, nor offered a customer journey that addresses them. Not even a simple online mechanism for advice or further information. We can’t even remember the funds we were looking at because they’re called incomprehensible names like “European Income Growth” and “Total Return Credit”.
At Ratio we use the term “Unique Customer Experience” a lot. We believe that the long-term aim of any company’s digital presence should be that no two users’ experiences are ever the same. For a WAM trying to leverage the reputation and competence that it shows in a meeting or phone call with a client where the advice is tailored specifically to their needs, it’s about trying to replicate as much of this experience online.
Personalisation sits at the core of this: whether it’s showing my most recently viewed funds, promoting insights tailored to the risk level I chose, or a simple “Beginner’s guide” that could have been triggered by the fact I was clicking aimlessly across several different categories of pages.
What is personalisation?
When we talk to clients about personalisation and ask why they haven’t done it, the normal answer is “We don’t know where to start”.
A personalisation strategy at its heart is broadly split into three parts:
- Where and how to personalise, to who, and to what end
- The content needed to support the journey
- How we’re going to test it and measure success
Clearly, to personalise an entire website is a monumental effort. Machine Learning is making strides for automated content personalisation, but it needs a lot of traffic to learn and identify winning combinations of content for a user (much more than most WAM sites have) and introduces compliance risks in an industry that’s so heavily regulated. But I also wouldn’t dream of looking at this without a fundamental grasp of your data, journeys, users and goals, and proving the value of personalisation at a basic level first.
So we need to pick our battles, and look at our personalisation strategy as a building blocks game: starting with high traffic journeys with well-understood persona needs, clear high value goals, and a complete grasp of the quantitative and heuristic user data that underpins it.
Approaching your first personalisation project
So now you’re sat there with your expensive and impressive technology stack (I’m imagining it’s Adobe, Sitecore, or some other platform if you’ve read this far) and wondering how you go about creating your first personalisation project. The rest of this post will give you some hard pointers based on our own years of experience going through this process, successfully, with our own clients.
1: The four basics to a successful personalisation project
Any personalisation project has to answer one fundamental question: How do we measure the impact?
We walk into many (too many) conversations with prospective clients who’ve done some basic personalisation to change the homepage banner for someone who viewed a particular service page on a previous visit. To be fair it’s more than most have achieved and they at least know how to set up a personalisation rule.
The problem is, they have no idea what it’s delivered in terms of positive business impact.
To turn that problem on its head, I want to talk about how they should have approached that first project by looking at it in terms of four basic elements you always need to consider before going any further:
- Define a clear measurable goal KPI: what do we want customers to do and why? E.g. complete a contact form, download a whitepaper, watch a webinar. I would be looking at how this supports wider business objectives, e.g. increasing cross-sell to clients. If we can’t show ROI we’re not going to evolve and scale
- Understand the user journey data to that goal: traffic acquisition, how people get there, where they drop off, where are the most effective points to invoke personalisation. A lot of people make the mistake of personalising the homepage when actually most meaningful traffic is going direct to product or service pages
- Ensure there is enough traffic: to show statistical significance we need to have a large amount of traffic across the journey (a minimum hundreds of session per month). The lower the traffic, the longer it will take to demonstrate success (if at all)
- Test, Test, Test: personalisation alone will not prove success unless you’re comparing it to a generic “control” user experience, as well as testing variations of personalised content to choose a winner
Really what we’re talking about here is A/B Testing on steroids. The process is very similar albeit more advanced.
You may also be thinking about how you can personalise the on-site experience using data held about a client and intel from offline conversations, for example to promote appropriate content based on an appetite for sustainable investing. This can be done in a few ways, for example tying up a user’s profile from CRM with a known user on the website (if they’ve self-identified themselves by an email in a form or login).
I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere, but is it the right place to start? Probably not. If we look at a personalisation roadmap in terms of complexity versus reward, this scenario requires much more in terms of integration as well as cultural and process change within the business.
Instead look to focus on quicker on-site wins that drive value, whilst putting the building blocks in place for those more ambitious scenarios.
