Want a happier reader? It’s no secret that offering more personalized content can increase engagement. Need proof? A recent Yahoo white paper, “The Balancing Act: Getting Personalization Right,” revealed that nearly four out of five consumers desire some kind of content personalization. Alarmingly, according to “2014 Consumer Research: Social Login and Personalization,” a report from Janrain and Blue Research, 96% of consumers surveyed indicate they receive mistargeted promotions or information, and 94% have expressed their dissatisfaction by taking action, including automatically deleting emails (68%), unsubscribing from emails (54%), and categorizing emails as junk or spam (45%). Additionally, the 2015 “Personalization Consumer Survey” conducted by Magnetic found that half of consumers desire their personal information to be used to coordinate a better overall shopping experience, and 53% of consumers indicate it’s important for retailers to identify them as the same person across all devices and channels they rely on to shop. Perhaps the real question for publishers and marketers isn’t so much, “Should I use personalization?” but rather, “What’s the payoff?”

The good news is that effectively executed personalization can yield an enviable ROI. How much? McKinsey research reveals that personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend and lift sales 10% or more. “Big Data, Analytics, and the Future of Marketing & Sales” suggests companies that place data-driven personalization at the core of marketing and sales decisions improve marketing ROI by 15% to 20%.

Based on proprietary research conducted and provided by SmartFocus, personalization leads to a 67% transaction value, 300% conversion rate, and 7% annual revenue increase. “Marketers see an average increase of 20% in sales when using personalized web experiences, with personalized CTAs [calls to action] resulting in a 42% higher conversion rate than generic CTAs,” says Jess Stephens, CMO of SmartFocus.

Mark Harrington, VP of marketing at Clutch, says he’s seen brands enjoy up to a nine-fold increase in revenue simply with general personalization such as gender or geographic targeting. “The ROI can increase even higher as the personalization gets more advanced into purchase patterns and product preferences,” says Harrington, who can attest to the personalization initiatives of many brands, including Crabtree & Evelyn, Latitude 360, and Meineke. “Delivering the customer what they actually want by listening to them is simple in concept, but can pay massive dividends in terms of customer loyalty, competitive advantage, and increased revenue for brands.”

But to determine your payoff in dollars, you’ve got to measure ROI properly. That means first deciding what to measure-engagement, audience growth, and/or revenue-and clearly defining your goals, say the experts. “Your goals with personalization should be to increase sales, average order value, and the lifetime of your customers,” Stephens says. “Marketers need to create campaigns triggered by customer behavior, not their best guess. If your marketing isn’t real-time, it’s already out-of-date.”

You will know your personalization strategy or platform is working if you observe increased loyalty through repeat visits, with increased conversion and engagement. “And if basket size, cross-sells, upsells, and channel preferences are stagnant or decrease, that’s a red flag,” notes Stephens. Customers unsubscribing from your targeted/personalized emails in droves is also a signal that your customized messages need some fine-tuning.

Tony Uphoff, CEO of Business.com, agrees that repeat engagement is the barometer to watch when measuring your personalization tactics’ effectiveness. He believes setting clear objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential. “At Business.com, we’ve set several clear, tangible objectives-including increasing registration rates, repeat visits, and the amount of time people spend on the site, and lowering unsubscription rates,” says Uphoff.

Owain Powell, digital marketing manager for Decibel Digital, says the best way to accurately assess personalization ROI is via campaign monitoring tools-often tied into customer relationship management (CRM) systems-aligned with personalization and customer experience tools. “These provide additional layers of insight beyond traditional Google Analytics metrics,” Powell says. “However, while CRM systems have become very adaptable to deliver a multitude of campaigns, they still require the input of users to insert customer data, which requires adequate in-house resources.”

Yearning to increase the yield on your personalization investment? One strategy you can pursue is to give greater priority to relevance over personalization. “You can increase relevance simply by paying attention to the requests every visitor expresses when they visit a site,” says Tim Walters, Digital Clarity Group’s co-founder. “For example, if a visitor reaches your site from a search engine, use the search term-such as ‘men’s parka’-to navigate to the relevant section of your site. Next, use search terms and navigation clues to remove or hide irrelevant content. And if you use cookies, adapt them to repeated behaviors.”

Another maneuver is to turn to a variety of marketing channels. “Don’t become over-reliant on any one channel,” says Adam Weinroth, CMO for OneSpot, who cites Whole Foods Market as a prime example of a brand doing an impressive job of personalizing recipes, blog posts, and other content for its customers in real time and across channels. “As with any good investment strategy, diversify your portfolio and set your organization up to be able to adapt on-the-fly or ride out the storm.”

Relying on a trusted mobile content marketing engine to deliver across those channels is smart too. “By instituting a mobile content marketing strategy and using the right technology and platform, companies can streamline all their personalized content across channels-including video, photos, and social feeds,” suggests Marla Schimke, Zumobi’s VP of marketing. “This keeps consumers’ focus in one location where you can integrate a content-powered customer journey based on where a consumer is in a brand’s sales funnel, instead of losing them as they move from one place to another.”

Joining forces with technology and strategy leaders can also reap rewards. “Most brands leading the charge in their industries are partnering with experts,” notes Harrington. “Finding a partner that can deliver on both dimensions of strategy and technology and that serves as an extension of your marketing team is critical.”

Whatever personalization methods you pursue, if employed correctly, they can play an important role in the creation and nurturing of a long-term exchange of value between you and the consumer. And reap tidy profits too. But always remember, World Wide Webslinger: With great power comes great responsibility, as they say. “Don’t kid yourself by thinking that personalization is a license to accumulate personal data for the purposes of selling your stuff,” Walters says. “The point of Big Data is not to peer into the very soul of the consumer-it’s to make your own behavior less pathetic and more empathetic.”    

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)