How to Win the Personalization War with Content Strategy
FSW explores how e-commerce brands can benefit from using a structured content strategy approach for personalization.
With the holiday shopping season upon us, fashion and luxury brands are competing for consumer attention.
For e-commerce brands, this means engaging in a fierce battle over how to get the right product in front of the right consumer at the right time. Consumers expect brands to deliver a customized shopping experience, showcasing or anticipating the products they want to see when they want to see them.
It’s a full-on digital commerce personalization war. As McKinsey noted in a 2018 study, “personalization [...] can unlock significant near-term value for businesses—such as 10 to 20 percent more efficient marketing and greater cost savings and a 10 to 30 percent uplift in revenue and retention.”
The problem? Many fashion and luxury brands do not know how to get from where they are in terms of digital maturity to where they want to be with a truly personalized digital customer experience. This is as true for enterprise multi-brand retailers with global teams and complex systems architecture as it is for generational luxury brands with smaller teams and a more modest tech stack.
Brand marketing and e-commerce professionals often view the idea of personalized content as a technical or data-related issue that should be handled by their IT or analytics teams. Yet, personalization is fundamentally a content problem that can–and should–begin with a brand’s content and marketing teams and end up in a brand-specific personalization content strategy utilized by cross-functional teams.
Defining Personalization for Fashion and Luxury
Like the term “content strategy” itself, “personalization” is thrown around without a lot of context or definition. For the case of e-commerce fashion and luxury brands, our working definition is:
Personalization is getting the right content and products to the right consumers at the right time on the right channels using the right technology.
Or, to put this in more visual terms:
Tech + (Customer Data x Structured Content) = Personalization
The key to personalization is not tech or customer data alone. It is applying the insights gleaned from your customer data in the right way to build a content strategy with a formal architecture, discrete content types, and distinct rules and logic to guide individual pieces of content to specific audiences under specific circumstances across your content ecosystem. This is the essence of structured content, which is a critical approach that can help level up an e-commerce brand’s game in the long run, more effectively targeting content to consumers and building consistency and creative collaboration across teams and channels.
Where to Start with Personalization Content Strategy
Of course, like all digital transformation, the path to personalization for fashion and luxury brands does not start with building a structured content model. Personalization begins with internal stakeholders making the decision that they want to provide an improved customer experience. This type of digital transformation is as much a matter of change management as it is shifting technologies and user interfaces.
The path to personalization is long, not linear, and highly brand-specific. Personalization for a big multinational brand looks very different than for a smaller DTC brand but the basic principles are the same. There are a few key steps that fashion and luxury brands of any size can take to figure out how to get from point A to B within their personalization journey and build an organization-appropriate content strategy that will evolve and scale over time.
Define What Personalization Means for Your Brand
When considering personalization, your fashion or luxury e-commerce brand should first consider what problem you want to solve, why you want to solve it, and what value and for whom solving the problem will bring. These are the first steps toward creating a meaningful personalization content strategy.
Did a recent customer data study show people are leaving unsold products in their cart? Do you want to provide customers with more targeted marketing promotions based on their past purchases and browsing patterns? Do you want to build more brand loyalty on social media channels by determining what content your audiences most want to see? Do you want to optimize your e-commerce website customer experience so that customers coming to your site feel acknowledged and can more easily find and discover?
Each of these goals lead to vastly different outcomes from a solutions perspective. Some require tweaking your social media content whereas others may lead to a full website overhaul. Achieving your brand’s goals depends upon setting a clear vision and goals for your personalization strategy and then defining what is and what is not in scope. This may seem simple but defining the basic goals is an often overlooked first step and failing to get this right can lead to a cascade of wasted time and resources down the line.
Learn about Your Customers and Why They Shop
Once your e-commerce brand has defined the why and what of its personalization content strategy, it becomes a matter of figuring out how to accomplish your goals and what the roadmap to get there looks like. In digital transformation, the “how” should always start with your customer data.
Fashion and luxury brands are sitting on a sea of customer data that can tell the story what their customers buy over time, when and on what platform they make a purchase, and even how long it takes to make a purchase transaction. Knowing–and anticipating–what customers want to buy is admittedly a complex business for which the field of retail forecasting was invented.
But, spending quality in-house time with your customer data is worth the effort. This should include both quantitative analytics and qualitative surveys across first-party, second-party, and third-party data. Segmenting and cross-comparing data across channels can glean deep insights into what drives your customers to shop and purchase, how they spend their time online, and even who they are, how they live their lives, and what matters to them.
From a design standpoint, getting to know your customers and bringing an empathetic understanding to thinking about how and why they shop are two of the basic principles of human-centered design. Personalization is no different. Use your customer data insights to build more focused user personas and journeys to map out the complex emotional and personal journeys of individual customers and to think about the types of content, functionality, features, and services that meet their needs.
