What Personalization Really Means in 2022

Personalization has been a marketing buzzword for so long that it runs the risk of losing its meaning. But done right, it’s an incredibly powerful tool.

By Yext

Feb 25, 2022

11 min

Personalization has been a marketing buzzword for so long that it runs the risk of losing its meaning. But done right, it's an incredibly powerful tool: the Boston Consulting Group estimates that prioritizing personalization will help brands outsell their competitors by 30 percent.

To help us think about personalization beyond buying audiences, we asked our four Heads of Industry at Yext to tell us what personalization really means to them — and how it's likely to affect their disparate industries in 2022 (and beyond).

Personalization has been a hot topic in marketing for several years — but it can also feel more like a vague "buzzword" than an actionable idea. To start, what does personalization truly mean to you in your industry?

Carrie Liken, Head of Industry for Healthcare at Yext: Personalization is a very hot topic within the provider space in healthcare, but a lot of organizations struggle with what it really means. They think they can personalize an experience (e.g., create a custom landing page based on previous visit behavior on a website), but "personalize," to me, means so much more than that.

Personalization means that the organization understands who I am, what I need (at the moment I need it), and can anticipate my next needs. Some hotel brands (like the Four Seasons, for example) do this very well. But this is not executed well in healthcare – yet.

LC Cook, Head of Industry for Public Sector at Yext: When thinking about the Public Sector, it is critical to remember that Government exists to serve the public, period. With this in mind, consider the challenge in front of any government body: they need to deliver results back to the public in a way people are accustomed to getting information. It needs to be immediate, relevant and seamless; similar to the way we receive information as consumers in the private sector. The bigger obstacle comes down to the concept of trust: do we trust that if we give more information to the IRS, for example, that they are going to use that information to help tailor our interaction? Probably not. So how can the government deliver a more personalized citizen experience while also building trust?

Shane Closser, Head of Industry for Financial Services at Yext: There are several forms of personalization within financial services and insurance. Too often we hear cautionary tales of firms rushing to the most advanced form called 1:1 personalization. This is when you understand a customer's demographics, interests, purchase history and preferences. This consumer data is processed by various algorithms to recommend the next best offer or action.

The first challenge is it takes a lot of accurate customer data to make these models work. Another challenge is increasing consumer privacy protection laws which threaten to restrict these practices. My recommendation is to focus on intent personalization. Using natural language, you can understand the intent of a question and serve relevant answers. Once you're brilliant at the basics, only then should you try more advanced techniques.

Derick Jaros, Head of Industry for eCommerce at Yext: It's evolving. With Apple's decision to end 3rd party cookies, and Google soon to follow, one needs to only look at Facebook's stock price in Q1 2022 to understand the impact cookies are having on the industry. Retailers and advertisers will need to rethink their personalization strategies.

Why do you think personalization has become such an important topic? Why is it valuable?

Carrie: Health is unique to each individual. It's unique to individuals even if they have been diagnosed with the exact same disease. Even for the same disease, treatment types vary, the way someone searches for care varies, personal preferences for providers (male vs. female, for example) varies, ability to pay varies, and on and on. But like we always see in healthcare, the industry is a few years behind other industries, and so healthcare organizations are seeing other industries like travel, banking and hospitality do very well with personalization, and reaping rewards. Delta Airlines does an amazing job with personalizing the end-to-end booking to travel to post-travel experience. Airlines are just as complex as healthcare, so it's aspirational for healthcare organizations to look to orgs like Delta to help lead the charge.

Additionally, healthcare is getting more competitive and organizations have realized that they need to tailor experiences to the individual health consumer – just like other industries do – in order to effectively compete in this new competitive space.

LC: Recently, the Biden Administration released an Executive Order around "Putting the Public First…" which effectively puts the people of the United States at the center of everything the Government does. Think about it, every person in the US interacts with the government multiple times per year: renewing a driver's license, seeking disability benefits, submitting taxes, requesting unemployment or a small business loan, just to name a few. And every person's interaction is different and unique.

The Government has the difficult task of improving this interaction while also building trust with the public. Never before has the adage, "actions speak louder than words" meant so much. It appears the Government is ready to tackle putting the public first.

Shane: Customers expectations are on the rise, we can thank Google, Amazon, and Apple for that. They've used data as a differentiator to delight customers. Consumers expect convenience, ease of use and thoughtful design. Within financial services and insurance brands need to anticipate customer needs and help them in these moments that matter – to learn, to save, to transact, and to protect assets. The average financial services and insurance website has 30,000+ web pages and more content is being produced everyday. This is where personalization can be very helpful as it brings the content to the customer vs expecting the customers to navigate a labyrinth of content to find what they want. After all, time is our most precious commodity.

Derick: People want to feel catered to versus simply being served by a robot online. The retailers who can automate the personalization of that shopping experience the best for their audience will win, especially in high-end goods.

In the public sector, we talk about providing relevant, personalized information for citizens. In healthcare, we talk about patient experience. In financial services, it's all about personalized consumer journeys. Point being: there are some differences. What are the unique challenges — or opportunities — related to personalization in your industry?

