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.

Dating Tips That’ll Help Marketers Get Their Client Relationships Unstuck

Committing to improvement is a good idea any time of year, but there’s something poetic about marketers revitalizing along with the calendar. So let’s talk about what we can learn from the intersection of marketing personalization, dating, and client relationships. Are you a good date?

Committing to improvement is a good idea any time of year, but there’s something poetic about marketers revitalizing along with the calendar. So let’s talk about what we can learn from the intersection of marketing personalization, dating, and client relationships. Are you a good date?

I’ve been dating and doing client service (separately) for long enough to know they’re actually pretty similar. When you first get together, it’s all magical. Every text and call makes your heart skip a beat; things you’ve done a million times before feel fresh and exciting. You think about them constantly. However, the newness of the relationship soon starts to fade; you’ve got the scope of work signed and things are just humming along. So you start to rely solely on email and that scheduled “touch base.” Pretty soon, things get stagnant and your priorities shift.

This is a make-it or break-it moment. Will you put in the work to keep everyone at the level of full-heart-eye emojis, or will you get stuck in a routine? Lessons from the dating world can help you get those client relationships unstuck.

Inventory your client relationships.

  • Are you speaking their language by using their preferred method of communicating?
  • Are you still keeping in touch the way you used to at the exciting start of things?
  • Are you genuinely listening and engaged in conversation?

You want this relationship to last, so ask yourself how you could do even better. What if you rolled into your client’s office with cupcakes and cookies — and hung around to enjoy them with your clients? I make a habit of it, because who doesn’t love a treat? High-touch, high value … great date!

But it goes much further than just being the guy that shows up with flowers.

  • Are you proactively suggesting new ideas?
  • Are you forwarding them news that has an impact on their business?
  • Are you identifying materials and work product that went out of your agency that wasn’t up to your standards and then offering to make it right?
  • On the flip side, are you having those tough conversations about parts of the relationship that aren’t working that are faults on their side?

Those big personal investments are the secret to getting client relationships unstuck and, for me, it’s just the natural result of being a friendly, curious person — and it’s the No. 1 reason why my clients are usually clients and friends for life. Sure, this is business, but being open and letting your personality help forge relationships is what guarantees people remember you. I’ve always believed that the way you engage with your clients should stick with them just as much as the measurable outcomes of your work.

In 2020, build your relationship checklist. I’m talking a real, tangible checklist! Keeping track helps you assess whether you’re doing enough to sustain a happy relationship, and it’s a great way to make sure that all of your clients feel special.

Here’s the bottom line: In client services, as in dating, success depends on showing that you care, and putting the work in to keep it fresh. Whether you’re in client services or courting a dreamboat, you have got to nurture the relationship beyond day-to-day work.

Here’s the net-net: it may be a new century, but the personal touch in any relationship stands the test of time.