What the %!X&! Does “Personalized Marketing” Really Mean?

Have you noticed that there are a lot—and I mean a lot—of companies talking about personalized marketing? It’s not surprising why. According to a recent survey conducted by Ad Perceptions (and underwritten by my company, 73% of agency and brand-side marketers agree that personalization represents the future of the industry. So now everyone wants to jump on the one-to-one train.

But if you look closely at all of the definitions of “personalized marketing” touted by marketers, it’s evident that there are as many definitions as there are companies claiming to deliver on it. Unfortunately, many of those definitions fall far short of creating genuine individual relationships with people. Many just touch the surface of the value and magic of what a comprehensive, personalized program offers clients and consumers.

I’d like to offer up the following as a “no compromises” definition of personalized marketing—one that gets to the heart of what marketers really want:

A comprehensive, ongoing, one-to-one communications approach that individually calibrates brand messages and media based on known facts and predictions about the needs, interests, and behaviors of each person in a target audience

I’ll admit that there’s a lot going on in that statement, and that’s because true personalized marketing has many essential elements. In my view it has seven “must haves.”

Individual user profiles and insight: You can’t do one-to-one or personalized marketing without a rich user profile that helps you understand, reflect, and anticipate consumer needs. Personalized marketing is empowered by rich insight at an individual level, not broad segmentation “buckets.”

360-degree customer view: As a consumer profile for each individual is being developed, it needs to be informed by both online and offline behaviors. This is particularly true for retail, where customers may make some of their purchases online and some offline. Without understanding both sets of behaviors, you won’t have the level of user insight necessary to create personalized moments of advertising serendipity that put the right products in front of each individual at the perfect time.

Ongoing one-to-one relationship: True personalized marketing is about creating ongoing relationships between each person and a brand. While making a sale to someone today is a fine thing, the true value of personalization comes to light when we not only please someone today, but also anticipate and reflect their changing needs and attitudes over time. That’s one of the big ways that personalization yields fruit. It’s through long-term understanding that we unlock the true value of personalized marketing.

Genuine personalized creative: Personalized marketing requires creative messages that are tightly aligned to individual user insights. Sticking someone’s first name in a mass email isn’t personalized marketing. Neither is a retargeting ad that shows someone a picture of the last item they viewed on a website. Rather, personalized marketing is about messages in which many aspects of communication are precisely calibrated to a user. Imagery, products, offers, and response mechanisms all attuned to the particular needs and habits of an individual. Thousands—hundreds of thousands—even millions of creative versions may be necessary to deliver appropriately personalized messages to all of your customers and prospects. By contrast, three different ads for three audience segments does not personalized marketing make. That is segmentation; and while valuable, it falls far short of the personalization standard.

Individualized delivery: Once you create a personalized creative message, it’s critical that you have the technology and visibility to deliver that message to the particular user for which it was made. Sounds elementary, but while it’s gotten progressively easier to reach all users or millions of users across digital, it’s far more difficult to reach particular individuals—and do so on a timely basis and at the scale necessary to move the needle for a major brand.

Omnichannel reach: We live in a multi-device world, and to create personalized marketing we need to be able to reach an individual wherever and however they spend digital time. That means we need to be able to deliver the personalized message on any device at the precise moment of maximum individual receptivity. Connecting all of the devices someone uses to a single, anonymized consumer profile is tough stuff, but absolutely essential for “no compromises” personalized marketing.

Individualized media investment: Personalized marketing is ultimately about creating profitable individual relationships with your audience. To do that right, a brand needs to invest the right amount of money on each person. Every individual offers different annual potential revenue value for a business, so the amount of money invested to market to them should also vary. Thanks to exchange-based media brands can do just that. They can purchase the optimal mix and quantity of ads to reflect each person’s potential business value.

Over the coming months you’ll probably hear even more people talking about personalized marketing. Make sure they’re using a definition that you agree with—one that ensures that your brand creates an ongoing personal relationship with every person in your vast target audience.

Scott Eagle is CMO of Conversant

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