Kathy Hecht talks personalization: Triumphs and challenges at AG

Personalization is much more complex than signing onto a site that says, “Welcome Mary.” In fact, online consumers today expect – even if they don’t know they expect it – that a website know them, know their interests, know their demographic, and cater to all of it.

Kathy Hecht, CMO, American Greetings Interactive, faced challenges at American Greetings in how to best personalize the site for each customer, since a varying demographic visits AG to buy greeting cards. When she came on, there wasn’t even a homepage and the company had two segments: members and non. Since then, they have worked to understand their consumers and how each of them shops online, as well as what their personality type is in order to personalize the web experience when they visit AG. The company built a digital data mart which allows them to observe in real time what’s going on and leverage existing their infrastructure. It also stores both anonymous and known data, or as Hecht said, “Known data is what I knew about you before you came, the anonymous is information we get as a result of you coming to the site, and we react in real time.”

“When I started at AG, we had one block [on the website] that was changeable,” said Hecht. “There were four banners that rotated. So first, we built a homepage that was module-ized. There are nine spots on the homepage now that can be swapped in and out. We standardized those modules and have tried to re-purpose our creative as best we can without letting there be 50 sizes. Then we have to take control with the marketers because marketers will have 50 versions of the same thing if you let them. You have to manage how much you can do and it sort of limits it. If you can only create 30 assets, don’t let marketers devise tests for 60.”

Now the company has more advanced systems in place to personalize customer experiences. But what is personalization, and why does it matter?

“Personalization is the process of tailoring pages to individual users’ characteristics or preferences,” said Hecht. “It’s different than customization which is used instead when the site only uses explicit data such as rating or preferences. It’s about taking in everything about a consumer and finding out what is relevant. It involves using technology to accommodate differences between individuals.”

One of the most important points for AG was being able to monitor segments in real time. Think about greeting cards/gifts and when you buy them. If you’re someone who waits until the very last minute to purchase one (and trust me, I know what that’s like…on the way to a birthday party or a wedding and realizing I need a card…) and you’re shopping online, wouldn’t you pay whatever you had to since you’re under the gun? If you only have so much time to buy a card before you need to deliver it, you’re going to pay what you have to pay. As a retailer, why shouldn’t you take advantage of that time-pressure? At AG, they have the ability to do so but also the ability to market to that segment and remind them to buy early.

Hecht cited an example of a campaign launched during the Passover/Easter/Hanukkah season. The company came up with different banners for visitors to see when visiting the site and her CEO called and thanked her for setting the Passover banner as the main page but questioned how many people would find that relevant. She called him into her office to see her computer, where an Easter screen was displayed. He didn’t realize that the page he was seeing had been personalized to him.

This is the key to personalization – strategies that your customers don’t even realize are in place but affect how you think of your site.

“This is the beginning of a change I think will be amazing to watch as marketers and to be a part of,” said Hecht.