Forrester logo Download the report

From Persona to Personal: 3 Steps to Break Consumer Stereotypes and Start Creating Relevance

According to a study by the UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, 85% of the top 1,000 websites have cookies set by a third party (Gigaom). Propelled by widespread anonymity in the early days of the Internet, third-party cookies have undoubtedly become a staple for many marketers, tracking consumer behaviors across the web with the promise of uncovering invaluable insights.

But today’s consumers are no longer hiding behind their technicolor iMac G3s, wreaking havoc in chatrooms under mysterious usernames.

The growth of social network usage and countless connected devices has effectively merged consumers’ digital identities with their real-world relationships, interests and activities. In this vein, 79% of consumers agree that their relationships with brands are more personal than ever before (MediaPost).

Bottom line: the impersonal, mass marketing messages from AOL’s heyday just don’t cut it with today’s connected consumers. Here are 3 steps your business can take to go beyond stereotypical consumer personas and start creating relevance for customers.

1. Shift to 1st Party Data

If someone were to describe you based purely on your web browsing behavior, what would you look like? In between my nephew stealing my tablet to play games and watch videos, I have a habit of clicking on ads for shoes I definitely cannot afford. Hence, my “behavioral profile” probably makes me look like a wealthy, middle-age woman or 13-year-old boy – neither of which matches my true identity.

These are the types of ambiguous, unreliable pictures cookies paint for marketers. And as if this didn’t make them inaccurate enough, consumers have caught on to being tracked across the web, with 3 in 10 deleting their cookies each month (Comscore), and 39% changing their browser settings to block cookies altogether (MediaPost).

Successful brands are effectively personalizing user experiences by shifting from third-party “insights” to more reliable first-party data. Collected directly from users via voluntary registration, login and interactions, first-party data provides a more accurate and identity-centric view of your customers.

Tip for Getting More First-Party Data: Allow users to register for and login to your site or app using their existing social media accounts. Not only does this make it easy for consumers to authenticate their identities with a single click, but it also gives your brand the ability to request access to their social profile data, including their relationships, interests and more.

2. Synchronize Cross-channel Data

First-party data is great – but it’s not all that helpful if said data is locked away in silos across your business. Unfortunately, this is becoming a common problem in today’s multi-channel landscape, with 30% of marketers citing disparate data sources as the top obstacle in creating relevant user experiences (Econsultancy).

Think about it: a consumer may visit your site on her smartphone and spend a long time viewing a particular item, but return to make a purchase via desktop. Without a single view of her activity across channels and devices, you may waste precious ad dollars – and annoy a good customer – by retargeting her smartphone with irrelevant ads for a product she already owns.

While capturing consumer identity through first-party login data solves a key part of this challenge, you also need to make sure that the data being captured is aggregated across touch points. Does your database have the ability to synchronize cross-channel data in real-time? It should – having a centralized view of consumer activity across channels is the only way to consistently reach consumers on a 1:1 level.

3. Turn Data into Action

With a single view of consumer identity across devices, your business can start creating personalized user experiences that speak to customers’ individual interests, actions and behaviors.

From greeting customers by name to recommending specific products, opportunities to personalize consumers’ on-site experiences are endless. By tying all on-site activity, like socially shared and favorited recipes, to a single user profile, McCormick is able to provide each user with a unique “Flavor Print,” or taste profile, which is then used to recommend recipes she may like.

Another highly efficient strategy is to group consumers into segments based on similar characteristics or behaviors. While segments allow you to reach audiences at scale, unlike traditional “personas,” these groups are still based on known, individual identities, not inferred traits and motives. Amazon segments Kindle users based on the books they purchase to suggest other titles they may like.

Triggering communications based on specific events – whether they be life events like birthdays or on-site actions like abandoning cart – is another key tactic for building personal consumer relationships. For example, Dropbox sends customers the below email when they sign up for an account but fail to complete the installation process.

Making the transition from “persona” to “personal” is a difficult yet necessary business evolution. For more ideas of how to break consumer stereotypes and start creating highly relevant user experiences, check out our latest guide, 50 Examples of Awesome UX.

By Rachel Serpa

Meet us at

Consumer Identity World USA
Seattle, USA

September 12 - 13, 2017
View Event >
Consumer Identity World USA, September 12-13, 2017, Seattle