In order for businesses to deliver personally relevant messages, products and services to their customers they must have all the right customer insights to hand, and those can only be gained by drilling down into customer intelligence at a thoroughly granular level, according to Katharine Hulls, vice president of marketing for Celebrus Technologies. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Relevance is a word much used in marketing circles, perhaps overly so in recent years. A message that is of personal relevance, that is engaging, and that is effective, will truly resonate with readers - as opposed to those that are generic and essentially untargeted. The value of relevant messaging is not hard to understand, and neither is the actual execution of one-to-one real-time personalisation. Yet there is still confusion surrounding how real-time but relevant messages can be delivered to individuals.

Hulls explains that, when it comes to delivering relevant messaging, the main necessity is individual customer insight. There is no reason for ongoing confusion around the delivery of relevant massages in real-time: one-to-one real-time website personalisation is not something to wait for. It is already here, right now.

Identifying customer behaviour
Purchase data is a key source of insight which holds great value, especially in a cross-and-up-sell scenario. The problem with this kind of data is that it does not paint a clear picture of the individual's desires, products of interest and what they may purchase next. In short it does not provide the kind of information which highlights products that, with the right kind of marketing techniques, could potentially be a clear cut sale to a business.

Many businesses are relying upon web analytics to provide such customer data. The issue with this data is that it is by no means detailed enough, nor is it available immediately which is critical when it comes to real-time personalisation. Additionally, whilst product recommendation engines play a valuable role in showing which products might appeal to an online customer, they are based on group behaviour and algorithms, not insight about that specific customer.

Nothing is as valuable as knowing the behaviour of customers on an individual level. Detailed insight into an individual website visitors' behaviour is readily available - businesses are able to see products, colours and sizes browsed, images scrolled over, referring and in-site search terms used, and much more. This data can be used to build a history of an individual's visits so that a detailed view of individual customer preferences can be developed. Once this deep understanding is gained, organisations can build true one-to-one personalisation programmes which enable the delivery of relevant messages through real-time website personalisation.

A retail scenario
This insight can be illustrated with an example from the retail sector. Let's assume our customer is called Kate. Kate is going to a wedding in December and requires a new outfit. She has found a dress and is looking for matching shoes in exactly the right shade of purple. Kate goes online and looks at a variety of websites searching for purple shoes. She finds a couple of options on different websites, however her preferred pair is out of stock so Kate closes down her browser with the thought of checking again another time.

When Kate goes back to those websites the following evening one gives her the standard home page, the other replaces the main image with a picture of the shoes which Kate was looking at and a message stating that they are now back in stock. When Kate clicks on that image to look again at the shoes the page also shows her a picture of a matching handbag. As Kate clicks on that picture the handbag page includes an offer for a 5% discount if the shoes and handbag are purchased together. Kate scrolls over the image to assess if it really is the right colour, and as she does so a message comes up confirming the company's free 14-day no quibble returns policy.

Comforted by the low risk returns policy and encouraged through the process by receiving relevant real-time messages at each stage of the sales cycle, Kate goes ahead and purchases the shoes along with the handbag and is able to go to the wedding looking exactly how she imagined. The website owner feels pretty good too as it has turned an unknown browser into a valuable customer with whom they can start to build a long-term relationship.

Useful in more ways than one
Real-time personalisation isn't just of use for retail; any sector can reap the benefits. Insurance companies, for example, have used such data to accelerate the customer lifecycle and increase conversion rates by adjusting on-site messaging based upon what information a customer has inputted into the website or by what products have been viewed online.

The opportunities with real-time personalisation are pretty much infinite, and with access to the required data and technology already a reality, brands can quickly start to use it for the ultimate in customer engagement.

Contrary to popular conjecture from some players in the web optimisation space, one-to-one real-time website personalisation is not the future - it is right here, right now, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to reap its rewards.