2: Understand your data and audience
A firm grasp on your data is a priority in any personalisation project. Every decision you make and your means of showing success is predicated on a robust data and research foundation.
I always thought I had a firm grasp on Google Analytics until we established a Data Practice at Ratio, and now I realise how little I actually know. I cannot stress enough the value of having a data guru on board who can validate your project assumptions, provide insights into opportunity areas you didn’t even know about, analyse your goals and customer journeys, and direct your efforts into high impact areas, as well as digging out and interpreting all the success metrics at the other end. Your personalisation program will never achieve excellence without this.
But it’s also important to supplement the data with real-world user research and testing. The data will tell us so much, but we need to understand why users are behaving in the way the figures are telling us. This will help us to tailor the content messaging to address their concerns or motivations at key points in the journey.
For example, you may see a large drop off on a fund page, and assume this is because the user has got the information they need. But actually it may be because they’re looking for a route-to-contact and can’t find it, or they’re looking for content to alleviate a specific concern. The qualitative research will help to provide these answers, thus opening up a personalisation opportunity in a critical point of the journey.
3: Executing the experiment
We call personalisation deployments “experiments”, because in essence they are individual tests we are running to see what impact they have on our defined goal, compared to the default experience.
By this point you’ll have a good idea of why you’re personalising, for who, across which journey, and to affect which goal. The framework of our experiment is there. Now we need to execute it.
For this we’re going to need a mix of skills depending on the nature of the experiment:
- Creative design for any new components or visual elements
- Copywriter to create the messaging
- Risk & Compliance to sign off the messaging
- Product owner to implement the rules and testing criteria in the editor interface
- Front End Developer to implement visual code elements
- Back End Developer to build any custom rules or other complex tasks
- Quality Assurance to test the experiment and ensure the right message is being served to the right audience matching the selected conditions
- Data specialist to create the experiment custom report in your analytics package
- Project Manager to coordinate all of the above
As you can probably see, there is quite a team involved in planning and implementing just one simple test. It might only take a few days to go through this whole process, but it requires a broad mix of skills and capabilities at all stages that most of our clients simply don’t have or need in-house (which is why Ratio exists).
4: Report, refine and evolve
Once your experiment has run to the point where we have enough statistical significance to pick a winner (or identify a loser), we’ll want to go back to our original experiment hypothesis to ascertain what learnings can be used to improve, iterate or scale our initial win.
For example, we may have implemented a “sticky CTA form” pop-out on our fund pages for people who’ve viewed it three times, and seen a marked increase in contact form submissions. We may want to further test iterations of those form fields or messaging, roll it out across other fund pages, or think about what other conditions we may want to surface this to a user.
Equally we may want to focus on other areas where our data is showing opportunity.
Governance of existing personalisation experiments is also important, especially in the WAM sector. You’ll need a tracking mechanism to ensure that active rules and associated messaging are still compliant, and to test these periodically to check they’re still working as expected and haven’t been impacted by other changes to the site or the journey. For example, if you have a rule running on an AdWords campaign code and this code is updated or superseded.
The point is that this should be a continually evolving program of work. You wouldn’t implement a PPC campaign and leave it running untouched for months, and the same goes for personalisation. Your audience needs and behaviour will change over time, your proposition will change, and your ability to achieve incremental gains with personalisation will rely on that ongoing attention to the data that will tell you where the most bang for your buck will be.
Personalisation is not a dark art. At Ratio we don’t propose experiments because we reckon they’ll work – they are based on a full understanding of our client’s business, their users, their objectives, and most importantly the data, and having the right team to execute.
To take all of this back to my original point, if WAMs want to innovate in this space and get ahead of the move to B2C, persnalisation is going to be more important than ever. Whether that’s tailoring content for known and unknown customers, creating optimised user journeys based on intent, or introducing advisory and self-service tools at the right moment, personalisation needs to be at the forefront of your digital marketing activities to create those Unique Customer Experiences that are directly tied to your business KPIs.
If you’d like to know more about how your first personalisation project could be live and generating value within a month, email me at email@example.com.