In this new monthly slot of the Skip the Queue podcast episode, Rubber Cheese CEO Paul Marden joins me to discuss different digital related topics.
“80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from brands that offer a personalised experience. So from that perspective, personalised sites are more likely to convert.”
Paul Marden is the Founder and Managing Director of Carbon Six Digital and the CEO of Rubber Cheese. He is an Umbraco Certified Master who likes to think outside the box, often coming up with creative technical solutions that clients didn’t know were possible. Paul oversees business development and technical delivery, specialising in Microsoft technologies including Umbraco CMS, ASP.NET, C#, WebApi, and SQL Server. He’s worked in the industry since 1999 and has vast experience of managing and delivering the technical architecture for both agencies and client side projects of all shapes and sizes. Paul is an advocate for solid project delivery and has a BCS Foundation Certificate in Agile.
“Only 6% of respondents personalised their website experience for customers, yet 85% of respondents thought personalisation was highly important.”
Kelly Molson is the Founder of Rubber Cheese, a user focused web design and development agency for the attraction sector. Digital partners to Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, Pensthorpe, National Parks UK, Holkham, Visit Cambridge and The National Marine Aquarium.Kelly regularly delivers workshops and presentations on sector focused topics at national conferences and attraction sector organisations including ASVA, ALVA, The Ticketing Professionals Conference and the Museum + Heritage Show.
As host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she speaks with inspiring industry experts who share their knowledge of what really makes an attraction successful. Recent trustee of The Museum of the Broads.
What will you learn from this podcast?
- What do we mean by personalisation?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the risks?
- Next steps you can take?
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your hosts, Kelly Molson and Paul Marden
Kelly Molson: Hello, hello. Welcome back to the podcast.
Paul Marden: Hello again. Good, isn’t it? Back here for a third time.
Kelly Molson: It is good. You’re lucky. Right, let’s start the podcast as we do with this one. What attraction have you visited most recently and what did you love about it?
Paul Marden: Yeah, I was pretty lucky the other day because I went to the National Maritime Museum, because I’m a Trustee of Kids in Museums and we had our Family Friendly Museum Awards and we held it in their lecture theatre at the Maritime Museum up in Greenwich. And I’d been to the Greenwich Museums before. I’d been to the top of the hill where the observatory is, but I’ve never been to the bottom of the hill, which is where Maritime Museum is. And so I’m just there with all the great and good of all of the museums around the country that have been shortlisted for the awards, which was brilliant.
But the bit that I really loved was that I was there in the daytime during the midweek, so peak school trip season, and it was just amazing to be in this place with all these school kids there doing their school trips, which is something I’m really passionate about, the value of those school trips. It was something that really got the kids lost out on when COVID hit and everybody was working online and then they went back to schools, but the schools had to be really careful about what they did and there were no school trips.
That’s such a magical part of being in primary school that they were just robbed of. So seeing all those kids in that amazing place was just wonderful. I got to rub shoulders with the great and the good. I met some Skip the Queue alumni at the event as well, and I had a lovely cup of tea and a piece of cake in the cafe with our Project Manager, Becs. Did you imagine a better day?
Kelly Molson: No, it’s a perfect day. I was just thinking as you were talking about the school trips, it’s like a rite of passage at school, isn’t it, to be walking around a museum with a clipboard to draw a picture of it? Go and find X and draw a picture of it. I just got really vivid memories of doing that .
Paul Marden: They were all just herring around, doing exactly that and loving life and buying their little rubbers in the shop and things like that.
Kelly Molson: You should collect rubbers, kids. All the cool people do. Okay, I need to give a big shout out to National Trust. We are really lucky where we live. So we’ve got like a triangle of National Trust venues near us. So we’ve got Wimpole, Ickworth and Anglesey Abbey, all within like 25 minutes, half an hour, a little bit longer for Ickworth. Each one of them is incredible. They all have a different adventure.
They’ve got great play areas, beautiful historic houses and beautiful walks. And we have spent a lot of time in the last two years at National Trust venues, walking, pushing the pram. But now Edie’s toddling around, we’re into the activity areas and all of them are phenomenal. Wimpole has just redone their outdoor play area, which we’re yet to visit. We’re just waiting for a dry day to get back over to that one. But it’s just the membership. So I think the membership is such superb value for money.
