The Biggest Obstacle to Personalization Is the Creative Element

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.

Direct Mail Marketing Can Be a Pleasure, Not Just a Workhorse

Most marketers look at direct mail marketing as a must-do in their marketing mix; but really, direct mail can be fabulous with the right strategy. If you have been using direct mail for a long time, you may have reached the point where you continue to recycle the same strategy over and over again. This becomes less effective each time. So how can you rethink your strategy to get better results?

direct mail marketing
Credit: Pixabay by ElisaRiva

Most marketers look at direct mail marketing as a must-do in their marketing mix; but really, direct mail can be fabulous with the right strategy. If you have been using direct mail for a long time, you may have reached the point where you continue to recycle the same strategy over and over again. This becomes less effective each time. So how can you rethink your strategy to get better results?

Check out  these five creative direct mail strategies:

Turn a Standard Holiday Card Into an Adventure

SS+K changed from a traditional flat holiday card to offering a 360-degree virtual reality bobsled ride. Here is how it works: The folds will turn the 2D card into 3D VR glasses. With the cardboard glasses, the recipients get to take their seats in the bobsled. After sliding through banked turns, jumps, an upside-down loop and more jumps, the bobsledder will bash through a bank of snow at the finish line, where they are greeted by cheering polar creatures that they’ve encountered along the way.

Create a Memorable Experience With a Pop-up Cube Mailer

Schemmer, an architectural firm, wanted to reach out in a creative and memorable way to potential clients. The mailer arrived flat and, when opened, popped into a cube shape, highlighting images and messaging to get a response. How can you use a pop-up to grab attention an increase response?

Unique Invitations Are Fun

Enogarage created an invitation with a cutout wine glass sleeve. As you start to remove the invitation from the sleeve, the wine glass fills up. It is a great way to showcase the invitation in a fun and unique way. This is also a very cost-effective way to do something different.

Include Other Senses to Increase Engagement

Voyanga, a travel company, created a mailer that includes sound. You can listen to the sound of the sea coming from an image of a conch shell. This is a great way to get people to interact with your mail piece and share it with others. They tied in the message of travel well with the call for them to respond to the sea. Check out the piece at No. 10 on this list.

Playful and Interesting

For World Water Day in Belgium, a letter was sent out that could only be read when in water. It highlighted the importance of water and built more awareness.

One more marketing example to showcase having fun with direct mail marketing: Planet Kids created a hand puppet invitation that was a hit with both parents and kids. How can you incorporate fun into your mail pieces?

Conclusion

As you can see with the five creative examples, direct mail can be more than you have ever thought of before. Don’t limit yourself to what you have done historically, because that limits your response. One thing to keep in mind as you get creative is to make sure that you are tying the marketing creative to your message. Doing something fun while not incorporating it with your call to action and message is a waste of money, because it does not work. Well-crafted messaging with creative that supports it drives response. Your strategic mailing plan should address all the usual requirements, as well as how a more creative approach can increase response.

Not sure it will work for you? Try a test. Grab a segment of your list and send the new creative to them then check your results. Are you ready to get started?

3 Steps That Reveal Your Marketing Blind Spot

Your eyes each have a blind spot. It’s an area right in front of your eyeballs that the shape of the cornea prevents you from seeing. Your brain takes input from both eyes and fills in the blind spot with what should be there. As marketers, you have a marketing blind spot as well. Only your brain isn’t addressing that one, and it can lead to disaster.

The brain is an amazing piece of biotechnology. Your eyes each have a blind spot. It’s an area right in front of your eyeballs that the shape of the cornea prevents you from seeing. It’s not right in the middle, but it’s in an area you’d never guess you couldn’t see.

The reason you don’t realize you have a blind spot is because your brain addresses it. It takes input from both eyes, and fills in the blind spot with what should be there.

As marketers, you have a marketing blind spot as well. Only your brain isn’t addressing that one, and it can lead to disaster.

The Marketer's Blind Spot
“The Marketer’s Blind Spot” was MECLABS Founder Clint McGlaughlin’s keynote at Marketing Sherpa Summit 2016.

“It’s the greatest danger facing every single marketer in the room today,” said Flint McGlaughlin, founder and managing director of MECLABS Institute, during the opening keynote of the annual Marketing Sherpa Summit, held this week in Las Vegas.

I had the good fortune to attend this year’s show (It’s a great event!) and I think McGlaughlin found a good way to explain a way of thinking that’s been plaguing marketers for as long as I’ve been covering them.

The Marketers Blind Spot
It’s one thing to be told you have a blind spot. It’s quite another to see it in a room full of marketers. McGlaughlin showed creative treatment after creative treatment — emails, landing pages, shopping cart pages — and he asked the marketers in the room which one they thought would do better in a test.

I got half of them wrong.

In repeated testing that MECLABS has done in its case studies and research, “72 percent of the marketers chose the wrong treatment,” claimed McGlaughlin.

It’s a problem he’s been seeing for years, one of the key findings from the years of research MECLABS has done.

“The more expert we become as marketers, the less expert we become as consumers,” McGlaughlin says. “Something connected to that observation is at the heart of our problem.”