Personalizing the customer experience is the smartest way to improve retention, add value, and increase revenue. But how do you collect the right data, and how do you use it intelligently to create highly relevant experiences across the entire customer journey?

Brian Border is the Head of Marketing for JustAnswer, the leader in connecting customers to professional services experts. JustAnswer is revolutionizing the way customer data is collected and used to build robust consumer profiles across their platform and marketing efforts. Using data science, machine learning, paid media, and more, they create relationships with their customers that grow over time. Brian details their approach for anyone wanting to make better use of their customer data efforts, including:

  • How to extract data from hesitant customers 
  • How to build in-depth profiles 
  • 3 recommendations for companies just beginning 
  • And much more

Go beyond the basics and start building better customer relationships.

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is creating customers for life through deeply personalized experiences. Here to speak with me is Brian Border, who is the VP marketing of JustAnswer, the world’s leading expert marketplace connecting most more than 60 million people worldwide, with doctors, lawyers and more. 

The company’s revolutionizing professional services by making fast affordable expert help accessible to people everywhere. Brian, has had marketing leadership roles at JustAnswer, and Shutterfly driving business transformation through the development of omni channel consumer marketing programs. He also led marketing teams at Kodak Gallery and Blue Shield of California. Earlier in his career, Brian served as a business strategy consultant first at Accenture and then at Pepper and Rogers group, working with leading global brands such as Nike Jaguar, HP, and Amgen. Brian, welcome to the show. Thanks,

Brian Border: Thanks, Steffen. It’s great to be here.

Steffen: Now, Brian, before we start talking about how to create personalized experiences, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in marketing and how did you end up at JustAnswer?

Brian: Sure. So very early on in my career, I took on a summer internship while I was in college at DHL Express the package delivery company. And I was focused on marketing communications for that summer. I had a great mentor who gave me exposure to all sorts of different areas. And it really attracted me to, to the field of marketing and the ability to both effectively communicate and influence with with customers and help drive help drive impact to the business through the through the area of marketing. From then, as you mentioned, I’ve been I’d been in consulting for the first part of my career. 

I spent eight years spread across Accenture and Peppers and Rogers Group. And most of my most of my projects there were also focused on marketing. So I think it was inevitable that that was my my career calling. Since the time in consulting, I shifted over to the client side of things, because I was a became more and more eager to be able to stay with a single company and go deeper and really get get into the details of the business in the marketing side of things. Whereas on the consulting side you’re moving from, you’re typically moving from one client to the next, every three, six or nine months. 

I was eager to be able to stay for a longer period of time with a single company and launch campaigns, learn from them and iterate over time. I’ve been at JustAnswer for about a year and a half. And I was the reason I joined is because first and foremost, I really was drawn by the business model. So we are as you mentioned, we’re an online platform that connects consumers with with experts in a lot of different fields ranging from medical to legal to veterinarians, to mechanics. And we basically offer fast, affordable, high quality experience that isn’t easily replicated in more traditional means of the way customers typically try to seek help in different areas of their life. 

So I was really excited to be a part of this company. JustAnswer has been around for 18 plus years at this point and has had really, really nice growth and has had profound impact on so many different customers’ lives. Everything from helping customers who are maybe having a car issue helping them get to work in the morning, to things much more material such as helping to help people who are sick, get get better, or helping even to save lives of people’s cherished pets.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, today’s topic is creating customers for life through deeply personalized experiences. Brian, what does personalization mean to you?

Brian: Sure. So for me, I would summarize personalization is making really intelligent use of data to create highly relevant experiences for your customers. And I would just say that I think it goes beyond the basics of collecting a couple of data points about a customer such as their name or where they live, and serving and get back to them. But you know, for it to be really be powerful and impactful, to me, personalization had its truest form, it’s about building robust customer profiles that allow you to more deeply understand customer needs, and then use that understanding to create targeted interactions and experiences with customers. And that can come in the form everything from providing really smart product recommendations, to offering up value added services or information. It can come in the form of providing unique promotions for customers based on what you think will resonate best with them.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, how do you built those specific customer profiles? How do you go about that?

Brian: Yeah, I think the companies that do it best leverage, creatively leverage information from a number of different sources. So I think in the online world, which is where I’ve been focused for the last 10 years or so of my career, we, you have the advantage of the fact that customers who are interacting on your site are engaging behaviors that are easily tracked, that you can, you can then use to, to learn more about them and to make to develop insights around what their what their needs and interests are. 

But I think where it’s really worked best for me and companies I’ve worked with, is when you go beyond just taking the behavioral data, and you expand upon that with, with other data sources. And that can include leveraging third party data. And that can also include just proactively asking customers at various points in the customer journey, to tell you more about themselves, so that you can get a more complete picture of who they are, what they’re about, and how to how to create a strong ongoing relationship with them.

