Making Personalization Relevant: Marketing Vision 2018

When it comes to content marketing, “impersonal”, “boring”, and “irrelevant” are synonymous. Part two of this two-part report on personalization, from ITSMA’s Marketing Vision 2018 conference, outlines the relationship between “personal” and “relevant” — and how the latter brings about the former.

At ITSMA Marketing Vision 2018, thought leaders consistently emphasized the importance of personalization in marketing. The first part of this report focused on the data-driven challenges to personalization by numbers — particularly as buyers struggle with unclear and unreconciled information sources. With insight, and targeted content, however, marketers can sneak up on personalization by focusing on other, more important content attributes.

Targeting the multichannel content-hungry buyer

Julie Schwartz, an SVP at ITSMA, pointed to the association’s own research demonstrating that organizational-IT buyers broadly engage with sellers across a variety of channels over the course of the entire buying cycle (typically 6 to 18 months) — and that these same buyers demand “a wide range of content” both during the buying cycle and post-purchase. Here, Schwartz talked about the success of companies like Cognizant, which extensively conducted interviews with executives, and used those interviews to form the basis of the company’s thought leadership.

“If you don’t have the content to deliver personalized marketing, then you don’t have personalized marketing,” observed Schwartz.

Personalization means never having to say “Boring!”

More to the point, the content has to be effective. At the moment, according to ITSMA researchers, a lot of it is not — because it is too impersonal and irrelevant to buyers.

In a later workshop, fellow ITSMA senior vice president Bev Burgess reported that, in a 2018 study of ABM benchmarks (jointly conducted by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance), respondents indicated that the third most-important competency for marketers to build in 2019 will be “content creation and tailoring”.

Underscoring the point, Schwartz highlighted related findings from ITSMA’s 2018 “How Executives Engage” Survey, showing that 52 percent of respondents found the sheer volume of vendor content “overwhelming” —  despite the fact that only 15 percent of respondents reported researching more than 5 different vendors. (The average number of vendors respondents reported researching? Fewer than four.)  Moreover, 43 percent indicated that they “struggled with the solution-provider content because it was boring.” Attendees on hand who worked on the Cognizant campaign observed during Schwartz’s presentation that “relevant” and “boring” are polar opposites — and that the key attributes on the boring-to-relevant scale are (1) quality and (2) clarity.

“When you’re producing thought leadership, you want to have a quality checklist,” said one Cognizant campaign team member.

Burgess added that, for marketers who don’t have the luxury of working for a household-name company marketing to global accounts, these standards for relevance have to be even higher than those of the big boys. Part of this comes down to brand recognition, but Burgess highlighted that smaller companies don’t have an excuse to be boring, impersonal, and irrelevant in their content — because they are not weighed down by the brand baggage of a global name.

“You can be whoever you like,” said Burgess. “You don’t have to shift the brand.”

Relevance: The ultimate personalization strategy

Indeed, in marketing’s quest to make content more personal, relevance trumps all. In a later session, Mike Keating, SVP of Global Marketing and IP Strategy at CGI, described how his firm has conducted more than 1,400 in-person client interviews — each taking about two to three hours — in the past year, so as to better measure clients’ top priorities, obstacles, and the like. From there, Keating explained, CGI can leverage the insights gained from the resulting information to improve upon how it markets its solutions.

“This is about people, not collateral,” said Keating. “They buy based upon your fit with them.”

One audience-member marketeer put it yet more succinctly during the Q&A portion of a separate session focused on ABM: “We so often get mixed up with the difference between personalization and relevance.” “Relevance needs to come first,” she added.

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