Take Your Marketing Personally

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Karin Stroh, Xerox
Karin Stroh, Xerox

When it comes to personalization and customization, the watchword, as always, is “strategy,” says Xerox marketing vet Karin Stroh. With the right technology and a smart plan in place, marketers can provide personalized experiences that meet customer expectations—because what the consumer expects, the marketer must deliver.

Stroh, currently VP of Xerox's CMS global delivery center, took a few minutes to chat with Direct Marketing News about how personalization can help you cut through the clutter, build loyalty, and make bank.

Why is customization more important now than ever?

Consumers are bombarded by so many messages every day, particularly online and in the digital space, but only a small percentage of those messages pertain to the individual because we all have difference interests and we're all at different points in the buying cycle. That's why marketers need to understand the various interests and buying patterns of individuals, so that the communications they create contain the right message for the right person at the right time.

It sounds overwhelming, but what a lot of marketers don't realize is that personalization doesn't have to be complicated. If you have a database of 1,000 customers and you want to send a customized piece, you don't need to make 1,000 versions. You simply create one template—whether it's for print, email, a microsite, or mobile—and write business rules to segment your database. When you write good business rules, the software you have in place will automatically create personalized versions for you.

With personalization, you need to make sure you see the entire picture. Have a strategy around it and consider how that strategy is going to fit into your overall marketing plan. And remember: When you spend money on personalization, you're spending money on retaining the loyal customers you have.

What does a brand risk if it doesn't take the personalization trend seriously?

Perhaps it's a strong statement, but they risk losing their customers, plain and simple. There was a Harvard professor, Theodore Levitt, who famously said that marketing in the future is going to look more like the past than ever before—in other words, more like a time when you could walk downtown to the local five and dime and the proprietor knew your name. People today gravitate towards companies and businesses that understand their needs, that know who they are, and that don't treat them like just another number.

For example, I own a horse farm and there are three places in close proximity where I can buy feed for pretty much the same price. But the store I go to is the one where when I walk in the door, someone says, ‘Hi Karin,' and asks me how I'm doing.

Is there a point when personalization inches over into the creepy zone?

You need to know where to draw the line. With social media it's possible to collect a lot of information about a person simply by looking online, but the question marketers need to ask themselves is: What information do I actually want to use? You can turn off a customer pretty easily if you use too much.

To that end, approach personalization subtly. True marketers understand how to reach their customers by using logic. If a person lives in San Diego, deliver a piece with palm tree imagery; if your customer lives in the Poconos, mountain imagery would be more appropriate.

A good rule of thumb is that you can use any information you want if someone gives you permission—but always be accessible. Easy opt out is also key. You want to communicate with consumers, but consumers also need to be able to communicate and get in touch with you.

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