Of course, using your brand’s customer data to build personalized digital experiences through the myriad of data science tools and platforms available is another matter. These involve applying customer data insights respectfully–and carefully–to literally send customers brand and product content based on what their own data says about them and their shopping habits. This type of content targeting can quickly become creepy, especially when a “you-left-this-in-your cart” email when you do not realize you are being tracked.
The increase in customer data privacy regulations makes building a robust data strategy closely aligned with content goals more critical than ever. Taking a responsible approach to your brand’s data sources and how you gather and process them brings inevitable complexity.
A customer’s journey throughout your brand’s digital ecosystem is never linear and, in turn, neither is their data. An on-the-go customer may come across your product on Instagram, and browse your website on their phone, but make their purchase from a laptop. From a data standpoint, personalization stems from being able to consolidate your customer’s cross-channel and cross-platform interactions into a single customer profile in real time and accurately. Without a data strategy in place to achieve this consolidated single customer profile, any attempt you make to adopt a more personalized content marketing strategy will likely only make things worse, both from a consumer and legal perspective.
Of course, artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are an important part of personalization technology and should form part of your brand’s data strategy if you have your data in the right shape. Machine learning algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to predict customer preferences, enabling real-time personalization through functionality like chatbots to recommendation engines. Though AI is not a silver bullet to solving your personalization pain points, it should be used thoughtfully and strategically to ensure that you are making compliant and respectful decisions that benefit customers. Ultimately, while AI technologies can help bring efficiencies to the work of your content team and how you deliver content, AI cannot solve your content problems. Content strategy will.
Build an Omnichannel Content Strategy Focused on More than Personalization
Assuming your e-commerce brand knows its customer data, there remains the matter of the best way to apply it. When it comes to e-commerce customer experiences, many brands take a technology-led approach, feeding product content to customers in an algorithmic fashion. While this approach may bring operational efficiencies, customers will quickly grow tired, even if they are technically receiving product recommendations based on their recent purchases. Think of the endless sameness of paid ads on Instagram from brands you may have never seen before with products that all look the same.
Like friendship, the e-commerce brand-consumer relationship works best when it is authentic and transparent. It may seem odd to use transparent and fast-fashion in the same sentence. However having a content strategy for personalization is why fast-fashion brands are winning the e-commerce war.
Yes, brands like Shein and Temu are production machines when it comes to responding to trends and feeding copycat products to the masses straight off the runway almost in real-time. But, that is not the true source of their magic. They know the power of authentic, vision-centric content strategy when combined with data-led personalization technology, particularly in figuring out the right combination of brand marketing and UGC content to entice but not annoy consumers. A mere glance at Shein’s social media strategy and the rapid growth of the TikTok Shop is proof that consumers want personalized experiences, yes, but ones that feel real and more tailored to who they are and what they like.
That said, putting in place an effective strategy for personalization means brands need to build an overarching holistic content strategy that is focused on more than just personalization. Selling products to customers online is about more than providing a tailored product experience. It is about communicating brand vision, telling stories, listening to and learning from customers, and building a community.
To achieve personalization, a fashion and luxury e-commerce brand’s content strategy necessitates a two-pronged approach. Brands first need a strategic content framework to drive internal decision-making about content planning, creation, management, and oversight. This framework should be tailored to its business goals, audiences, systems, channels, processes, brand standards, and content teams with a phased roadmap with clear milestones on how to get from the current state content ecosystem to a future state of personalization.
With a content strategy framework in place, brands can then focus on building a data-driven content model that lays out pathways, rules, and guidelines for what, how, and when individual pieces of content should flow throughout the content ecosystem across channels based on specific assumptions from customer data inputs. This content model enables technology solutions to drive appropriate, targeted product and content recommendations to customers in a way that can be easily tracked, managed, and analyzed.
From an editorial perspective, personalized content can also come through a host of other approaches. This can include things like tailoring your content through localization strategies that target local-area content or that incorporate regional and local UGC creators into brand marketing planning. Personalized content can mean taking a micro-community, dynamic approach to content creation, focusing on smaller video campaigns for niche audiences to build customer loyalty within specific segments.
Finally, remember that a personalized content strategy is not static. Focus on phased transformation and continuous learning, regularly bringing e-commerce, content, data, and tech teams together to analyze performance metrics and customer feedback to fine-tune your approach. Stay agile and adaptive, ensuring that your strategy evolves with changing consumer behaviors and market trends, if you truly want to create truly unique and engaging experiences for your target customers.
Thanks for reading FSW. Subscribe for free to receive new posts.