“It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the data,” said Jim Specht, “to get consumed by the data; and forget that we’re conversing with people. Not just customers, not just data-points: people.”
Specht is Executive Creative Director at Olson 1to1, an agency which combines strategy and creative thinking with technology chops: part of an evolving agency scene where the nuts and bolts of the marketing stack can be as important as the next big idea.
“The big idea is still important,” concedes Specht, “but we’re no longer looking at the customer journey in a linear way. It’s continuous, fluid, ever-changing. Data helps you understand it. Little micro-pieces of data showing behavioral differences and changes are what we focus on.”
But if guiding the customer journey is a matter of being present in-the-moment with the right content or message — rather than finding one big idea and blasting it to the largest possible audience — brands and agency face bridging a creative gap. That’s how I came to be speaking with Specht, seeking guidance on how it’s possible to have a personalized creative response ready for countless audience members at countless touch-points.
It’s a question I’ve been posing for some time now, and there’s no one easy answer. But there are good practices.
“Personalization is definitely necessary,” Specht told me, “but it’s more about tailoring messages to be relevant at that particular moment in time.” Content mapping should accompany journey mapping, but just because there are many possible touch-points doesn’t mean there needs to be as many varied messages. “If you vary the message a million times, you’re losing focus,” Specht warned. “Don’t go off the deep end. It’s unwieldy, and you’ll never keep up.”
Adaptability is key, being able to modify a set of messages based on the user response, and it’s important to design content with variability in mind. What can alleviate the burden and cost of testing multiple variables is AI, of course, but Specht cautions that where AI still falls short is understanding the full context of the customer journey. “Human effort,” he said, “is still required. It’s not a matter of trying to protect our presence, or our place in the process. You just need to know when and how to use AI.”
Andrew Kelly, director of new business development at Olson, explained the range of services the agency offers, from predictive and propensity modeling, through mapping and journey creation, to campaign execution and result analysis. “Not all clients employ us for all of that,” he said. Olson, he added, does not have its own proprietary delivery platform, but can plug into the client’s stack: “They can hand us the keys.”
The main takeaway on content? It should “feel like it’s coming from a human,” Specht said. There’s a risk that leveraging AI can result in messages that are “very cold, distant, and severe.” Algorithms are great, but you have to know when to use them to enhance the customer experience.