Personalized Marketing: Past, Present and Future

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

Personal.jpgIn 1996, I had this really cool idea to produce an invitation for WDMI (Women in Direct Marketing International) using 4-color variable data printing (VDP).

This was new printing technology that acted like a color copier on steroids. There wasn’t really any software to drive it, and few people knew what it was — but I was lucky. I’d always watched for new tech, and Cheryl Kahanec (who happened to be my cousin) had one of the presses producing 4-color VDP. Still, computing power was nothing like today, so we had to figure out how to create the design I’d come up with.

The concept was driven by the limited data we had for the club — their names, company and address. Next to the address was the line: “If this is your idea of personalization … ” which was followed by a headline on the inside that said: “Then you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Below the headline was the recipient’s name in many different fonts, sizes and colors with the name overlapping and running off the page.

Ok, I’m still healing the scars from that project. We were way ahead of the curve. It took over seven days to rip the file (running the data into the file to create a printable file). It then took another seven days to print the 5,000 pieces. That’s right: over 14 days of ripping and printing.

It performed very well, even winning attention from a couple trade publications (it also gave my cousin and me many gray hairs).

Fast Forward…

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

St. Joseph’s College wanted to encourage applicants who had been accepted to the college to commit to attend. So accepted applicants were invited to a special event at the college. To encourage their attendance, each applicant would receive an iTunes gift card when they clicked on the personal URL (pURL) to say they would attend, with a chance to win an iPad at the event.

Every image and text blurb on the piece was changed based on the degree program the applicant had indicated on the application. Their name was used throughout the piece, along with their pURL. This is the most dramatic element: The covers would feature a current student in their program of choice. A testimonial and photo of another student currently in the program was highlighted on the inside, with copy and photos regarding the program.

Each piece off the press was a one of a kind — exactly how your emails and digital marketing piece are on your recipient’s computer.

St. Joes VDPWhat’s in the Future

There’s no way to know the amazing tech the future will bring, but a more challenging element of the future is breaking down silos.

“Over the last 20+ years, variable data software and printing has come a long way. You can easily drive images and text complex business logic and embedded variables from multiple databases. Email, video and online variable data capabilities have become equally sophisticated. The challenge: They typically don’t work together. Adding to this struggle, many brands have agency’s that are digital- or print- only.

For multichannel/omnichannel and trigger programs to allow brands to have a conversation with their customers, all mediums must work together. There can no longer be silos.”

—Cheryl Kahanec, President, EarthColor, Marketing Solutions Group

As Cheryl describes above, the future will blend all communications, leaving no silos. Whether we read our screens, mail or any other marketing material, the blending of data and its capabilities is the future of marketing and communications. Who will get there first? Who’s on their way?

Hype or Opportunity? 

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

The bounty of options makes planning more complicated and can thinly stretch even the largest of budgets across a wide array of team efforts. Each team effort must be supported with planning, development, distribution, optimization and reporting, all of which cost time and money. And though more options generally leads to more learning, it also creates more work — and sometimes even a dilution of impact upon prospects.

Some of those new opportunities will earn key positions in future campaigns via their proven contributions to specific objectives. But many will turn out to just be a shiny object that got its fifteen minutes of marketing fame and ate away your resources. One handy tool to help you hedge this high-stakes bet is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner has been publishing this annual review for many years. It considers emerging technologies in a way that best informs critical business investments. It offers brands distinct interpretations of real value versus hype, charted along a continuum marking the highs and lows of technology adoption over time.

The cycle begins with a peak of inflated expectations, tied to a wave of adoption and a lot of market attention, before negativity and failures lead to a trough of disillusionment. Then the real work begins: adapting best practices and methodologies that lead to higher productivity. Rinse and repeat.

Hype CycleThe 2016 Gartner Hype Cycle of emerging technologies highlights three big trends, including:

  1. Immersive Consumer Experiences, like virtual reality, smart materials and gesture controls
  2. Smart Machines and workspaces that foster the evolution of the Internet of Things and digitize physical objects to improve efficiencies.
  3. Technologies that connect to each other and synergize previously autonomous technologies and platforms.

Gartner actually publishes multiple hype cycles annually. Some of these cycle reports focus on particular technologies, so if you have an interest in a specific area of technology, you should do some further digging.

It is easy to see how today’s technological innovation can evolve into tomorrow’s marketing tool kit, but it’s not a quick, direct or easy journey. Watch for the phases of the hype cycle but also for the availability of tested vendors, channels or service partners to help ease your adoption. Most marketers are not equipped to leverage the raw technology on their own, so they search for partners with a tested offering that effectively employs the emerging technology. But this typically occurs in the later stages of the hype cycle, which in some cases may be too late.