Paul Marden: It really is.
Kelly Molson: I cannot speak more highly of it. It is such good value for money and we get 45678 times the amount of value from it every single year we have this membership, so much so that we gift it to people as well. We were really lucky. We got given some money for a wedding gift and we said, rather than think when people give you money, it’s lovely, but you can put it in the bank and you forget about it. Or it just gets spent on stuff. And were like, “Right, if we get given money, we’ll spend it on a thing and we can say we bought this thing with it.” And so that we bought the National Trust membership with it.
Paul Marden: That’s a cracking idea.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it was really good. Really good idea. But then it’s such good value that we’ve then bought membership for my parents.
Paul Marden: Really?
Kelly Molson: Yeah. So I think it was like a joint. I think Father’s Day and my mum’s birthday are quite close together, so it might have been a joint one for that. They go and they go on their own and then they go and then they take Edie as well. And it’s absolutely brilliant. So, yeah, well done, National Trust. Well done, Wimpole. Especially because pigs. Someone, the tiny person in my house, is very happy about pigs there.
I don’t mean myself, I mean Edie. And also, I just want to give a big shout out to one of the volunteers. I’m really sorry I didn’t get the volunteer’s name at Wimpole. He is one of the volunteers in the farm. I am a little bit frightened of horses. I think they’re beautiful but really big. I saw an old next to the neighbour get kicked by a horse once.
Paul Marden: You’ve literally been scarred for life.
Kelly Molson: There’s a block up there, but I’m a little bit frightened of horses. And there’s a huge Shire horse at Wimpole who’s a big old gentle giant. I think he’s called Jack. But I am a bit frightened and I don’t want that fear to rub off on Edie. And so I very bravely took Edie over to meet the Shire horse. But the volunteer was wonderful. This guy know told us loads of stuff about the horse and he was really great with Edie and she managed to stroke his nose and even I managed to stroke Jack’s nose. So, yeah, thank you man whose name I didn’t get. It was a really lovely experience and you helped put me at ease and my daughter at ease. So there you go. National Trust and the value of volunteers.
Paul Marden: And National Trust volunteers, we’ve talked about this before. I’ve been to a couple that are local to me and they just tell the most amazing stories and they engage people in a way that to be so passionate about the thing that you care about and that you want to do that for free to help people to enjoy their experience is just amazing. And there are some, I mean, there are diamonds all over the place in all the museums and places that we visit, but there’s plenty of them. When you work that Natural Trust membership, you get to meet a lot of volunteers, don’t you? And they are amazing.
Kelly Molson: Working it hard. Okay, let’s get on to what we’re going to discuss today. So we are talking about personalisation and what attractions can do to make their websites feel more personal. So this is an interesting one and I think that we’ve probably got to put our hands up and make a bit of an apology here. Very few people who took part in the 2023 Visitor Attraction Website Survey actually implement personalisation, but there’s a lot of evidence that personalisation improves conversion rates. So there’s some stats that I want to read out from the report. Only 6% of respondents personalised their website experience for customers, yet 85% of respondents thought personalisation was highly important. So, question for you, why do you think so many people think it’s important, but so few are actually implementing it?
Paul Marden: This is where we hold our hands up, isn’t it? And we say, I think the answer to that is because we didn’t ask the question properly. I’ve touched base with it. There was a very small set of people, as you say, 6% of people said that they were personalising their websites. But the language that we used in the question was a little bit confusing. And when I reached out to a handful of that 6%, they were like, “Oh, no, that’s not what we thought you meant. What we thought you meant was that”. So one person said to me, “You could personalise your experience at the venue by buying different things, not personalise the website experience.” Yeah. And when you read the language of the question again with that answer in your head, it’s obvious why they answered it in the way that they did.
