Personalization Deep Dive: Contextual vs. Behavioral

Personalization Deep Dive: Contextual vs. Behavioral

Christen Daniels

Now that we’re seeing brands report a 15 percent increase in profits following the deployment of a personalization engine, the need for marketers to truly understand personalization has never been greater. Because getting started with personalization is one thing, but using personalization to its fullest extent is something entirely different.

Before we jump into the types of personalization, we think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about personas and their role, or lack of a role, in developing and implementing a personalization strategy.

Personalization, Not Personas

Despite the widespread usage of personalization, we’re still seeing brands display immaturity when it comes to using their personalization engines. What we’ve seen is the creation of a model that leads to what we call “the infinite content problem” where brands are creating more and more content for each persona with diminishing returns. Why is this? Most commonly it’s because we find companies mistakenly equating personas with personalization.

A persona represents a segment of audience members who exhibit similar traits. But the problem is, a string of characteristics isn’t compatible with a personalization model that wants to deliver tailored experiences based on an individual's context or behavior - not based on the collective whole.

Persona’s are great for governing content creation, like blog posts, but they aren’t meant to be used during the delivery process.

To help you understand how personalization is done in practice, we’re taking a look at two major dimensions of personalization that — when used together — can strengthen any personalization strategy across all channels.

Contextual Personalization

Contextual personalization is perhaps the easiest dimension to grasp. It involves the delivery of content, imagery and offers based on a user's context — which are essentially unchanging characteristics.

A user’s context is often made up of the following characteristics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Device type
  • Profile information
  • Explicit and implicit data
  • Other demographic information

Contextual personalization is handy for basic content tailoring, like serving up beard oil ads to males instead of females.

Behavioral Personalization

On the flip side, behavioral personalization is all about delivering content based on a user's behavior, rather than their context. In many respects, behavioral personalization is where marketers can derive and deliver the most value.

Behaviors can be defined to include almost anything, but here are some typical behaviors that are commonly factored into behavioral personalization models:

  • Banner clicking
  • Shopping behavior
  • Cart abandonment
  • Pages visited
  • Content downloaded
  • Recently read articles

The idea is that, when a user visits a website’s bath salts information page, the personalization engine is alerted to the fact that they’re interested in bath salts — and thus begins serving related content to encourage the conversion to purchasing bath salts. Such information would be above the paygrade of the contextual personalization model.

As previously mentioned, behavioral personalization often provides more bang for the buck, because a user’s behavior provides more information than their location or gender. By studying individual user behaviors, you can measure their interests and perhaps even predict their next move.

The only drawback is that some web surfers still view behavioral personalization as an invasive marketing measure — but with more and more websites using cookies to track visitors, that’s a problem that should take care of itself over time.

Stronger Together

As you might expect, contextual and behavioral personalization are two sides of the same coin. Or at least, they should be.

By themselves, you can only discover one side of your customer’s story, and thus you can only plan for one side of their journey.

But when you leverage contextual and behavioral personalization in tandem, you can construct a personalization strategy that’s holistic, accounts for a wide range of channels, and delivers truly tailored experiences — the type of experiences that can boost profits and get real results.

Want to learn more about contextual personalization and behavioral personalization and how easy it can be to implement? Check out our webinar, ‘How to Deliver More Personalized Web Experiences’.