So how do you know when it’s time to jump in, and how do you maximize the impact of your inherently risky choice?

  • Have clear goals and benchmarks in place, along with a time frame to assess whether this new initiative is achieving its function within your plan.
  • Know the difference between technology and marketing. Both have value but they are not interchangeable.
  • Don’t launch what you can’t measure.
  • Some endeavors are more labor and research intensive than others, or further outside of your comfort and experience levels. Weigh the effort expended against the potential return before embarking.
  • Build in additional time. New efforts always need additional launch time, QA time, etc.
  • Fund the effort appropriately. Just dipping your toe in may not return a realistic picture of the actual value.
  • Know what your team resources can support. Unduly stressing them can have unintended negative consequences on unrelated programs that had been running smoothly prior to the adoption.
  • Keep a balance in your budget of proven tactics, but also set aside a testing budget so as to continually learn and freshen your eye.
  • Don’t hang out on the bleeding edge unless your brand and your audience are already there. Not every new marketing opportunity will be a good fit.
  • Do your research. You can learn a lot from watching early adopters.

Success today favors the bold but informed. Make smart choices, and continually test and refresh your marketing mix. Maximize the opportunity and minimize the hype.

The 4 Pillars of a Marketing Technology Strategy

As we’re heading through the era of smart phones and into the era of wearables and the Internet of Things, the tricky part is figuring out which of those technologies belong in your marketing budget, and which are just the latest shiny thing distracting your attention?

For a long time now, marketing and technology have been on a collision course, and we’re well past the point of impact.

That’s why you keep hearing the term “MarTech,” and it’s only getting bigger as a buzz word.

The thing is, just because MarTech is a buzz word doesn’t mean every potential marketing technology is worth the time and investment.

http://bcove.me/oemibcyk

As we’re heading through the era of smart phones and into the era of wearables and the Internet of Things, the tricky part is figuring out which of those technologies belong in your marketing budget, and which are just the latest shiny thing distracting your attention?

That’s why you need to have a deliberate marketing and technology strategy to guide your investments and keep your wandering eye for technology focused on the part of the horizon you’re aiming for.

What Does a Marketing Technology Strategy Look Like?

On last year’s Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference, I had the chance to moderate several panels about this, including the keynote with UMarketing founder George Wiedemann and the closing panel discussion on how marketers are coming to terms with enhanced tech responsibilities.

Four elements emerged from those panels that are really the pillars of a solid MarTech strategy.

Marketing Tech Pillar 1

It is guided by your larger marketing strategy as it relates to your business strategy.

The marketing technology you invest in should not be guided by the newest shiny object or by the tools a few of your employees pick up to meet an immediate need.

The strategy should follow the goals your business plan has set for your marketing, and the overarching integrated marketing plan you’ve put in place to reach those goals.

This lets you build a marketing technology “stack” that works together and is all pulling in the same direction.

For example, your social media offers should be collecting conversions and routing them into your marketing automation or CRM system the same way any other marketing program works. They should be accountable to similar types of metrics, and you should be able to evaluate the technology and its benefits in metrics that align with each other and can be easily compared.

Marketing Tech Pillar 2

The strategy should look three, five or even 10 years down the road at where you want your marketing tech capabilities to be, how you expect to be using it, and the opportunities that are emerging.

If your technology is good enough for your needs today, but is building to a dead end in the future, then fixing that should be part of the plan.

But then how can you try new things if you’re only focused on what fits into the plan you already have?

One great idea from the closing panel was to set aside a “Skunkworks” budget specifically ear marked for trying out new technologies and figuring out if they do belong in your strategy in the future. That way you can try new things without skewing your strategy just to reach them.

I Love My Intern’s Amazing Ease With Technology

One of the rites of summer is finding and hiring an intern — and sharing knowledge about the marketing business with him or her for a few precious weeks each year. Yet, who’s sharing with whom is often under question.

Chet Dalzell and intern Julie Randolph. Photo Credit: Chet Dalzell
Chet Dalzell and intern Julie Randolph. Photo Credit: Chet Dalzell

One of the rites of summer is finding and hiring an intern — and sharing knowledge about the marketing business with him or her for a few precious weeks each year.

Yet, who’s sharing with whom is often under question. Yes, marketing, advertising, public relations, branding, social media, key messages — there’s plenty of knowledge to impart. My colleagues and I at the Digital Advertising Alliance enjoy immensely the chance to inspire a potential marketing career entrant.