So there’s a lesson to be learned there about trialing the questionnaire, making sure that people understand what it is that we’re saying and that we agree with the language of what we’ve used. The fact is, I think a lot of people didn’t understand us. So the answers that we got back, the disparity, is clearly confusion based. But even if weren’t confused, even if we had the data, my instinct is that there would be a big difference between the two. And that boils down to the fact that I think that personalisation is hard to do and that actually the reason why a lot of people aren’t doing it is because it’s hard and costly in some cases. But we need to get into the guts of that and understand why.
Kelly Molson: Okay, so lesson learned for next year. We need to give more clarity over the questions that we ask. So thanks for the feedback, everybody. We will do that. What do we actually mean by personalisation then?
Paul Marden: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that what we mean by personalisation is developing the website in a way that means that you show different contents to different audience members depending on different things. There’s lots of different ways in which you can do that. There’s a very simple perspective which is around not automatically showing different content to different people, but writing content for your different audiences and making that easily discoverable. It doesn’t have to be technically complex.
Yeah. It’s really about writing the right content for the right people and making it so that they can get from where they are to where they want to get to and get that right answer. Most of us do that intuitively. Most of us, when we’re writing content as marketers, we do personalise the content to the end audience, even if we’re not doing that in an automated way.
Kelly Molson: I think with this, though, my interpretation of it is the next level onto that, which is, that’s true personalisation, because I think those things, yes, that’s a very simple way of looking at it, but that for me is not enough when it comes to how we answer this question. So it’s the tracking behaviour and showing personal content that to me truly personalises an experience. I can think of things that we’ve done in the past in terms of tracking where someone tracking the IP of the person that’s looking at the website and offering them up content that is in English, UK English or in American English for example.
Paul Marden: Absolutely. So it could be about time of day, it’s trite. I’m not going to convert somebody but saying good morning, good afternoon, good evening, based on where they are. We did another site a few years ago which showed videos of an experience in the daytime or an experience at nighttime, depending on when you were looking at the website, and then you could switch in between them, which was pretty cool.
Kelly Molson: I like that.
Paul Marden: Yeah. So you could do time of day, you could do location, like you say, interesting is understanding, building an understanding of somebody fitting an audience profile based on what they’ve looked at across the site, which gets a little bit creepy, doesn’t it? If you’re tracking and you use that tracking information without lots of care, you could look really creepy. But if you use it really carefully, then you can adapt the content of the site based on the more that somebody looks at the Schools section of your website and they look at news articles that are related to schools, maybe they’re a teacher or maybe they’re interested in running a school trip to your venue and you can adapt the recommendations that you make to them based on that understanding, that they show more interest in the educational aspects of what you’re doing.
Kelly Molson: So this leads us to really to what some of the benefits are. And ultimately, I think the more personalised the site is, the easier it gets for users to meet their needs. You’re kind of getting them from the start to their goal quicker and hopefully makes their lives easier as well.
Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. So I found some data. No, as you know, this came out of the report. Actually 80% of consumers. This was a stat that we pulled out in the report.
Kelly Molson: It’s from Hubspot.
Paul Marden: Yeah. 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from brands that offer a personalised experience. So from that perspective, personalised sites are more likely to convert. There was other stats that we didn’t put into the report itself, Boston Consulting Group, found that brands that create personalised experiences, combining digital with customer data, so that the true personalisation you were talking about, increased revenue by 6% to 10%. That’s pretty impressive.
Kelly Molson: It is pretty impressive. But then that brings us to risk, doesn’t it? And that kind of creepy aspect of this and whether it’s. Is it okay, hon?
Paul Marden: Yeah, I mean, the obvious one is privacy isn’t know. We live in an age where people value their privacy and there’s laws around that as well. So in the UK we’ve got GDPR, there are laws all over the world in relation to personal information and tracking somebody’s behaviour around your site, what they do and what they look at and being able to associate that back to an individual themselves is definitely data that would be in the scope of the Data Protection Act in the UK and GDPR across Europe. So you have to be really careful about what data you’re collecting, how you attribute it back to a natural human, and then what do you do to protect that data?
Kelly Molson: And then you’ve got complexity of managing multiple sites, managing large volumes and multiple sources of data on top of that as well.
