Like a veritable Nik Wallenda walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls without a safety net, marketers face both great opportunity and risk with personalization. A one-size-fits-all consumer outreach strategy is quickly becoming obsolete as more data allows brands to offer increasingly personalized experiences. That’s the clear consensus of marketing experts at recent industry events.
However, with more data – and/or the wrong personalization effort – comes the risk of making consumers feel like their privacy has been violated, which clearly does not generate good will or brand loyalty.
So, as marketers face this challenge, how do they, like Wallenda, walk this fine line without falling into the abyss?
Here are 10 of the best personalization tips from digital marketing experts.
1. Consumers Already Expect Some Degree Of Personalization
Consumers are increasingly encountering personalization through retargeting or via sites like Amazon and Netflix, which cater experiences to specific users.
These experiences enable brands to be more relevant, and, frankly, some consumers even expect personalized experiences now and can be disappointed without them, said Cara Harshman, content marketing manager of customer experience optimization software company Optimizely, at Mozcon last week.
2. Get To Know Your Customers Better
In addition, with more data points available, marketers can see consumers across multiple devices and understand behavior better overall, said Angela Sanchez, vice president of CRM at Universal Music Group, at Salesforce’s recent Connections conference.
“We have better information about where people are, what they are doing when they are some place, and if people are logged in on a phone,” echoed Matt Wurst, vice president and general manager of social marketing for digital agency 360i, at Connections. “There’s a lot we can learn about consumer behavior that goes into the overall cauldron of insights and research.”
Facebook CMO Gary Briggs also shared this sentiment, saying customer expectations are rising and brands therefore need to be able to provide relevant content or risk annoying consumers who are targeted by ads they don’t want to see.
“You know a lot about me. I’m liking things, I’m tweeting things,” Briggs said. “You should be able to put something relevant in front of me.”
3. Look Forward
Data isn’t just about KPIs.
To be sure, Ann Handley, chief content officer of marketing research tool MarketingProfs, said that instead of using data as “a rearview mirror,” marketers must use it to look forward to identify opportunities and gaps in the market.
4. Younger People Have A New Perspective On Personalization
Sanchez pointed out that younger generations have different expectations from brands than their forebears and may be less bothered by personalized content that might seem creepy to older consumers.
To wit: Handley added, “I have an 18-year-old daughter who is now annoyed that she’s being retargeted about a gift she bought for her aunt. She doesn’t see [personalization] as invasive. She sees it as a service.”
5. Cater Website Content To Specific Site Visitors
Personalization goes beyond retargeting and catering content to specific platforms.
In fact, Harshman argued brands are remiss in not personalizing their websites, too.
“A website is a massive asset that goes underutilized when it comes to personalization,” Harshman said. “The same visitor gets the same experience no matter how they came to your site. I’d argue the one-size-fits-all website is dead. And also lazy.”
Per Harshman, brands can personalize content to specific consumers based on:
- Contextual data, or how site visitors arrived.
- Demographic data, or details like gender and physical location.
- Behavioral data, or what behaviors the visitor has performed on the site.
6. Test Different Content To See What Resonates
Harshman encouraged brands to “flex [their] A/B testing muscles” to see how to move the needle for a given audience segment.
She used the example of a media site that offers new visitors an onboarding experience with a site tour while asking return visitors to sign up for an email newsletter. A retail site, on the other hand, could target consumers located in a specific geographic area with local in-store pick-up options and a site visitor who has not visited in 90 days with a promotional offer for a limited-time discount.
“Think about the audiences you can identify right now, what experiences you would deliver to them, and come up with lists of hypotheses,” Harshman said.
7. Don’t Over-Segment Your Audiences
While targeting is great, Harshman also warned marketers not to slice their audiences too thin, or brands will end up with a content problem because they must show each audience something different.
She used the example of retargeting and performance marketing platform AdRoll, which wanted to encourage visitors from enterprises to get on the phone with sales reps and visitors from SMBs to request trials. The brand therefore adjusted the language on its website slightly based on whether the site visitor was coming from one of these two groups and what behavior it wanted to encourage as a result.
8. Be Responsible
“Don’t be creepy” is a sentiment repeated again and again by marketing experts when talking about personalization.
“On Facebook, you know the age of a mother’s child, which is pretty granular,” said Brittany Richter, national director of paid social for marketing agency iProspect. “You want to use that in a way that is not creepy…so how do we do it in a way that provides value?”
But it’s not just about value, Richter said. If brands use data in ways that make consumers feel uncomfortable, those consumers will eventually tune out and ad platforms will stop allowing it.
“If [platforms] don’t have users, we don’t have inventory and the whole thing falls apart,” she added.
9. Transparency Is Your Friend
Just because marketers can collect certain types of data doesn’t mean they should, according to Rachel Glasser, director of digital privacy and partner activation for advertising media company GroupM. In other words, Glasser said brands and platforms should be clear with consumers about what they’re collecting, how they’re using it, and whether they’re sharing it.
“Consumers don’t mind sharing data, but they’re comfortable if they know who they’re sharing it with and how it will be used,” Glasser said. “When companies have more covert practices and are not as honest, it tends to piss customers off a bit and they lose trust and loyalty, which devalues the experience and has a domino effect. Be transparent, give customers the choice, and you’ll start to see rewards.”
10. Provide Value
Coca-Cola’s Get Happy community allows consumers to connect with retailers and collect digital stamps. A user can share where he or she likes to drink Coke products and which specific Coke brands he or she likes as well as the things that make him or her happiest, such as music, the outdoors, basketball and amusement parks, said Michael Peachey, vice president of solutions marketing at Salesforce.
“They’ve redefined the way they run their rewards program with rich customer data,” Peachey added. “And then connect with us in more personal ways than ever before.”
That also includes sending personalized reward offers even when consumers are in stores, so Coke is able to cut through noise and deliver rich, engaging experiences.
Harshman agreed brands shouldn’t go personal simply to be personal. Like any marketing tactic, there has to be some added value.
“The new frontier isn’t scale, it’s personalization,” said Shelley Bransten, senior vice president of the retail industry at Salesforce.
She used the example of McDonald’s, which leverages tons of customer data from promotions like Monopoly and Create Your Taste to drive personalized advertising as well.
Where do you see the biggest marketing opportunities for personalized content?