On the Road to Advanced Personalization

Are marketers ready to personalize? A new study from performance marketing agency Merkle reports that, yes, 86 percent of marketers have a defined budget to deploy personalized messaging. Eighty-nine percent also claim to have the organizational structure to support a personalized multi-channel plan.

Merkle surveyed major North American brands across industries, including those in retail, consumer goods, finance, health, nonprofits and others.

A striking quote from the report: Sixty-percent of respondents said that a majority of their revenue was driven by data-based triggers. Not surprisingly, digital media was the channel with the largest personalization investment. Email came second. Direct mail and in-app were lower on the list overall, but still ahead of browser push and SMS – all four of which claimed under five percent of budgets, for each channel on average.

According to Jose Cebrian, SVP, marketing strategy for Merkle, momentum is gaining for advanced personalization strategies.

As seen with discussions about customer data platforms (CDPs) earlier in the year, definitions are important in order for marketers to set the right strategy in place. Personalization has to mean something as technology evolves along with the consumers who use it. The bar has been raised.

“The definition of personalization is very important,” Cebrian said, “and we want to advance the discussion beyond things like names in subject lines, which have been very common in email marketing for over 10 years and which would allow someone to ‘check a box’ for personalization.”

He added, “We believe that we should be talking about personalization in a way that describes corporate actions, in this case marketing-related, that take into account what we know about the prospect or customer and change how we communicate with them versus market to them, whether that is to reach them via outbound or not and, if outbound, by channel, creative type,  content type, presence and richness of offer, product set, and even the ultimate action we want to take.”

One of the primary goals Cebrian suggests in advanced personalization is to “advance the consumer relationship toward ‘Human Loyalty.’”

What efforts must a business take to build out this kind of personalization? They have to direct resources internally.

“More advanced companies are investing in additional teams whose sole focus is to move beyond the day-to-day to implement and measure the value of personalization,” said Cebrian. Coordination is required between various teams and stakeholders, from IT and CRM, to media and the site team, each with their own distinct roadmaps and KPIs.

Matthew Mobley, Merkle’s CTO, has seen wider adoption of CDPs, along with “more robust decision management capabilities” that use AI and machine learning.

“Overall there are continual changes in technology that allow us to further adopt and optimize personalization strategies,” Mobley explained. “These technologies center on improving our ability to operationalize our data and insights in line with the engagement of consumers and to better leverage behaviors in those moments of engagement. Obviously, ever increasing consumer engagement in digital channels further increases the data we are able to leverage to support more intelligent engagement based on those behaviors.”

The Merkle team finds that although an omnichannel approach is important ultimately, most brands will begin advanced personalization at the channel level. And not all channels are equally personal.

“When thinking about channels,” said Cebrian, “I think it is important to define what the brand is trying to impact and the innate personalization capabilities in the channels that are leveraged to drive that outcome. For example, personalization capabilities are lower in TV than, say, email, so we have to think about what we can do in a channel. But ultimately, we should be starting with the business results we want to impact and from there define our personalization objectives.”

To build an advanced relationship with consumers, the right data-informed personalization must also be supported by and integrated with strong content.

“Today, there is plenty of data to leverage and technology from which to serve personalization,” Cebrian stated. “The emotional connection of personalization is still going to be primarily around the creative. That’s what the customer sees – they don’t see the data, tech, or decision. Advancements are being made in this area and I think this is a key area to watch and invest time and money into.”

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