Steffen: Yeah. Now, if you ask people to disclose information about them, that’s a very sensitive topic. I mean, people usually want to hold information about themselves a little bit closer to their chest. How do you go about that? How do you extract that information? How do you make people feel comfortable, that they disclose more information about them?

Brian: I think there’s a couple of things that are important principles when it comes to that. I think one is not asking for too much information at the start of a relationship. And just asking for maybe a couple of basic fundamental questions about the customer early on, and then delivering as you deliver, make use of that information and started to deliver personalized experiences and customers start seeing the value of what they’re providing, having that served backup to them. I think that gives you license over time to continue to collect more information about them.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, how did personalization become an area of focus for you? How long have you been focused on it?

Brian: Yeah, so personalization, actually has been involved or a key component of much of my much of my career. So over over 20 years. My first consulting company, I was at Accenture. And the very first project I was placed on was working with a, was considered an internet think tank that lived within the consulting company that was focused on helping companies learn how to capitalize on the web. So this was in the early days when companies knew they needed to have websites, but they weren’t really sure how to make them work effectively for them. 

And so I was on a project team that created models and formulas for them to, to use to leverage to, to basically help them understand how to best exploit the channel by collecting information and creating personalized web experiences for customers as they spent time interacting with the sites. Since that time, most areas have been involved in marketing have, have had at least some areas of personalization. That’s been a part of my role, particularly in the field of email and direct mail. So those are two of the channels that spent the most time focusing on personalization. I think that there’s there’s things that are unique about those, those particular channels that can allow you to be highly personalized to customers and really see an impact from it.

Steffen: Now, what’s the impact of those personalizations that you have seen?

Brian: Yeah, it depends on it really depends on the type of objectives that that you’re trying to solve for. It depends on the area in which you are in which you’re employing the personalization. But I can tell you that in some of my earlier days, in the world of health care, we used personalized experiences to try to save customers who were at risk of leaving our company, and essentially going to a competitor. And based on information we knew about them in terms of their health needs and their financial means we were able to provide recommended plans for them that were really targeted specifically to their needs and fit their budget. 

And that allowed us to increase retention rates by double digits through some of the initiatives we ran there. More recently, at JustAnswer we’ve been working on personalization, a number of different ways. And one, one personalization initiative that we recently ran targeted, dog owners. And through using the information we knew about them, and the specific needs and help they needed in their lives to help make their help them with dogs who are having health issues, we were able to both increase conversion rates as well as to increase the revenue, overall revenue generated from them.

Steffen: Now a second ago, you said that you predominantly use personalization for direct mail and email. How are you using a deeper personalization for paid media activities?

Brian: So on the on the paid media side, I think that in large part goes, I think in large part that just comes with becoming really smart in terms of the types of segmentation that you that you put into place. I think a lot of times, companies will focus on sort of very basic, obvious forms of, of segmentation, if that. You can say at JustAnswer we have gotten highly sophisticated in terms of really getting to a much more granular level of personalization. And so to bring that to life a little bit more, we have a number of main categories of professional experts within our network. And so as a starting point, we’re able to target, do targeted advertising based on by targeting customers who may have veterinarian needs or medical needs or legal needs. 

But we get we over time we’ve we’ve tested and learned and gotten more and more granular to where we’re now targeting customers based on very sort of specific needs they have within an overall category. So it’s one thing to target pet owners, it’s another thing to target somebody who owns a dog that is a black lab that is three years old. And that’s the level of sophistication that, that we’ve gotten to over time, so that we can really, really speak to the customers in in targeted ways through our advertising. And it’s proven to resonate really well with them.

Steffen: Now earlier, you mentioned that you’re using obviously third party data to get a much better understanding of your audience that you’re communicating with. Now, with third party data going away, whether it happens next year, the year after, or it’s further delayed a little bit, how might that change the personalization approach?

Brian: Yeah, I think it’s going to put more onus on us to do a better job of collecting information directly from the customer when certain types of sources go away. So I mentioned that we do some, we do some custom, some data collection from customers today, we actually have a number of ideas for how we can extend that over time. I would say most of our data collection that we get from customers happens within the first few hours in which they’re engaging with us and engaging with our experts. But we have an opportunity to build that out over time, similar to what I talked about earlier in terms of collecting, collecting data over time and building more robust profiles with that additional data collection.

Steffen: Now, Brian, why is personalization important? Why should someone even bother doing it?

