Personalization, or the ability to cater messaging to individual customers, is widely expected to be one of the biggest marketing trends of 2017.
That’s in part because it offers brands the potential to deliver precisely what consumers want, as well as the potential for enhanced customer loyalty. But personalization has evolved far beyond simply addressing customers by their names. In fact, now the bar may be set at offering distinct web and mobile experiences for each customer.
That being said, in the immortal words of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In other words: If you use information about your customers that they don’t realize you have, or without getting a clear picture of their wants and needs, the odds are good your efforts will backfire and you will alienate them.
Here’s a closer look at how brands and marketers can learn about their customers and offer better, more personalized marketing experiences – without making them feel like their privacy has been violated.
Don’t just take my word for it.
According to Jared Brickman, senior technology marketing strategist at ad agency Centerline Digital, modern marketing personalization will be defined by dynamic, hyper-specific targeted experiences that go well beyond dynamically inserting basic data like a consumer’s name or address. In turn, the consumer will benefit from a purchasing journey that better matches his or her interests and the company will gain greater efficiency from its marketing spend.
But personalisation only works when it’s relevant and useful, said Luke Rees, head of digital at digital marketing firm AccuraCast.
“People don’t ever mind being interrupted if the ad’s message is interesting to them,” he added. In 2015, “Gartner predicted that by , 89% of marketing leaders [expected] customer experience to be their primary basis for competitive differentiation – that means always being there in the moments that matter and learning through data what each consumer type wants.”
Douglas Karr, CEO of marketing and business consulting firm DK New Media, agreed.
“For marketing departments, personalization is a strategy that increases relevance and engagement, which ultimately drives trust and sales,” he said. “It’s a tremendous feedback loop from the customer, providing insight into their location, demographics and motivation for doing business with the company. That information is priceless to marketers – helping them improve offerings and speak clearly to their customers.”
What’s more, Jessica Moreno, social media and brand account manager at digital marketing company Active Web Group, noted consumers are exposed to many different ads daily, so most messages are diluted or overlooked, but data-driven marketing can help brands tailor messages to any demographic for maximum engagement and efficiency.
Many points in the customer journey offer potential for personalization, such as communication channel, device, and the most likely time of day for a given consumer to engage with a company. However, brands can also personalize videos, website pages, email and mobile application content, paid media messages, discount offers, sale alerts, product and service recommendations and transactional communications, like invoices, receipts and shipping notifications, Brickman said.
But, Moreno noted, brands are also getting personal by offering customer service on social media or by incorporating chatbots on their websites.
“Personalization is about focused marketing initiatives based on consumer data to optimize ROI,” she added.
But, Karr warned, bad personalization is worse than no personalization at all.
“There’s nothing more insulting than getting an email with an intro like, ‘Dear %%FIRST_NAME%%.’ It means not only are you not listening to your customer as they grant you the privilege of access to their personal information, you didn’t even take the time to validate the data before pushing them a message,” he said. “It’s basically letting them know that you don’t care about them – with yet another…blast disguised as a personal message.”
For his part, Tom Caulton,digital marketing executive and SEO consultant at digital marketing consultancy Dijitul, pointed to the creepy factor as consumers generally don’t like the idea of being tracked online.
“The notion that a brand is following them around the web is still not something that sits well with people, especially when it comes to the negative experience of, say, those remarketing ads for that laptop you researched more than a week ago and had already bought,” added Mel Carson, principal strategy consultant at marketing and PR agency Delightful Communications. “While solid data is still going to be the go-to way to create a personalized experience, I still like the idea of canvassing a target audience for anecdotal responses to questions around personalization to validate any data and to tell a better story.”
And that brings us back to relevancy.
“Personalization…[is] more about delivering timely and relevant messaging, segmented by visitor traffic or customer personas and that resonates across all your marketing channels,” Rees said.
Like, say, a brand that changes the content a consumer sees when he or she comes to the website based on what they are likely to be interested in, said Brent Levi, senior manager of marketing automation at social advertising software firm Strike Social.
Karr agreed good personalization goes beyond simple substitution strings and provides recommendations and options for visitors.
“If a customer visits your site, for example, you don’t want to offer them an experience that’s focused on a prospect. If a customer has specific industry needs or product line purchases, you want to make those a priority in their visit,” he said. “Break down your strategies for prospecting, customer retention and customer upsell and then develop an experience for each that empowers a customer to manage the experience in every aspect of communications you send to the client.”
Here are five tips for getting personalized marketing right.
And it all starts with data.
According to Caulton, brands that use personalization should collect as much data as possible to create buyer personas for better content and targeted ads.
“Brands and marketers must create buyer personas that represent the exact center of their target audience. From gathering data, you can see your buyer personas’ habits, behaviors and what they’re looking for from brands like yourself,” Caulton said. “From here, you can create more compelling content. And let’s say if you’re targeting your audience on Facebook, then you can create targeted Facebook ads to match your target audience’s needs. If you can successfully create offers that are relevant to your target audience’s lives with personalization, then your brand will perform better online than ever.”
To get said data, Karr recommended developing a list of attributes you want to collect and to not ask consumers too many questions, but to also not ask too few.
“Sending a 25-question form for clients to fill out is going to make them groan and abandon the process,” Karr said. “Instead, ask them a question periodically here and there, collecting it all in a central profile.”
Karr also said brands should enable clients to maintain their own data.
“Clients don’t want to have to call you every time they change a phone number or update a delivery address,” he said.
Further, Karr said to set terms in place in clear language that explains why your brand is asking for data and sets expectations for how you’re going to use it.
