Personalisation: Start small or go all in?

Columbia Road
5 min readAug 29, 2023

After spending the summer researching personalisation, I’ve become convinced that personalisation is the future of commerce. While there’s no question that most companies should jump on board with personalisation, many are still debating if they should start small with it or go all in. In this article, I’ll explore which approach makes the most sense to your business.

Remember Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? The early 2000s reality TV show in which a team of designers and builders renovate or completely rebuild the homes of deserving families in just one week.

One of the notorious quirks in the show was the over-the-top bedrooms they designed for kids. They’d ask the kid what they liked — not necessarily related to living but overall. If the poor kid happened to reply something like “Well, I think horses are nice,” they created the entire rooms to be full-blown stables, with lamps that resemble saddles, unergonomic horseshoe beds, and horseshit-smelling curtains to give that true wow effect.

Now, when it comes to shopping online, I want to be that poor kid. If I indicate that a bicycle interests me, I expect the whole ecommerce store to turn — for a certain period of time — into one magical bicycle world with helmets, locks and a curated collection of bikes that are the right size and for the right purpose. And when I’ve found what I was looking for, the whole ecommerce store can go back to regular scheduled programming. That is until I’m ready to hyper-fixate on the next thing.

In other words, I believe that the future of ecommerce is hyper-personalisation.

However, one of the biggest sins that especially a designer can make is to use individual opinion as a generalisation. Therefore, I dug deep into the topic of personalisation this summer to see if I’m alone with my desire to walk through a hyper-personalised customer journey each time I’m looking for a new bike. I listened to podcasts and read articles by different consultancies, companies and personalisation platform providers.

After my extensive research, I’m pretty convinced that it’s not only me. Hyper-personalised experiences are the inevitable future, eagerly awaited by even the average joe consumer. The consensus of professionals working in marketing, ecommerce, sales and customer experience seems to be that the value of personalisation is massive, even disruptive.

So if customers expect personalised experiences and professionals want to deliver them — what is stopping companies from going all in on personalisation?

The reality is that while the world is ready for Extreme Makeover: House Edition types of personalised experiences, for some companies starting small might be the right choice. The key is that whether you start small or go all in — you start either way.

Six reasons to start small with personalisation

1. Limited data availability

If your company is still collecting and consolidating customer data, it’s wise to explore and test before committing to a major investment that needs matured data capabilities to work. Ensure you have sufficient data to generate meaningful insights. While doing that, also explore what data is the most useful and what generates the best results in small-scale tests.

2. Niche Market

In a small or specialised market, investing in a full-scale personalisation engine might be premature. Start with testing to assess if personalisation resonates with your specific audience.

3. Limited Budget

If financial resources are constrained, starting with exploration and testing allows you to make informed decisions without committing significant resources upfront.

4. Unproven ROI

If you’re uncertain about the return on investment for personalisation, starting small with testing can help validate its impact on revenue and customer engagement.

5. Lack of Testing Culture

If your company lacks a strong culture of experimentation and testing, starting with exploration is a definite must-do thing. No tool is going to help you if the people who are supposed to use it are not on board! This allows you to build a foundation for data-driven decision-making and gradually integrate personalization into your processes.

6. Complex buying process

In industries with complex customer journeys, testing allows you to understand user behaviour before investing in automation tools.

Six signs to go all in with personalisation

1. Significant data

If your company has amassed a wealth of customer data, an investment in a personalisation engine can help extract maximum value from this information.

2. Large customer base

For companies with a substantial customer base, manual personalisation becomes impractical. Automation can ensure that each customer receives tailored experiences efficiently.

3. Highly competitive market

In industries with fierce competition, delivering personalised experiences can set you apart. Going “all in” can give you a competitive edge.

4. Multiple ways of buying

If your customers have intricate and multistep journeys, an automated personalisation engine can handle the complexity effectively.

5. Diverse customer segments

If your customer base is diverse and segmented, automation can ensure accurate targeting and relevant messaging for each segment.

6. Proven ROI

If your testing and exploration phases have shown a clear positive impact on key metrics, going “all in” becomes a strategic choice.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, if you don’t have experience in even ab-testing and data-driven culture, which usually starts developing after you’ve evidence that testing works — or a large number of customers- you should start small.

Starting small means 1–2 people, a simple and affordable ab-testing tool, and a lot of excitement to begin promoting a new way of doing things.

If you have a large customer base and monthly visitors closer to hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands combined with an established testing culture and buy-in among directors, you have all that it takes to go all in on personalisation.

Wherever your organisation might currently be, the most important thing is to move forward. Although everything needed for small-scale or large-scale personalisation is already available, only a few companies have started doing it. You still have a chance of separating yourself from the competition by making personalised experiences a spearhead for your company and start delivering those Extreme Makeover: House Edition moments digitally — literally serving one person at a time.

Originally published at https://www.columbiaroad.com.

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Columbia Road

Nordic digital sales consultancy. We help companies get more revenue and more customers in the digital era.