Don’t Stop at Hello! Avoid Personalization Pitfalls

January 9, 2019 Shannan Garrett-Cooper

I get them, we’ve all gotten them; the emails that start with “Hi First Name” and end with a bunch of blah blah blah that isn’t relevant to you. I understand the technology and how easy it is to flub a field merge, but it still makes me wonder, is this company paying attention? When I open an email, I expect that I’m going to get something relevant and unique. Unfortunately, I am rarely rewarded with anything more personalized than “Hi First Name”.

80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience (Epsilon Research). So, WHY do marketers STOP at Hello?

We’ve all read articles on how personalization is key to boosting revenue and brand value. What many authors often leave out is what successful personalization entails or why personalization efforts stall, leaving many companies with “Hi FirstName”.

Top 5 Reasons Personalization Efforts Stall

  1. Lack of a Personalization Strategy
  2. Data Paralysis
  3. Internal Tunnel Vision
  4. Single Channel Approach
  5. Implementation Stasis

Lack of a Personalization Strategy

You have a marketing strategy that drives all your marketing campaigns and initiatives to achieve your business goals. Personalization should be a core component of your marketing strategy. A good personalization strategy starts with asking the right questions. The first of which is, “What problems are you trying to solve?” You want to take your audience on a journey that resonates with them within your brand. Answering this question provides a base for your strategy, defining its focus, and guiding your interactions with your audience. It also informs your metrics and performance indicators.

Within the journeys you create, you will have different audiences, each with their own reactions to your questions. Guiding those reactions and interactions is what makes up the actionable part of your strategy. Here are some steps to help you focus your strategy:

  • Understand how you want them to experience the journey and how that experience relates to your business goals and brand.
  • Map the data you have by type and segments to the experience. Identify gaps in your data that you need filled to enhance the journey.
  • Consider what you need to have to support the experience/journey technologies, internal operations, team resources, human touch points, and scalability.

An extremely successful illustration of asking the right questions and understanding how the personalization experience relates to the business goals is found in Netflix’s personalization strategy. They were trying to solve for “Why should you care about any particular title we recommend? What can we say about a new and unfamiliar title that will pique your interest? How do we convince you that a title is worth watching?” The journey they prepare for their viewers is based on the data that they have at that moment and grows over time. The Netflix strategy includes subtly delivering different artwork to viewer groups for a visual validation of their recommendation. These personalized title images reflect what movies their viewers have interacted with and what they have searched for. Their data captures obvious things like genre, but also less obvious things like actors or actresses and then allows them to show the viewer a title image that is more likely to appeal to them.

Data Paralysis

If you ask most marketers, data issues are usually at the top of their personalization pain point list. There is either not enough information or they have too much data that they don’t know what to do with. They know that personalization is important, so they go with… “Hello FirstName”.  

The first step is acceptance! There will always be either too much or too little data. Depending on your systems, the target groups, tactics and channels, the amount and type of information that can be gleaned is going to vary; you will just have to adjust your approach to leverage the data that you have, filling in the gaps if needed. Working in phases and starting small is important to success. Go for the quick wins first, then take the time to understand the data, where it’s coming from and how it is stored in your Marketing Automation Platform (MAP). When contacts give you their information, they have entrusted you to use it in a responsible manner. Very few things will make a customer turn their back on a brand than misuse of their trust.

Internal Tunnel Vision

When thinking about personalization, it is common to focus solely on the technology. Hey, it’s what makes personalization possible! However, when companies only think about technology and don’t consider other resource factors, they set themselves up for failure before they even begin.

Consider this scenario for a moment… a company has determined that they must start personalizing to be able to compete in their industry. They have a marketing automation platform and have acquired additional “personalization” technologies that can deliver different types of personalizations over multiple channels and have devised a strategy around what those technologies can deliver.

Sounds like they are ready to go, right? Wrong. They are infected with Internal Tunnel Vision. They didn’t consider some key factors that they can’t succeed without.

  • Does the company have the resources with the skills to manage the technology and implement the tactics?
  • Do they have someone that understands the data and can make it actionable?
  • Do the creative and content teams understand the targeting strategy or personalization tools? Frequently, they aren’t well informed. Often, more creative and content versions are needed. Do they have the bandwidth and budget?
  • Are the current processes for development, delivery and follow-up sufficient to manage personalization at scale?

Single Channel Approach

Effective personalization goes beyond just email. When the execution is done well, email personalization is an integral part of your personalization approach; however, it can’t stop there. For a personalized experience to be effective, it requires a holistic omni-channel strategy, incorporating a combination of innovative tactics, context-driven action, and human elements.

Nothing stands alone. Everything must be representative of the experience you are creating.  Wherever your contacts are in their journey, you want them to experience your brand as if they are a part of it.

People like to consume content differently and even more so depending on the channel they are consuming it on. Even when they are consuming it has an impact. While it would be ridiculous to have every type of content on every type of channel, it is realistic to identify what combinations of content types and channels work best together through data mining and testing.

Whether you are a B2B, B2C, or B2B2C company, ultimately you are creating personalized experiences for humans, so you must make sure that you maintain human elements. As soon as things start feeling generic, your audience loses interest.  

Implementation Stasis

Personalization is a long-term initiative not a short-term fix, which makes it easy for companies to fall into the zombie zone, totally derailing all their efforts. Loss of focus over time is an easy trap to fall into, so companies should regularly revisit their strategy documents, test out existing pieces of the experience, innovate, try new things and combinations, and be agile enough respond to what is happening in the experience changing as needed.To learn more about how we can help you with personalization and overall content strategy, contact us today to set up a meeting with our experts.

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