“Let them know the data is safe with you and not being resold to anyone,” he added.
Carson agreed brands need to educate their audiences as to how their responses will optimize the experience and increase its value.
But brands certainly aren’t limited to questionnaires.
“The more actions are taken on your website, the more personal information the user gives you, i.e., in exchange for downloadable content,” said Yulia Khansvyarova, digital marketing team lead at marketing research software firm SEMRush. “The more loops the user needs to jump through while exploring your website, the better.”
Further, Marci Hansen, CMO of verification company SheerID, pointed to the data customers freely share about themselves online, which, in turn, helps brands understand their customers.
Caulton agreed brands and marketers should start their personalization efforts on big data websites like Facebook.
“On social media websites, you can see the brands your audience loves, where and how they shop, what time they check in on social media and the devices they use,” he said. “Many marketers and brands don’t realize that people share intimate details on social media and this has become one of the best ways to tap into social insights. The more data you have about your audience, the better targeted and personalized your ads can be.”
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Swapnil Bhagwat, senior manager at IT services and business process management organization Orchestrate Technologies, too, noted social networks have countless user profile data points like names, phone numbers, email addresses, likes, friends, interests, locations and more.
“Social graph data can be effectively used for helping you provide the persona-based user experience,” Bhagwat added.
In other words, once brands have enough data, they can segment their audience based on a range of factors, like age, gender, income, location, interests and pain points, as well as shopping habits like frequency and purchases, what incentives they respond to well and what information they need to make a decision.
“Start to create [personas] by looking at current demographics and firmographics of existing customers,” said digital marketing consultant Leslie Handmaker. “Understand their needs and challenges. Build these out so there’s a clear roadmap of how the company can meet the needs of each persona. This will feed directly into the content creation.”
From there, Brickman said brands need to produce a library of content to meet the personal needs of each group of consumers.
“Once marketers have clarity on [personas] they can begin to refine the custom messaging to show to both new and existing customers. This messaging should be catered to the defined personas by addressing their needs and ultimately help them enter the next stage of the funnel,” Handmaker added.
However, if this content is not mapped out to the specific interests and needs of each persona, it will not be viewed or shared and it will certainly not yield any brand ambassadors, added Mark Nardone, executive vice president of business development and marketing at marketing and PR agency Pan Communications.
This means marketers must identify what content would be of unique interest to each persona and map these interests using a diagram, Brickman said.
“In your content library diagram, map their content interests to your buyer’s lifecycle. What content would be of greatest interest to your buyer and most useful in nurturing them down the conversion funnel at each interaction? What triggers the deployment of that content?” Brickman added. “For example, an ecommerce site selling cookware might see that a user viewed various cake pans. They might be interested to see recipes for cakes and a stand mixer that would help make preparing the batter easier. Use this map as a guide to help plan your content production, inventory and deployment.”
Further, Brickman said organizations may need an account-based marketing platform such as Marketo or Eloqua in order to deploy content.
“This will give them a single view of their customer and a platform to deploy personalized content to those customers across various owned and paid marketing channels,” he added.
This, in turn, enables brands to deliver on the original objective: Personalized content.
Email is an obvious example. In fact, Tink Taylor, president of email marketing automation platform dotmailer, pointed to analytics firm Jupiter Research, which found relevant emails drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails.
“Email for ecommerce can get really personal,” added Victor Ramirez, owner of digital marketing agency An Abstract Agency. “MailChimp now has automated tools for WordPress and Shopify sites that send personalized emails based on whatever you like. Did they abandon the cart on a spatula? Send an email with four different model spatulas with a similar price range – not just a product email of other things in stock.”
But email personalization isn’t limited to customers – it also holds true when it comes to outreach to promote content or to form partnerships with journalists, bloggers and influencers, noted Jessi Carr, digital marketing specialist at SEO company Inseev Interactive.
For his part, Prabhjot Singh, president of growth intelligence platform Pyze, referred to “experience personalization,” which he said entails morphing a web or mobile application based on the behavior of the user – and is a step beyond simply personalizing content like emails.
Andrew Hubbard, digital marketing consultant, agreed tailoring the customer experience on a website based on past behavior is one way to raise the personalization bar.
“This means different customer personas see different content, offers and sales messages that [are] carefully crafted to appeal to them specifically. This may mean tagging people inside the company CRM based on content they have consumed and using that to tailor future web, email and sales content to them,” Hubbard said.
He went on: “There are varying degrees of this, but, as a basic example, a company offering a product suitable for both SEO specialists as well as paid traffic can identify which persona a lead identifies with using email tags based on past behavior. They can then send each persona links to a different sales page, each uniquely tailored to speak to either the SEO or paid traffic specialist. This level of personalization allows a brand to communicate the benefits of their solution most relevant to the individual, naturally increasing conversion rates.”
But none of this is possible without the right tools – in part because, as Annabel Daly, group marketing manager for ecommerce personalization platform PureClarity, noted, “personalization is only ever as good as the data that is being collected.”
Per Daly, when analyzing software offerings to aid in their personalization efforts, brands should consider whether they can upload historical data; whether they can report in real time and prove ROI once implemented; whether the product itself has its own a roadmap; and whether the product will work despite changes the brand may make to its own website, such as multicurrency or responsive design.
In addition, Handmaker recommended brands figure out the lifetime value of their customers so they can understand how much effort to put into personalization.
“I recommend marketers do some ROI modeling to understand the costs of implementing personalization, as well the potential revenue benefit that can be obtained,” she added. “This can help guide the amount of effort to put into the initiatives.”
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