In the future tech will change, people won't

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The psychology of personalization.

Marketing and advertising have always been about identifying groups of people who are most likely to buy your brand. Big data has accelerated the process of finding these groups, and can do so with hyper-precision. And yet it's going to be psychology that sharpens the craft of turning interest into sales.  

Digital marketers can do better than waiting for consumers to go to a web site and wander. "We craft a message, for them," said Chuck Bankoff, co-author of the book Digital Minds, and director of web services for Kreative Webworks.

The time it takes to decide about making a purchase is shrinking, noted Rocco Baldassare, founder and CEO of Zebra Advertisement. "Psychology is going to be the key."

"A lot of how people behave ... that's not going to change," observed Angie Pascale, partner for search and social at Interstellar, a digital marketing firm. Getting the message to them will change, given the prevalence of handheld devices. "You have to get to the point with a message and tell a story visually," she said.

Numbers vs. people
The data tells marketers who to look for, but in the end, it's about selling to people, not numbers.

Bankoff believes some of the change will come about by focusing on the conversion rate. The number of visitors to a web site may be fixed, but you can increase sales if you can increase conversion, "Working on the conversion rate is all about psychology." he said.

One way to do this is to maintain the continuity, making sure that the keyword used in the search appears in the headline on the landing page, Bankoff said. Once they make it to the seller's web site, don't let the customer wander from there "You craft a message for them." based on the persona representing the group you want to sell to, he explained.

Information about which techniques are working is buried in the data, which is now plentiful thanks to technology. "Data can be interpreted partly by machine," Baldasarre noted. But the algorithm can't replicate an audience. "It's always good to have someone in psychology to explain customer behavior," Baldassare said.

Pascale echoed this sentiment. "People tend to get caught up in the muck of the data and forget there are people behind those clicks." she said. It is going to take a mix of analysis and intuition to see the product as a customer would. Yes, there must be an analyst to sift the numbers, but there must also be a marketer who can see the product through the eyes of a customer, she added.

It is too easy to increase the spend on Google AdWords because the data says the ads worked, Pascale noted. But that can be reductive. "Other data points are not numbers," she said. The keywords used in searches are also data points. Even customer anecdotes can be data points,if the numbers confirm broadly what a single user says, she added.

Big messages on small screens
We take it for granted that mobile usage is growing fast and will be a big part of the future. Well, the future arrived on May 15, 2015, when Google logged more searches coming from mobile devices than desktops, Bankoff noted.

How information is presented on the small screen will matter, since human nature will affect how humans use the device. "The fold concept is out of the door," Bankoff said. On desktops, key information had to appear on the first screen, i.e. "above the fold," before the user scrolled down. On the small screen, scrolling down is a necessity. Web designers are now crafting single screen solutions, ideal for the handheld device, but present on the desktop as well, he noted.

The small screen also forces brevity. "You have between two and 10 seconds for them to decide what to do next." Bankoff said. The change to come is how information gets presented to the mobile user. People don't read on the Internet—they scan, Bankoff noted. Video can substitute for text, or—if text is used—the headline can be used to summarize, keeping the bullet points to a minimum. "Never create a situation with lots of bullet points and navigation tabs. That becomes reading, not scanning." he said.

"In mobile, you have a short time between finding out more, and purchasing the product," Baldasarre added. The sales funnel is short, and the customer may not have much time for comparison shopping. Brands will have to stomach low revenues while experimenting with mobile formats until coming up with one that works for them. The marketer must "deliver the right information in an easily digested format and load it fast. The shopping experience needs to be fast." he said.

Personalization will go some way towards this goal, but the page has to be crafted to appeal to specific groups of people, so that it can reach a particular individual in that sub-group, Baldasarre noted.

The need for speed is going to get entangled with the need to know. One big shift is that "consumers are doing a lot more research themselves," Pascale said. Brands simply cannot expect much from simply broadcasting their brand names. "The slogan isn't enough anymore."

Once upon a time...
Brands have to tell stories.

Mobile usage will push the use of video on the handheld device, but it must be part of a process of storytelling that leads the consumer into the brand, Pascale explained. That means getting the message to a mobile platform, piquing the user's interest, getting them to enter some information, following up to explain the brand further, then delivering the rest of the information to get the user to make a purchase.

"[These are] the baby steps of connecting with people," Pascale said. "Use retargeting to reach with ads as they surf the web," and get people on the path to make the purchase.

Personalization will help entice an individual of a known sub-group to enter the sales funnel, but it will take a human to craft a message that entices, Bladassare added. "It takes a person to speak to another person."

"Technology changes underneath people," Bankoff said, "but people want what they want. I think basically human psychology stays the same. How we put the message in front of them makes a difference."

This story first appeared in DMN.