Marketers Have to Stop Chasing One-to-one Personalization

The holy grail of marketing is extreme relevance – delivering the exact right thing to the right person at the right time, otherwise known as 1:1 personalization. And it’s a noble goal, in theory; serving up an ad for running shoes to someone who just signed up for a marathon or serving up a news story about a coup in Turkey to someone who has grandparents living there – it makes sense, doesn’t it? As marketers, we think back to the “spray and pray” days of yore where we served the same content to everyone on the entire planet, context be damned, and swear “Never again!” Of course we should be relevant. Of course we shouldn’t serve the same content to everyone. After all, it does us no good to put the wrong thing in front of the wrong person – it’s a waste of our time and theirs.

So we can agree that relevance and personalization have a place. But how personalized do you need to get? How relevant is relevant enough? 

Implementing 1:1 personalization seems extremely logical to most marketers – if relevance is good, then more is better, right? In the context of email marketing, the idea is that you’d send a single email newsletter every day to each of your subscribers, and all the content in that single newsletter is the content that is most relevant to that individual subscriber. They get curated content that they love, you get a higher click-through rate, and everyone’s happy. Such is the promise of 1:1 personalization.

However, the dirty little secret of chasing 1:1 personalization is that it might actually harm your revenue potential.

In the model mentioned above, where a subscriber gets a single email each day, that means that there is one opportunity per day to monetize that subscriber. 

So let’s say that you’re a publisher with several categories (which is how most publishers are set up). Maybe you’re a news site that has a section for US news, one for world news, one for politics, one for sports, etc. You can create newsletters around each of these sections and invite your subscribers to sign up for them. Someone might sign up for your politics newsletter because that’s what they’re most interested in. So each day, you’re sending them content about politics. Is it still relevant? Absolutely – they’ve expressed an interest in that kind of content (and you didn’t have to implement some complex 1:1 personalization solution to divine it; you just asked them). 

Now you can send them an email newsletter every day with content that, while maybe not quite as relevant as a newsletter that’s been custom-curated just for them, is still pretty relevant to the topic that they have explicitly expressed interest in. And you still have that one opportunity per day to monetize that user.

Here’s where the revenue boost comes in. 

Most people are not monoliths; they have a wide range of interests. The person interested in politics may also be interested in sports, and if you can get them to sign up for that email newsletter as well, you’re now creating two opportunities each day to monetize that subscriber. The more newsletters you can get them to sign up for, the more opportunities you have to monetize that subscriber. 

Now, taking into account that pretty much everyone has a crowded inbox, how many of these newsletters are people really willing to sign up for? The answer is more than you think. For our clients that have implemented this category-based newsletter approach, the average number of newsletters signups we’ve seen is 2.8 per person. And when you spread that across your entire list, pretty soon you’re talking about almost tripling the value of your email audience. This would be much more difficult to do if you were chasing that one perfect email per subscriber each day. 

The important metric to consider is subscriptions, not subscribers. In order to maximize the number of subscriptions per subscriber, you should aggressively promote the category newsletters on your website as well as cross-promoting within newsletters.

Marketers have to be relevant in order for their efforts to be worth anything. But chasing the elusive (and difficult to achieve) goal of 1:1 personalization may actually be hampering revenue potential. There is a way to remain targeted and relevant and provide a great user experience while increasing the LTV of each individual user in your database, and a category-based program might just help you strike that balance.

 Keith Sibson is ?VP Product & Marketing at PostUp

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