The New Era of Applications: Personalization

One of my all-time favorite movies, The Lord of the Rings, starts with a monologue from Galadriel, the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth, as described by the author himself. Galadriel whispers with her soothing, yet frightening voice: “The world has changed. I can feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.”

Galadriel is absolutely right. The world has changed. People have changed. And their habits change. People use to go out for shopping as a social activity, but today “There is an app for that”. To be more specific, there are probably like 300 apps for any single thing you need. That brings another new question for end-user: Which app is for me?

As a business, there are a lot of different ways to get your app used by your potential customers. It is always easy to acquire new users for your mobile business, but keeping them as your loyal customers is the real challenge. People are no longer prone to fall for advertising traps such as fake comparisons or discount banners with flashy numbers.

“The world has changed. I can feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.”

The author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, once summarized marketing of our day in one sentence: “To give real service, you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”. Sincerity is the key to create a bond with your customers, but you also need to engage them on a personal level. That’s when personalization comes into play.

According to research conducted by Vanson Bourne in 2016, 35% of participants expect more personalized apps in coming years the most. Personalization plays a big role in people’s habits according to Flurry, a mobile analytics firm. On average, a smartphone user has 65 installed apps at any time. But they actively use just 15 of them at most, which brings forth a great opportunity as still, most of the app-makers don’t implement personalization in their releases.

In the early days of ancient mobile marketing (meaning: a few years ago) static mobile apps were just sources of information or in a best-case scenario, they were apps of a service. Today’s apps have ecosystems of their own by using tons of information being gathered around users, which later used for personalization of the service being offered and that brings forth another issue: Privacy. That’s why personalization is best when users prefer to personalize their own experience.

1) Direct (User-Generated) Personalization

Have you used Tinder? We know you did, come on! Even if it was just out of sheer curiosity, you tried it at least once. For those who never used Tinder, you basically open the app and start “rating” people who are a few miles around you. If you like someone, you swipe right. If you don’t, you swipe left. Then the system matches you with people, who also liked you and you start talking. You only match with people that you are interested in.

In a perfect world, people would have “hidden tags” like items on an e-commerce website, such as blonde, tall, brown eyed, Spanish-speaking, smoking etc. Even if I personally believe that Tinder is already doing that via image recognition software, this is not usually socially acceptable. But for an e-commerce site selling clothing, this is a great option for personalization.

Mallzee: Tinder for clothing

An app called Mallzee (European-based shopping app) is using a system that works exactly like Tinder, but for clothing. When you “like” a sneaker with a specific brand, you get more suggestions for sneaker and that specific brand. When you “dislike” a pink hoodie, you get fewer suggestions for pink stuff and hoodies. The main idea is you have the chance to personalize your own experience, which is an awesome thing.

2) Indirect (Behavior-Based) Personalization

As an app can collect your information directly from your input, it may also collect information without you even know about it. The links you click on the service, the items you view, things that you plan to buy and add to your cart or every other action that you do on the app is recorded. By doing this, the app itself can provide recommendations to you, according to your interests.

Starbucks’ app gathers information about your drink choices and your visits to their shops become more personal.

So, how does it work? You are browsing an e-commerce app, clicking through various items for a gift idea for your girlfriend. You checked handbags, maybe flowers, a necklace etc. As all of these items are already have a lot of tags in the background, such as “handbag, brand, gift, leather”, “flower, rose, gift”, “necklace, gift, golden, flower shape” and much more. When you browse more, the system learns more about your interest and offers you more items with the tags like “gift, flower”. So rather than giving direct input, indirectly you provide your information to the system.

For example, Starbucks uses this system flawlessly. Within their app, which is used for orders, payment, and preferences, Starbucks’ app gathers information about your drink choices and your visits to their shops become more personal. If you drink decaf coffee daily, they will let you know when they have a new decaf product. They also offer special discounts on specific items of your interest.

As Starbucks mentions, personalized app results in more visits to stores and more spending in total.

3) Segmentation-Based Personalization

When a user signs-up for your service via an app or website, you can learn a lot about them, such as their name, device category, device model, age, sex, location and even their interests. This information might be vital for your marketing efforts, as this allows you to group your users according to their “attributes” in your database.

YemekSepeti creates a lot of videos for nearly each name that exists in Turkey, featuring their employees singing “Happy Birthday” songs to customers rhyming with their name.

Creating different segments from information provided by your customers allows you to target specific groups, therefore increase conversion rates. For example, when you have a discount specifically in your New York store, there is no need to inform your app users in California. Or when you are selling a product, directly targeting women, you don’t need to tell your male customers about that.

Usually, segmentation is considered like the opposite of personalization. But there are a lot of examples of services or apps going completely personal, just with general info.

For example, a Turkish online food ordering startup YemekSepeti (acquired by Delivery Hero in 2015) sends people personalized notifications on their birthdays, along with a generous discount that can be used on same day. They create a lot of videos for nearly each name that exists in Turkey, featuring their employees singing “Happy Birthday” songs to customers rhyming with their name.

To wrap things up;

Do you remember the time when some new thing comes up with a title like “Welcome to the 21st Century!”? That was so 2000s. Times are changing. Steve Jobs once said “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”. Personalization in mobile apps is about getting close to customers with sincerity, rather than having a marketing mindset. Deliver value to your customers and that will eventually create value for your company, and in this case, your app.