Brian: So I think it’s, I think it’s really easy for companies to take a siloed one size fits all approach. I’ve worked at companies and come into some companies that have have predominantly done that. And I think that ultimately at the end of the day, when you do that you are you’re missing an opportunity to create deeper relationships with customers that show up in all the benefits which show up in so many different ways. Be it be a conversion, be it increased retention, increased purchase size. 

So long story short, I think it can be a real competitive advantage. The more a company learns about their customer, the more they’re able to personalize, and the more than we’re able to personalize the experience towards that customer, it creates real barriers to switching. Because if a customer wants to move on to a competitor, they have to start all over in terms of sharing information with them, and hoping that the competitor will do do an effective job of meeting their meeting their needs over time.

Steffen: I think. Sorry, go ahead, Brian.

Brian: Yeah, no, I was just gonna say too, I think one thing related to that, I talk a lot about personalization at conferences. And I always like to have back up data and see what the recent data says about the impact of personalization. And one that especially resonated with me was a Boston Consulting study from a few years back, that showed companies, companies that employ personalization, personally and personalized experiences for the customers demonstrate a two to three times faster revenue growth. And so it’s not just something that I think is, in theory, a good thing to do. I think there’s plenty of data out there at this point, and plenty of studies have been done that helps to validate the impact of personalization.

Steffen: Yeah, I was just about to say something along the line, what you just said, in regards to revenue growth. Obviously, in an increasingly competitive media environment where, you know, these days, for example, on a search side, you no longer get get clicks, for air quotes, cheap, right? A lot of people use paid search now. The same on Facebook and other channels. It’s just so important to be more targeted and provide messaging and personalization to the target audience, in order to achieve a much higher conversion rate, whatever the conversion point is, that the company is going after. Because that at the end of the day means that you’re getting a better return, as you just mentioned.

Brian: And I think I was gonna say, I think in the paid the paid media, it really is that combination of being sophisticated with targeting in ways that make make sense for your business. But then you’ve got to marry that with the effective messaging that makes sense for a particular target audience you’re going after.

Steffen: Right, right. Now, Brian, how important is personalization today, compared to when you started working on it? How has it changed over the years?

Brian: You know, it mentioned, as mentioned earlier, personalization is something that’s been part of my career at a number of different junctions, starting from the very, very early days when I was in consulting. And I think it has become a lot more actionable. Whereas I think, I think in the past, there was only so much companies could do, because maybe the technology wasn’t in place, or there are also barriers in terms of not in terms of the fact that companies, customers weren’t spending as much time online as they are today. 

I think now, with with a shift, the continuing expedited shift from offline to online, along with the tools that exist today to both make more to effectively collect and store data, to use to use insights, to draw up insights from that data and then serve it up in in personalized ways and relevant ways to customers. I think that’s night and day from how things were 20 years ago.

Steffen: How are you employing personalization at JustAnswer and what impacts have you seen there? I know you earlier gave a few examples, but maybe you can expand on it a little bit?

Brian: Yeah, I mentioned, I mentioned the the dog owner campaign, we’re focused we’re focused on and one thing I’d say about that is talked about that I talked about that it had both impacts on positive impacts on conversion as well as as well as customer revenue. One thing that I would I would say that I hadn’t touched on earlier is that we really made it a focus to create a consistent personalized experience across the entire customer journey. So as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy for for companies to be to be siloed with with what they do in different channels and we’ve we’ve put a lot of focus on breaking down those silos and mapping out the customer experience from the time they come to our site typically from a paid advertising add to the time that they leave JustAnswer we’ve mapped out all the key touch points and infused infused personalization across across each of those. 

And did in ways that created a consistent experience across so the customer really felt like no matter when and how and where they were interacting with us. They felt like they were being talked to talk spoken to by us in, in personalized ways and relevant ways. I think one other thing I can say is that like, like a number of companies and companies, other companies I’ve worked at, we are making greater and greater use of data science and machine learning to help us get away from humans necessarily. 

Humans make decisions on what’s the right information to serve up to customers, but actually letting the data decide on what’s the what are the right messages, what are the right types of offers to promote to customers throughout the customer journey? I think, definitely in the in the top of funnel, and in the world of paid advertising, paid media, there are already some really sophisticated tools that exist, but we’re trying to we’re trying to leverage that both when customers come to our site, as well as when we’re interacting with them and in our marketing channels.

Steffen: Now you just mentioned tools. Can you talk a little bit more about what technologies you use or you think, are required to to have a much more personalized approach?

Brian: Sure. So I’m gonna keep want to keep it a little a little higher level, but I think that, that the basic components are, are as follows. So I always think about it in terms of a data piece. So having, having having a place where you can effectively store all the information you need that you collect about a customer, be it what they provide to you be the behavioral data, they give you be it, importing third party data, but having that that single source of truth for the for the customer. The second piece is what I call the insights layer. 

