Photo by John Vachon for the United States Farm Security Administration
Photo by John Vachon for the United States Farm Security Administration

Forget search. Invest in personalization.

That’s the message we are increasingly hearing from technology vendors who are marketing the decision-engine tools that promise to deliver personalization in a meaningful and impactful way. According to Forrester Research, orchestrating customer interactions in real-time across channels is the biggest challenge facing customer experience professionals.

Does that mean that search is going away? No, but it’s interesting to note that eMarketer’s most recent forecast shows search losing its historical lead in digital spend. Brands may finally be tired of doling out when almost half of all web traffic is driven by bots, not humans.

But I digress. The real story isn’t the decline of search so much as the rise of contextually relevant content delivery. Driving this trend are advances in insights, data and, of course, personalization technology. If a brand knows you, or at least can make an educated guess of who you are and what you are interested in at that moment, then the need to search out relevant content is at the very least diminished, if not absolved.

Stop Waiting

While in Amsterdam recently, we saw a targeted, in-store promotion solution. It’s a digital display in which a camera captures people’s profiles as they walk past a store window. Then, based on recognition of physical features, the display then matches content to a profile of that target segment. Instead of the customer searching, the display determines the product and promotional materials displayed in real time.

CEO Paul Broersen of Adnovate, the company behind the solution, told us that stores using the technology have seen a 25 percent lift in sales directly associated with this kind of push-based content. It’s not Minority Report, but it’s getting closer — and all without the creep factor.

In the financial services world, we’ve seen a major insurance company begin to use custom research to determine the “money mindstate” of a site visitor. Based on matching the person with the mindstate type, the customer can be presented content, images, text and offers that are most likely to get them to engage with the brand.

Again, instead of waiting for someone to search terms like life insurance, the brand is proactively connecting with people by understanding the context for their site visit and presenting content that is relevant to their interests. That increased relevance directly translates into increased conversion rates.

Segmentation and Differentiation

In both cases, the key to success is being able to deliver a contextually relevant experience based on what you know or don’t know about the individual before you, how well you can match them to a profile that is more behavioral than demographic, and your ability to do so instantaneously. This requires segmentation. If you know a lot about an individual’s likes, needs and behaviors, and you are able to collect and track that data, you are halfway to the holy grail of one-to-one marketing.