The Biggest Obstacle to Personalization Is the Creative Element

Creative Element of Personalization

In a world where everyone is exposed to constant marketing through every conceivable media channel every day, messages that are not relevant to the target will be utterly ignored. And don’t blame the consumers for it, either. You, as a consumer, are trained to ignore irrelevant messages, as well.

In this consumer-centric environment, personalization is something all marketers must practice constantly, not only to increase the level of customer engagement, but also to not be ignored completely. And if your messages keep getting ignored, decreasing click-through rate isn’t just some annoying KPI that doesn’t look good in front of your boss, it may be an existential threat to your organization.

Unfortunately, personalization isn’t easy, simple, or cheap. There are many elements that must work harmoniously, so that each target sees something that is uniquely relevant to “her.”

4 Elements of Personalization

First, you need data about the target. What is she about, and what does she look like? That may require data from all kinds of sources — be they online or offline transactions, browsing history, store visits, reactions to previous campaigns (requiring both campaign and response history data), call-center logs, third-party demographic data, etc. Putting them all in one place, and rearranging them to create coveted Customer-360 View is often the first hurdle. But that is just the beginning. Without customer-centric data, there is no personalization — unless you count on your guesswork.

Then you need to make sense out of collected data. We often call such work analytics, which includes segmentation (or clustering), modeling, personas development (a series of affinity models), etc. Many marketers consider this to be the highest hurdle, as it requires different types of talents. Data scientists tend to think that the modeling work is the pinnacle of personalization, and they may not be wrong. But is it enough? So, what if they have 40 personas meticulously built by top-notch statisticians? How would you use them to differentiate messages for “each” target?

That leads to the third and forth elements in personalization, which are “Display Capability” and “Content and Creative.” Basically, you need to be able to show different creatives to different targets. If you are uniformly displaying the same content to everyone, what is the point in all this, no matter how many personas or affinity models you built?

Display capability is a technical hurdle. And you can procure technologies to overcome it, whether the challenge is dynamic web content, or personalized email delivery. You have to align pieces of technologies to make it happen. If Person A shows up on your website, and her affinity score is higher for “Luxury Travel” category in comparison to “Family Oriented Activities,” you should be able to show a picture of luxury cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean sunset, not necessarily a picture of happy children surrounded by cartoon characters.

As you can see, I am actually mixing three elements in this one example. I am assuming you built a series of personas (or affinity models). Your website should be dynamic so that such models can trigger different experiences for different visitors. Then of course, I am assuming you have ample amount of marketing creatives to differentiate messages. Display technology is a prerequisite in all this. If you don’t have it, go get it.

Your Persona Menu

Building a Customer-360 View is a customer-centric activity, but creating a persona menu is a selfish activity. What do you want to sell? And what kind of person would be interested in such products or services?

If you are selling fashion items, personas such as “Fashionista” or “Trend Setter” would be helpful. If you are pushing cutting-edge products, an “Early Adopter” persona would be necessary. If you are selling various types of insurance or security-related products, you will benefit from personas such as “Security Conscious.”

The important point here is that you should create persona menu based on your product and marketing roadmap. Be imaginative and creative. What kind of persona would be interested in your services? Once the goal is set, we need some samples of people who actually displayed such tendencies or behaviors. If you are building a persona called “Luxury Travel,” gather samples of people who actually have been on a luxury cruise ship or checked into luxury hotels (of course you have to define what constitutes “luxury”). Modelers do the rest.

Now, here is the reason why setting up a proper persona menu is so important. Not only will we define the target audience with it, but also categorize your marketing contents and digital assets with personas.

The most basic usage of any model is to go after high score individuals in a given category. You want to send messages to fashion-oriented people? Just select high score individuals using the Fashionista model.

But personalization is a little more complex that that. Let’s just say this one individual showed up at your website (or your store for that matter). You may have less than one second to show something that “she” would be interested in. Pull up all persona scores for that person, and see in which categories she scores high (let’s say over 7 out of a maximum score of 9). Going back to the previous example, if the target has score of 8 in Luxury Travel, and 4 in Family-oriented Activity, pull out the content for the former.

The Creative Element

Now, why is this article titled “The Biggest Obstacle to Personalization Is the Creative Element”? Because, I often see either lack of enough creative materials or lack of proper content library is the roadblock. And it really breaks my heart. With all the dynamic display capabilities and a series of models and personas, it would be a real shame if everyone gets to see the same damn picture.

I’ve seen sad and weird cases where marketers balk at the idea of personalization, as their creative agency is not flexible enough to create multiple versions of marketing materials. In this day and age, that is just a horrible excuse. What are they dealing with, some Mad Men agency people from the 1950s with cigarettes in their mouths and glasses of Scotch in their hands?

I’ve also seen other strange cases where proper personalization doesn’t happen – even with all good elements ready to be deployed – because departments don’t know how to communicate with one another. That is why someone should be in charge of all four elements of personalization.

How will the persona menu be created with grand marketing goals in mind? Who would procure actual data and build models? How will the resultant model/persona scores be shared throughout the organization and various systems, especially with the dynamic display technologies? How will the content library be tagged with all the relevant “persona” names (e.g., Tag “Luxury Travel” persona name to all digital assets related to “Luxury Cruise Ships”)?

Model scores (or personas) may function as a communication tool that binds different departments and constituents. Personalization is a team sport, and it is only as good as the weakest link. If you invested in building CDP solutions and analytics, go a little further and finish the work with the creative elements.

If you have a bunch of pictures stored in someone’s PC (or worse, some agency guy’s drawer), go build a digital content library. And while you’re at it, tag those digital assets with relevant persona names in your persona menu. Even automated personalization engines would appreciate your effort, and it will definitely pay off.

Author: Stephen H. Yu

Stephen H. Yu is a world-class database marketer. He has a proven track record in comprehensive strategic planning and tactical execution, effectively bridging the gap between the marketing and technology world with a balanced view obtained from more than 30 years of experience in best practices of database marketing. Currently, Yu is president and chief consultant at Willow Data Strategy. Previously, he was the head of analytics and insights at eClerx, and VP, Data Strategy & Analytics at Infogroup. Prior to that, Yu was the founding CTO of I-Behavior Inc., which pioneered the use of SKU-level behavioral data. “As a long-time data player with plenty of battle experiences, I would like to share my thoughts and knowledge that I obtained from being a bridge person between the marketing world and the technology world. In the end, data and analytics are just tools for decision-makers; let’s think about what we should be (or shouldn’t be) doing with them first. And the tools must be wielded properly to meet the goals, so let me share some useful tricks in database design, data refinement process and analytics.” Reach him at stephen.yu@willowdatastrategy.com.

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