Carrie: The biggest challenge we have in healthcare is ensuring that organizations are following HIPAA and not using PHI or PII in a negative way to personalize experiences. Most personalization strategies to date have relied on third party cookies or building audience sets that are comprised of identifiable characteristics. In healthcare, it is very tricky to do this with, say, cancer patients. You can't identify that someone has cancer. In many places (especially Google), you can't specifically target cancer patients using online ads. And there is a fine line in using patient lists without being in violation of HIPAA. That is why it is so important to understand search intent and patient/consumer behavior on healthcare websites – because the organization isn't collecting PHI or PII data about someone, but instead just looking at search queries that are signals of intent. Driving a personalization strategy that starts with search is not unique to healthcare – it should be the strategy for all industries – but it is not widely adopted yet.

LC: Every positive experience the public has with the Government is an opportunity to build trust, to improve customer experience and to lower costs. Bearing in mind the number of people interacting with the government (millions, daily) far exceeds most other industries, the Public Sector has a significant hill to climb. The opportunity in front of the Government is to leverage technology that can play well with emerging solutions as well as legacy systems. One simple shift in how agencies and states interact at the very first handshake can go a long way towards instilling a positive outcome. In a recent IRS study, it was found that when people asked "where is my refund?", they were far more likely to say their engagement with the agency was positive if they received an answer; even if the answer was that their check would be delayed. To that point, if a person receives a direct answer to their exact question at the time of intent, the level of trust begins to improve. It has been established across multiple industries that most people prefer to self-serve. Every question the public has starts with a question. The good news is that the agencies have the answer–the bad news is trying to find it across multiple data silos.

Shane: We love our regulations within financial services and insurance. In fact, we love them so much we create regulatory bodies that create other regulatory bodies – SEC, FINRA, CFPB, FCA, CASL, etc. So yes, there are many unique challenges. However, regulatory change creates an opportunity for disruption. Progressive firms no longer just compete on product, they compete on the customer experience. Best-in-class brands are focused on financial education and self-service (ex. online banking, claims, purchase journeys) to manage prospects and customers. A growing number of clients are also focused on using personalization within the workspace to help knowledge workers and financial professionals perform their jobs (ex. origination, underwriting & risk)

Derick: Everybody wants to have personalized experiences, but not everyone knows how their data can be used to create personalized experiences. Apple and Google's decision to limit 3rd party cookies will initially cause issues for advertisers, but this no doubt will lead to better results long-term for advertisers and audience alike.

What's something people forget about when it comes to personalization? Something they should think about more?

Carrie: See my response to question three – I think that covers it!

LC: Because the Government exists to serve the public, it has an obligation to ensure that PII remains safe and uncompromised. While we all want a more personal experience when dealing with life matters (taxes, health, business, mortgage, benefits…), the truth is this becomes problematic when trying to create a 360 view of each individual while still keeping their "person" data secure. Imagine a hub and spoke. Today, the Government sits at the hub, and we as citizens have to interact independently as multiple spokes of the wheel. When we contact a government agency to ask a question or solve a problem, it is oftentimes necessary to have information from OTHER agencies to get an adequate response. Imagine if we had a question, and the government had a complete view of us as an individual; we might actually get all of our answers in one place.

Shane: It's the D word – data. Too often data is stored in a data silo, a system that only speaks to itself. This doesn't work for personalization strategies as clients, prospects and employees could be interacting with your content across websites, mobile apps, 3rd party systems (ex. email, CRM), ATMs or kiosks. This is where we need a knowledge graph. It allows you to model business objects like a mortgage loan officer (MLO) or a branch. You can create relationships between them as a MLO could reside in three branches on different days. You can apply operational controls via workflows or automated rules. It's also intelligent so you can understand who is using it, questions people have around it and how it's performing. Lastly you can syndicate it to 1st party experiences like your website or 3rd party experiences like Google. No personalization strategy will be successful without first managing your data.

In your mind, what's next for personalization in your industry — in 2022 and beyond?

Carrie: With the changes in privacy settings on Apple affecting Facebook (Meta), Pinterest and others, and with Google Chrome moving away from third party cookies in favor of Topics in 2023, organizations are going to have to quickly become savvy in understanding how to collect different sets of data to understand consumers or groups of consumers in order to better personalize an experience for individual consumers. I predict that the future of personalization will not rely on third party targeting as much as it will rely on individual intent and interest. I also believe that marketing teams will have to change dramatically to focus more broadly on data collection and analytics to help drive better strategies. Most marketing teams in healthcare do not have any data or analytics strength to date, but organizations will quickly realize that this is a necessity in the future.

LC: Today, many agencies don't talk to one another, much less federal to state interactions. With all of our most private data sitting across multiple agencies, I could see a central body (yes, another Government institution) being developed that would house people's data in one place. This would allow for a more personalized experience with the "people" at the center and the agencies existing as they should, to serve the public–delivering a flawless experience and putting our tax dollars to work for us.

Shane: I'm betting on neural implants. Imagine if a system could get what you want, before you even think about it?! That would definitely be next level. Okay something a bit more practical but still at its infancy would be the metaverse. It's a lot of different technologies coming together – cryptocurrency, VR/AR, personalization, hardware, etc. But it is something companies are already experimenting with. Imagine walking into a house you're thinking about buying from another country, interacting with experts in a virtual environment or immersive training for appraisers or adjustors. The possibilities are limitless.

Derick: Those that have the best and most innovative 1st party cookie management will win.

Learn more about creating a truly personalized experience for your customers here.

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