Paul Marden: I alluded to that earlier on as my kind of. The reason why I think a lot of people don’t do this is when you get into the true personalisation, when you’re managing a website, there’s a lot of content on there, you’ve got to think about what everybody needs. You got lots of people in the organisation wanting their content put onto the website. You’re the editor and you’re responsible for that thing. And then somebody says to you, “I think it’s a bright idea. We’ve got twelve audiences and we want to have personalised content for all of those audiences.”. And now you don’t have one website to manage, you’ve got twelve websites to manage.
And when it goes wrong for one particular person, when the CEO is looking at the website and it shows them something really weird and they report it to the editor and the editor is like, “Yeah, how do I know what it was that went wrong? Because I don’t have one website. I’ve got twelve websites that I’ve got to manage.” The level of complexity and the effort that you go into this, if you’re not careful, if you’re not doing this in a sensible way, it can become quite hard to manage and get your head around.
Kelly Molson: I’m just thinking of the horror of trying to support that from an agency perspective as well. When you’ve got support tickets coming in and the support ticket from the client is. So this person is not happy because they’ve seen content that isn’t okay for them or oh God.
Paul Marden: Yeah, if not managed properly, you got this potential explosion of content. You’ve also got the potential for all of that personal data about the people that are going around the website to be trapped. So now you’ve got to manage a load of data in volumes that you’d never really thought of before. Where does the customer data come from? If you’ve got, do we want to show personalised information for people that are members? Where do we hold our membership information? Do we hold that in a CRM system? Okay, so now we need to plumb the CRM system into the website so the website knows if the visitor is a member or not. Do we show different information to somebody that is not a member but they have visited before or how do we know that?
Oh, we need to plumb in data from the ticketing system now. And this can be amazing. And that’s how you arrive at that high conversion rate, is that you’ve enriched the experience with loads of knowledge about the person. It’s not like somebody’s walking into the gates of the place and you know nothing about them. All of a sudden they’re walking into your website, they’re interacting with your website and they’re not just the same as everyone else, they’re special and everybody wants to be special, but to get them to that special place you have to know a lot about them. It can be amazing when it’s done well, but it’s not trivial.
Kelly Molson: So we always at this point, talk about who is doing it well. And this is a really difficult one. Tricky one, because ultimately we haven’t asked the question properly in the survey. And because of the nature of personalisation, we don’t know who’s doing it. We don’t know really. So what would be great is if you are an attraction, listening to this episode and you’re out there and you are doing it well, we’d really love to talk to you. So we have these little slots that we have between Paul and I. We’ve got a load of things that we can talk about, but if there’s an attraction out there that is doing personalisation really well, we can open up one of these slots for you to come on and have a chat with us and just talk about some of the things that you’re doing.
We’d love to hear some really good success stories for this and some case studies. So yeah, feel free to drop me an email and firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. So skipping over the fact that we’ve got no one to talk about who does it well. Hopefully we will soon. What are the steps that people can take? So what’s the starting point? If you are thinking about personalisation, what does that journey look like?
Paul Marden: Yeah, first of all, you need to understand the audience, don’t you? Or the audience is. And just talking from our own perspective and our process that we follow, that’s an early part of the kind of research that we do when we’re building a new site is to dig into who the audience is and trying to understand them in as many ways as you possibly can. There’s loads of stuff written about this online. There’s some brilliant examples that I’ve looked at before far TfL, who share their audience personas and how much detail they’ve gone into understanding who the different people are that interact with the TfL website and what their goals are and what makes them special from the perspective of an attraction. You could think of families with young kids that are coming.
You could be thinking of maybe if you were a museum, the people that are running school trips, the teachers and so forth, that could be running it. Maybe the volunteers for your organisation or another audience member that you need to think about and understand who they are, what they look like in terms of their demographic information, the way they think and what they do and how they interact with the world, markers that you could use to be able to help target that. So figuring out that audience persona for each of the people that you want to target, I think, is a crucial job.
Kelly Molson: Definitely the starting point. And sometimes that’s done internally and sometimes we support with that externally. I think then you have to kind of think about the tools that you’ve got, what is available to you and how you can use them. And we focus on three main ones at Rubber Cheese, don’t we?
Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. So we focus on WordPress, Umbraco and HubSpot. And it’s interesting because each of them have different functionalities in terms of personalisation. And it’s been weird, isn’t it, to try and think about the tool before you think about what you want to do, but really it’s about not trying to put the cart before the horse. If you know what the tool can do, then you can figure out how you can use it.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, and I think from a cost perspective as well, it’s thinking about what you already have in place that you can manipulate rather than starting from scratch.
Paul Marden: HubSpot is a good one to talk about because straight out of the box it’s the most capable in terms of personalisation. And it’s a bit obscure because a lot of people think of HubSpot as being a CRM package. They don’t think of it as being a content management system website tool, but it has that functionality and that’s kind of evolved over the last five years into a fully formed content management system.
But because you’ve got this bolted together CRM and content management system, they’ve obviously spotted that an opportunity for them and they’ve put those two things together. And so straight out of the box you can build out personalisation, you can create these what they call smart rules. To say in this section, I want to show this content dependent on this particular factor. So that’s pretty awesome to get that straight out of the box I think.
Kelly Molson: I struggle to get my head around that just because I do view HubSpot as our CRM. I’m in it constantly. It’s my source of truth for all of my clients and networking contacts and suppliers. It’s where my sales pipeline is. I can’t get my head around it. It’s a content management system as well.
Paul Marden: Completely. But you can think of, when you’re building out a website and it doesn’t have to be built out in HubSpot itself. Sorry. In HubSpot’s own content management system you can still do a lot of this using their CRM system bolted onto other content management systems. But you can create contacts as somebody becomes a real person. Then you could create that contact inside HubSpot and use the knowledge about that person on the website.
You can use the deal functionality inside HubSpot to track when somebody has bought tickets for a place and when they’ve actually completed the deal. You end up with lots and lots of data going through HubSpot when you do all of that order information going through there. But that’s how you enrich it with the ability to target your existing customers with different content to prospective customers that have never bought from you before.
Kelly Molson: What about Umbraco and WordPress? Because this is not something that they do like out of the box. Is it off the shelf?
Paul Marden: No, absolutely. So Umbraco doesn’t have it straight out of the box. There is a really capable personalisation system called uMarketingSuite which you can buy. It’s like annual subscription product that bolts into Umbraco itself. It’s been built so that when you’re in there and managing all of your audience personas and the content that you want to adapt, it’s all in that one package. So once you’ve got it in there, it does feel like it’s all Umbraco because it’s been designed in a really neat way. The challenge is you’ve got to buy it. It’s a paid for add on, but the benefit that you get is well worth the investment. But it’s not a cheap investment to make in that tooling. And also there’s elements of the site needs to be built with that in mind.
Kelly Molson: You can’t just plug it on at the end and hope for the best. You’ve got to think about that long.
Paul Marden: No, it’s not a plug it on. You can retrospectively add it into a site. Yeah, but it will probably cost you more to add it afterwards than if you’d have thought about it at the beginning and done it. So it definitely can be added on later on. But if you think about it in advance and you do it all at the same time, the total cost of the project will probably be lower.
Kelly Molson: Okay, so that’s a good one to think about. If you are planning new website projects for the new year, you are really happy with the Umbraco platform. There’s something to have a conversation around that. And then WordPress plugins.
Paul Marden: Exactly. So as with everything WordPress related, hundreds of people have solved this problem. So there are lots and lots of plugins out there. There’s a couple that I would mention that came up when I was doing some research around this. There’s one called if so dynamic content. There’s one called Logic Hop, both of which enable you to adapt your content based on certain rules that you define. So, pretty much like the smart rule functionality that’s in HubSpot, you can achieve that natively inside WordPress once you add these plugins. And the cost of those plugins was negligible. Yeah, you’re talking under 100 quid for a year worth of setting that up.
Kelly Molson: Well, that’s good to know. So what are we talking about in terms of budgets for stuff then? So there’s effort involved in understanding your audiences first. So that’s going to be something that you talk to your agency or you bring in an external or you do internally. You carry out your persona work, you really understand who your audience is. That cost is really variable. It could be workshop based. You might have all of this information internally anyway that you just kind of need the time to pull it all together.
Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. And you can imagine that could be a day’s effort to just pull together a few things that already exist. It could be several weeks worth of effort spread over a longer period of time. I was having a chat with Matt, our Creative Director, about this the other day and literally just scribbled on a piece of paper. But he was like, “Paul, you need to understand this.” At the one end of the spectrum you could spend a little time researching this stuff. At the other end of the spectrum you could spend a lot of time. And what do you get when you go in between the two? You make less assumptions the further down the road you go. So if you can deal with kind of a minimal research and making some broad assumptions, then that’s a sensible thing to do.
But if you want the confidence of knowing that you’re not making too many assumptions and there’s lots of data underlying the things that you’re saying, then obviously you need to invest more effort into that research to be able to find that out. Yeah, kind of obvious, but it helped when you drew me that kind of framer.
Kelly Molson: So let’s look at the tools then. So let’s do HubSpot. We talked about HubSpot first. What’s the cost involved in that? Because my assumption, I mean, I’ve used the free version of HubSpot for years. There’s a paid version of HubSpot. My assumption was the paid version of HubSpot was really expensive.
Paul Marden: So costing HubSpot is a complex thing because there’s lots of different variables involved. There’s lots of features. The more features you add, the more it costs. But in order to do this personalisation you need a pro version of their content management system and you’re looking at about 350 quid a month to be able to do that. So what’s that, about four and a half, 5000 pounds a year to buy that in? That is not just for that feature, that is for the whole of that HubSpot content management system and all of its hosting included as well. And it is top grade, highly secure or highly available infrastructure that you get bolted in that. So the cost of personalisation is not just the 350 quid a month, that is, the all in to get that pro package is 350 quid a month.
Kelly Molson: And then there’ll be dev costs on top of that to implement it.
Paul Marden: Yeah, to a certain extent, actually a lot of the personalisation, because it’s core to HubSpot, you can achieve a lot in a normally designed and built HubSpot site and then just manage the content in that. So let’s say, you’ve got a panel where you want to show a particular piece of content that says, “Hey, you’re back again.” Because you’re a returning user, you wouldn’t necessarily need a developer to be able to make that available to you. Those smart rules would be built in by the content management system. So there’s obviously going to be things that you want to do that. You will need to have a developer to be able to do that.
Kelly Molson: You need someone that understands logic. This is not a job for me.
Paul Marden: Well, in the right hands, you don’t need a developer to be able to do a lot of the personalisation in HubSpot.
Kelly Molson: All right, what about Umbraco?
Paul Marden: Yeah, there are some free tools. There’s something called personalisation groups. But if you want to go for uMarketingSuite, which I think is where you’re getting into, really see it would be a proper personalisation territory with lots of great functionality, you’re looking at about 400 quid a month for the package to be added into your Umbraco instance. So that’s not comparing apples with apples when we look at the HubSpot cost, because that was an all in cost for the whole of the platform for HubSpot. Whereas for Umbraco uMarketingSuite is 400 quid a month to add it to your instance. And that depends on the amount of traffic on your site that does vary.
Kelly Molson: And then WordPress is cheapest chips in comparison. So plugins, you’re looking at costs of around about 150 pounds per year depending on what one you go to. Obviously you’ve either got somebody internally that can integrate that for you or you’ve got your dev costs on top of that. But if you’ve already got an existing website in WordPress, then actually could be something relatively inexpensive that you could start to try out.
Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. And then on top of that you’ve got other personalisation systems that you could plug into any of these systems with your kind of Lamborghini style sets of functionality. These are starting costs for the packages we’re talking about. Yeah, we’re talking 150 quid a year for WordPress, but that would be basic personalisation.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. Okay, good chat. So just to reiterate what we said earlier, sorry, we were idiots about the question and of course some confusion. Apologies, we’ll do much better next time. But now you’ve listened to this episode, if you do have a story to share and you are doing some really interesting things, we would love to give you the platform to share that. So do drop me a line email@example.com and we will make that happen. All right, great. Same time next month.
Paul Marden: Awesome.
Do you know someone we should be talking to?
Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?
If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll get back to you shortly.