Making Personalization Personal: Marketing Vision 2018

In marketing, personalization isn’t always personal — and marketers often fail with personalization as they turn to big data and best practices. Part one of this two-part report from ITSMA Marketing Vision 2018 explains that big data and best practices are red herrings in the quest for personalized marketing.

Marketers increasingly need to be personal in their tactics and strategies, but personalization has an image problem:

  • Obviously spammy emails that have the recipient’s name in the subject line
  • Automated aggregations of “memories” that we may not want to remember
  • Intrusive examination of our online — and offline — activities.
  • Hidden data-sharing and decision-making that results in PII being spread all over the place — which, in turn, has led to GDPR and other data-stewardship regulatory schemes.

“Have you ever been the victim of personalization gone bad?” asked Julie Schwartz, SVP of research and thought leadership at ITSMA. The question may or may not have been rhetorical, but the audience responded nonetheless with lots of affirmative, disgruntled murmurs. Schwartz posed the question at ITSMA Marketing Vision 2018. As she presented findings of recent ITSMA studies on personalized B2B marketing experience, she regularly live-polled the audience on their own actions and senses on the subject.

Of the roughly 130+ people in the room at her session (almost all marketers, if not adjuncts to marketing functions), the top obstacle to personalization they identified (at 42.3 percent) was that of “data”. But this obstacle is a red herring, according to Schwartz, who said as much when one audience member who chose the catch-all “other” category said that their biggest personalization obstacle was not so much data as it was insight.

“The data has to serve the audience, not yourself,” warned Schwartz. “If we didn’t have the technology…or the data, does that mean we wouldn’t personalize?” 

Data done wrong

To be sure, the age of big data over the past few years has come to mean that data is not so much a resource as it is a commodity — because it is infinite and can be readily replaced and effectively analyzed with the right systems. Of course, that takes some work.

Some marketers love A/B testing, analysis, and discovery; others find more than a modicum of testing and analytics to be anathema. The latter group prefers to not reinvent the wheel. The problem with that, however, is that commoditized methodologies for personalization are — by definition — impersonal.

On this point, Schwartz bemoaned what she called “the magic-bullet fallacy” — by which some marketers simply want to copy from a mythical best-practices guide an outline of precise channels, content, buying personae, and all other aspects of marketing strategy. (“Put the chart up and tell us what to do,” Schwartz complained of hearing all too often.)

“There is no magic bullet; make it personal — because personal is still impactful,” advised Schwartz. “You have to give people many options so they can choose how they want to engage with you when they want to engage with you.”

The way Sundar Ganapathy, an associate partner at McKinsey & Company, would tell it in his subsequent presentation , “How to Win in Today’s New World of Marketing,” this comes as little surprise — because buyers have a lot to do during their buying cycles. Ganapathy reported that customers spend 15 percent of their time in the buying process reconciling (or attempting to reconcile) conflicting information. Relevant personalization has thus become a crucial differentiator.

“Buyers are more demanding and expect sellers to meet their individual needs,” said Ganapathy. “Personalization…is using your data [and] signaling it to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.”

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