For a Tech-Savvy Personalization Strategy, Focus on Humans
Customers are being inundated with aimless ads because marketers and executives have been tightly focused on the technology that powers “personalization” but still struggle to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time in order to successfully trigger the desired action. For the most part, marketers have over-indexed on using technology and platforms as the core of their personalization efforts. In relying so much on technology, they’ve often neglected to develop the strategy and planning infrastructure to maximize the delivery of that technology’s promise. A casualty of this approach is, ironically, the customers themselves. Focusing so much on the technology often leads to an oversimplified, unidimensional view of customers and a lack of understanding the customer limits the impact of the technology.
In other words, technology is only as effective as the strategy it enables. With some notable exceptions, technologists tend not to be as oriented toward developing customer-centric messaging. Traditional approaches to brand planning focus on the consumer insight but not necessarily across a wide variety of targets united by behavior and interests, demographics, psychographics, or even random affinities.
An anecdote to illustrate the opportunities missed: I’ve been consistently reporting every “wedding industrial complex” related post served to me as spam for the last 7+ years. Do I hate weddings? No. I love weddings, I recently had one. But I’m an “offbeat bride” and traditional wedding content at best is irrelevant to me and, at worst, is offensive. At no time in that entire customer experience have I been served an ad to “test” that distinction; to better understand me as a consumer that sits outside the “conventional wedding” bell curve. If any advertiser ever did test out whether I’m an “offbeat bride” instead of a “wedding hater,” the ad would at least get my attention and might even trigger a surprised and delighted organic share.
Life stage marketing fails can be nightmares for brands, especially when consumers have no way to remove themselves from targeted pools that might not apply to them anymore. Whether it’s a person being fed bridal ads after a failed engagement or someone seeing baby ads after suffering a miscarriage or an incomplete adoption, these marketing fails are hurting brands’ reputations, wasting money and actually hurting consumers. When done properly, personalization can increase ROI of digital advertising but bad personalization costs all of us.
Similar to the rise and fall of banner ads, marketers are setting themselves up for failure if they don’t start to put the person back at the center of personalization efforts. A flawed personalization strategy will not achieve desired business results. In recent years, marketers have been buying personalization and marketing automation platforms without end. Now we’re entering a time when the return on those technology investments are not living up to expectations. To make these technologies more effective, we need to look at the personalization strategy and dimensionalize the view of the customer.
Profiling fails will always happen: machines are imperfect and, while humans tend to behave in predictable ways, there are always outliers. For strategic marketers, improved customer profiling is a treasure trove of opportunity. Some ways to capitalize on this would be:
- Adding a more exacting data layer on a retailer’s website to pass more attributes to the content personalization engine. Instead of serving up an ad for the general product viewed, we should be serving up an ad for the specific style, size, and color of what was left behind in the consumers cart paired with a “scarcity trigger” about limited stock or an offer when that particular size and color goes on sale.
- Creating a strategic, structured content journey that provides rich profiling opportunities such as using “capture content” types like quiz objects for more than just engagement. Online quizzes have high potential virality and engagement, but they’re also a rich source of data to refine a customer’s profile. Adding profiling questions to “opt-in” opportunities (e.g. one optional, important profile-informing field on an email newsletter opt-in form) could help personalize the content experience from that point forward.
Or at least don’t just operate at the middle of the persona “curve.” The relevance of gender can no longer be presumed and gendered content must be used with caution in the modern era of gender fluidity. Marketers who target on interest would do well to develop content that appeals across genders. To be successful, marketers should remember that:
- Multivariate testing can be thought of as an optimization and cost reduction tactic. Testing is also highly valuable for refining our customer profiles.
- Behavior trumps persona and focusing on behavior helps us find the worthwhile edge cases.
- Sponsored content and digital ads can be included in the content journey to help better understand the target.
It’s apparent that marketers have long been missing the mark when it comes to reaching a consumer in an original and organic manner. Organizations that have siloed groups may think they understand the customer, but will often create fractured customer experiences. Marketers need to bridge the gap within their organizations between targeted ads and consumer insights by bringing together a number of specialty disciplines across technology, data & analytics and traditional brand planning & creative.
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