The Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How of Personalization

By Zimm Zimmerman, Vice President, Personalization at Merkle

In the context of marketing, you could say, "personalization is the process by which marketing delivers personalized experiences (to consumer and prospect) so as to engage and guide each individual through a set of predefined interactions and conversions." The goal, like all marketing programs, would be to drive an incremental benefit to the company.

With that in mind, for a company to develop a personalization program, they will need to focus on the management and delivery of "personalized experiences." In order to manage personalized experiences, a company will need to understand and manage the "who, what, when, why, where, and how" of personalization.



When discussing the "Who," you are talking about your audiences (both prospects and customers). "Who" is everything about your audience. "Who" is defined by leveraging first, second, and third-party data. A consolidation of such data allows us to create a 360° view of customers, while the leveraging of third-party data allows us to gain deep understand and target your prospects. In order to manage the who, a company needs a data management platform (DMP).

Side note:  I have discussed the value of a DMP in targeting prospects in a previous blog, which you can find here.

Within travel, you might think of three (3) high-level audiences as being part of your "Who."  You have your business traveler, your couple, and your family. In doing so, you might incorporate these audiences into your DMP as one of the attributes in "knowing who you are having a conversation with."


"What," within the context of personalization, is based on the available marketing content, which can be used to engage, interact, and converse with a customer. "What" provides the framework of conversations that a company can have with a customer (or a prospect). The content is responsible for telling the story, engaging the customer, and guiding the customer along the journey. Marketing content (or the "what") best serves a company when maintained and managed within a content management system (CMS).

Site note:  To start with the what, I would recommend starting with an audit of your content, as aligned to personalized experiences within a customer journey.

Travel has more what, to personalize, then just marketing collateral. The "what" can consists of actual service offerings associated with an experience. For example: What type of room? What type of view? What seat on the plane? In this case, marketers should be thinking of how to personalize both the marketing message and the product - or experience. "Packages" is one way that I have seen Travel Marketers personalize the experience for their consumers.

When, Why, Where, and How

Now that we know "who" we are talking to and "what" we are going to talk about, we must manage the "when, why, where, and how" of the personalized experiences.
With customers now dictating the time, location, and means of a relationship, it has fallen on marketing to be prepared to respond and engage with a customer at any time, any place, and with any (appropriate) messaging. Engaging such a vast number of customers on a host of potential messaging, offers, or topics through any channel or media requires some form of orchestration. Orchestration answers:
  • "When" the conversation takes place;
  • "Why" the conversation is taking place;
  • "Where" in the customer journey the conversation is taking place; and,
  • "How" to have the conversation (e.g., channel and/or media).
Orchestration personalizes the experience to the "who" and elicits content for the conversation from the "what." In essence, orchestration is recognizing the "when" and "why" required to deliver the right person ("who"), with the right message ("what"), in the right place ("how"), at the right time ("when"). The management and execution of such complex interactions / conversations requires a solid decision orchestration platform(s) (DOP).


So, when discussing personalization, ensure that you are answering all of the questions related to the delivery of personalized experiences.
  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you talking about?
  • When, why, where, and how are you going to have the conversation?
Side Note:
  Decision orchestration platforms are typically compiled of a number of different solutions, which are usually differentiated by inbound and outbound execution.

As a final note, marketers in the travel and leisure industry need to remember that the conversation does not end at the time booking - but rather it begins. Over the course of a trip, marketers need to maintain the conversation with their guest. While marketing will have a very clear understanding of "Who" they are talking to, the what, when, why, where and how will change over the course of a traveler's journey.