So taking that data, and leveraging the power of things like predictive models, for example, to help you help us understand what is most critical content and information to serve the customers across the customer journey. And then the last element is the deployment piece. And in relatively simple terms, that that’s all about having the right capabilities in place that can marry the insights with the content and serve it up in the right channels to different customers based on what what makes most sense.

Steffen: What are some examples of systems that can be used to store data? Are those CRM systems for example?

Brian: They can be yes, they can be they can be CRM systems, sometimes, companies will also can build it can build it in house. At Just Answer, we tend to be more of a build versus buy company. So we tend to create that in house. But yes, something like CRM systems are some of the most robust CRM systems basically marry the data component with the with the insights and the deployment.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, do you have some examples of other companies that are doing personalization well?

Brian: Yeah, it’s what that’s really fun is to keep an eye out to see what what companies are doing and what companies are really, really taking advantage of personalization. Conversely, it’s also interesting to see companies that I’ve given information to that, that don’t take advantage of that and don’t actually create a personalized experience for me. But when I think about that, when I think about companies that are doing it really well, I think of companies that are collecting data continuously. Like I’ve spoken about before, and really using that data to get smarter and smarter over time in terms of the personalization that they that they serve up. 

I think another another theme that companies are doing well are companies that really integrate personalization across the product experience. For example, when customers are on your actual site interacting with you, as well as integrating that with the with the marketing, the outside marketing channels. Netflix is one company that I appreciate. I think they’re, the more I get sucked into to watching shows on Netflix, the smarter and smarter they get with with the recommendations they provide. 

And I would say another company that I really appreciate what they’re doing with personalization is a company called Stitch Fix that some people may know it, but it’s an apparel company and their their core product is they will send customers a curated set of clothing, pieces of clothing and accessories each month or how often you choose. And what I appreciate about them is that they combine behavioral data with customer provided data to get to basically put that into algorithms and gets smarter and smarter over time in terms of what exactly they end up providing to you from one month to the next in terms of the clothing recommendations. 

I also appreciate it as well because to the fact that they aren’t just completely focused on the technology, but they actually have a human touch as well. So they essentially marry the the algorithms that they create with personal stylists that they have on staff to essentially get the best of both worlds. Both the human side as well as the data driven side to delight customers.

Steffen: What are common mistakes companies make when embarking on a personalization initiative?

Brian: I think there’s a lot of things. I think there’s things that I’ve personally learned the hard way over time too. I would, you know, off the top my head, a couple of things that I would I would point to is, one is making sure that you’re not just doing personalization in a, in a silo or in a small piece of the company and not really applying it across the entire customer experience. Hand in hand with that, I think there are really basic ways to personalize that aren’t gonna be noticeable to customers or don’t matter to the customer. 

So one of that one of the classic examples is collecting customer’s name and sending them a communication later on that includes a first name, and that’s it. And those types of things aren’t going to be to be meaningful to the to the customer. So it’s really about thinking bigger and more holistically about how you can how you can really incorporate personalization into the the larger customer journey both when they’re when they’re on your site, in terms of the products that they have that they’re making available to them, as well as in your, in your marketing that that you do towards them. 

Another one that comes to mind is we talked about technology a little while ago. And like many types of initiatives, I think personalization is one where it’s easy to get bogged down by trying to have the perfect technology in place, be at the data collection and storage component, insights development or the deployment aspect to it. And I think it’s it’s something that I’ve seen great success, both at JustAnswer and at other companies as well, by starting starting small, starting scrappy, and really proving out the personalization approaches that you’re thinking about. And then using that as a lever to build upon build more sophisticated capabilities over time, and or purchase more sophisticated third party solutions.

Steffen: Now before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, Brian, how would you recommend someone who hasn’t done much personalization yet to get started?

Brian: I think one one thing is there’s a lot of information out on on the web and in podcasts about companies that are out there doing personalization well. So I think that is that is one, one good starting point. I think another one is to seek out experts in marketing, particularly in digital marketing, where do you think personalization is more prevalent. And trying to and pick and pick and brains picking their brains to to learn more about what’s what’s worked for them So those are two suggestions I would think about. Actually a third I would say is we talked about different CRM tools. They’re offered by by vendors, and their vendors typically have lots of information on their site and other other areas that can also help people get the basic building blocks of personalization, how they may want to think about it at their company.

Steffen: Perfect. Well, Brian, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on personalization. If people want to find out more about you and JustAnswer how can you get in touch?

Brian: Sure, you can look for me on LinkedIn, Brian Border, pretty easy to find. And at JustAnswer it’s

Steffen: Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again, and see you next time.

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