Personalisation platforms give businesses nowadays the possibility to serve digital content tailored to a vast amount of individual user data and contexts. This means an e-commerce website is no longer forced to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to storytelling. However, working out how to create the right website personalisation to obtain significant results seems to be difficult for businesses. Surveys indicate consistently that in-house marketers, outside of a handful of top retailers, struggle to achieve sales uplifts to justify the high costs of personalisation technology.

Understanding cognitive mechanisms

One solution for this performance problem with personalisation is to look at the effects of messages on recipients. This means to use cognitive models of information processing to detect ways to boost the effectiveness of personalised content.

One cognitive model which can be used successfully in this context is the “elaboration likelihood model”. This model predicts that a combination of personal triggers (personal items, personal pronouns, user names) increases the effectiveness of rational marketing messages. This happens because the messages receive more attention from the consumer and are thus more extensively processed in their minds – which more often leads to a purchase. The elaboration model does require enough triggers to reach the “magic” threshold at which more extensive message processing takes place.

Using elaboration mechanisms can be particularly beneficial for subscription marketers, as in order to purchase a subscription users prefer to make a very conscious decision (as they are usually signing up for a set period of months). In addition subscription clients often expect brands to have more of a vested interest in their personal situation and requirements. By adding the right personalisation the user is more likely to trust that the brand understands their needs and decide the subscription is definitely relevant to them.

How does it work in practice?

When working with a leading anti-virus software company to drive subscriptions online, our campaign began by showing a compatibility message with an image of the users’ device type (e.g. mobile, tablet, etc). This device recognition personalisation enabled users to straight away identify that the software was compatible with their personal device.

However, the elaboration model also allows brands to look at device recognition not just to make things easier, but also as a chance to increase their attention to the copy. Users will feel/think “I recognise my device,” which is a great base, but in our example, above we also added possessive pronouns (“your”) extensively to the copy, to help increase attention. This made sure the user realised we were talking directly to them so they were more likely to process the message intensively. An example of this was the headline: “Protect your [device type]” instead of “Protect [device types]”.

Personalisation is worth it

The campaign example above found that adding device personalisation led to a 9% uplift in subscriptions, compared to a non-personalised version of the site. Introducing personal pronouns heavily in the copy (on top of the device recognition) boosted the uplift to an aggregated 35%.

This means the gains from the personalisation strategy (which utilised a cognitive model) exceeded the tech costs involved in the implementation and management, demonstrating that understanding the cognitive side of content personalisation can really help marketers to maximize results from content personalisation campaigns.


By Daniel Gold, head of research at House of Kaizen

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