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Personalization, or Personal?

By Kristina LaRocca-Cerrone | March 07, 2019 | 0 Comments

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In 2019, personalization is a marketing maxim. As B2B and B2C customers become increasingly savvy and independent researchers, the marketing landscape is rapidly clogging: buyers see more messages, have access to more information, and research more independently than ever before – and are therefore more likely to become overwhelmed. Personalization, getting the right message to the right person, at exactly the right time seems the clearest path forward.

But by its very nature, personalization engenders yet more volume, at least for the marketers tasked with creating it. First, you need data. Who is the customer? What channels do they use? What are they shopping for? Where might they be in their journey? What call to action is most likely to spur them onward? Then, you need versions. This email for Brenda the millennial, this banner ad for Joe the Baby Boomer. And hyper-targeting (and gathering sufficient data of sufficient quality to fuel it) is expensive. Micro-versioning content and collateral is both expensive and overwhelming. And all this, before we even begin to discuss the fine balance between “custom” and “creepy” in personalization!

Indeed, in Gartner’s 2018 State of Personalization Report, “the increased volume of content required”, and “data quality” were cited as two of the top three biggest hurdles in achieving marketing’s personalization goals. Marketing leaders often tell me that the data required to do personalization well exists “somewhere” in the organization – but rarely is it easy to find, synchronize, and synthesize that data across siloes.

You might outsource, drawing on resources like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Personalization Engines to identify the right product or service for your brand’s personalization goals and needs.

But, and particularly if you’re faced with limited or imperfect data, or a budget that doesn’t yet allow for you to hyper-target and micro-version, you might also consider scale. As in, scaling back – way back.

Personalization At Scale

Gartner research indicates that personal can be nearly as effective as personalization in breaking through and driving action. Here, personal simply means a message that reflects the customer credibly and authentically back to themselves. It means examining what we can know about our audience and checking to see that we reflect those knowable features in our marketing messages, whether personalized or not.

A marketing message targeted to a B2B customer’s industry, role, or demographics such as gender or age can generate an 80% lift in the customer’s likelihood of taking multiple marketing actions on that message, like clicking a link, reading an email, visiting your brand’s website (Maximizing the Impact of Targeted Messages,October 2018). And this doesn’t mean sending an email written for 34-year-old Brenda who owns a flower shop only to Brenda.

For instance, our team discovered that even in a survey sample with a 50/50 male-to-female split, the sample as a whole was slightly more likely to prefer images of women to images of men. And women were more likely to state that the gender of the person depicted was the driver of their image preference.

How balanced is your ad imagery?

Personal vs. Personalization

The survey results don’t necessarily mean all women only want to see images of women, or that all men want to see images of women – but they do indicate that women are particularly keen to see themselves better represented in ad imagery, and that men aren’t turned off by seeing images of women.

So, when we consider what “personal” marketing looks like, vs “personalized”, it could be simply shifting the balance of imagery used across campaigns to feature women more regularly (i.e. not only in campaigns explicitly targeting women or for International Women’s Day).

And herein is the magic of personal vs. personalization, and where we find scale in marketing, without sacrificing resonance. Knowing your audience, knowing the customer profile your products and services are designed for, gives you all the data you need to create messages resonate with that entire audience, without necessarily relying on personalization. Rather than expending budget and resources on getting personalized emails directly and only to Brenda, we might simply…adjust the gender ratio in all our email marketing, knowing that the men who see it won’t be troubled…and that Brenda (and many of your other female customers and prospects) will feel particularly seen and recognized.

The Path Forward

Identifying limited features to target (age, gender, industry, role in the business, etc.) along with corresponding segments of your audience that are dominant (i.e. make up the majority of the audience) or more sensitive to seeing themselves reflected allows you to selectively target messaging. That means it appeals to the broadest swath of the market, increasing the likelihood that customers and prospects notice, and take action on, your marketing campaigns.

A few things to ask yourself:

  1. What do my customers look like (age, gender, ethnicity)? Or what do they care about, broadly speaking (what motivates them, how do they define success, what values do they hold)?
  2. How consistently does our marketing speak to those features across channels and across campaigns?
  3. Are there any segments of our market who might be particularly sensitive to seeing themselves represented in marketing? Or any who might be underrepresented in marketing campaigns?

In the end, as with nearly all marketing, it comes back to knowing and thinking like the customer. Keeping the customer truly at the fore is what personalization has always been about. Reflecting that customer makeup back to the customer in all our marketing can help marketing leaders cut through the clutter – without hyper-targeting or micro-versioning.

The data points described here are drawn from a Gartner study of small business owners in North America. For more detail on our findings, including the biggest drivers of image and copy preference, and most sensitive population segments, or for a conversation on how you might apply these principles to your own B2B marketing, contact your Gartner representative.

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