Yet wait a minute — I’m continuously amazed at how quickly our particular intern — Julie Randolph, Bowdoin ’17 at DAA takes to tech tools like Google AdWords, Web Site CMS, Salesforce, iMovie. She’s as new to these specific tools as I’ve been, but the learning curve for her is minutes — when I measure ease of use in weeks. Productivity, thus served.

Is that an indictment on me or a celebration of her?

The Indictment: Let’s be honest, anything with a keyboard and a screen more often represents professional life and pro tools. I see a computer and I see work to do. I see a smartphone and I’m connected to the office 24/7. Technology enables work. For her, such device usage is how she grew up in all aspects of life — personal, school, previous summer work. Technology enables living.

The Rationalization: I separate from work (from time to time) by putting away the screen, and [horror] leaving the phone behind for an hour or two. In my work, no one’s life is at stake — though my livelihood clearly is. Still, I can check in periodically and manage my always-on professional life accordingly. On my personal side, I don’t have any children of my own to keep track of, so I relish my time off the grid. There’s really a lot of personal enjoyment and freedom in my not being always-connected. I can ride a bike, walk down the sidewalk and talk to a friend without having to glance at a personal device every minute.

The Celebration: Now let’s get back to the intern. I’d say she has a more healthful relationship with tech. Technology doesn’t even define her. She’s smart, knowledgeable, intellectually curious, well rounded in lots of ways. Tech simply is. It is there to serve, to empower, to entertain, to shop, to connect, even to protect — probably all the things that I use tech for, but she approaches tech with barely second thought. Technology is innate.

I have to admit, the user-friendliness of tech tools is getting better and better all the time — even I can master it eventually. But for a few weeks this summer, wow, am I amazed. Some company will be very, very smart when she graduates next year.

Today’s Marketer Is Batman … And That’s a Problem

There’s a tension in marketing today: The customer journey is emotional. Working the tools of marketing is technical. How many marketers are suited to balance those correctly? Not Batman.

Always be Batman.
I respectfully disagree.

Last week I talked about the marketer of the future, and how Phil Fernandez (CEO of Marketo) and Vincent Ircandia (SVP business operations of the Portland Trailblazers) see that as the person who unites the company, its technology, and its customer strategy.

It’s hard to argue with their assessment of the opportunity. But their talks also exposed the tension in marketing today: The customer journey is emotional. Working the tools of marketing is technical. How many marketers are suited to balance those correctly?

What Are Marketers Now? Batman?

It almost sounds like you are Batman! Tracking customers from six computer screens in the Bat Cave and calculating how to hit them with a batarang from two miles away at exactly the right time.

Awesome, right? Batman is awesome. Everyone wants to be Batman.

But Batman is not a good role model for marketers.

Batman does not connect emotionally with the criminals he’s tracking. Batman’s version of the customer journey does not end in them choosing to make a purchase. It ends with them getting ambushed, beaten to within an inch of their lives and left tied up, humiliated, for the police.

That’s no way to treat your customers.

More and more I wonder if the technology we’re looking at is turning us into Batman, hiding in the cave staring at the data, and not necessarily understanding the emotional connection customers want to make on the buyer’s journey.

You know who’s a good emotional marketing role model? Professor X. He’s got this big machine (Cerebro) that lets him read the minds of mutants all over the world and target them directly with messaging. He sends famous superheroes to go ask them to join the team. He has their buy in, emotional loyalty, and they’re more than happy to go risk their lives for him. (Yes, Robin will risk his life for Batman, but clearly that’s Stockholm syndrome.)

The catch: Professor X doesn’t help close hundreds of cases/sales a year. Professor X recruits a couple kids to attend his private boarding school for free. Revenue isn’t his thing. (Neither is accountability, but I digress.)

How the CEO sees Professor X CMO.
How the CFO sees Professor X CMO.

Professor X makes the emotional connection, but he doesn’t have the numbers. Batman has the numbers, but he’s a sociopath abusing his prospects and customers.

Which one are you? Is there another metaphor? Are you Wolverine, Bub? (Don’t be Wolverine to your customers! That would be bad.)

Wolverine slaps Robin, with his claws.
Yeah, that’s much worse.

The idea behind marketing automation and all the rest of this martech is to provide tools to listen and react to customers at various levels of granularity. But I think there’s cognitive dissonance there. Are marketers supposed to succeed by playing the marketing tool better, or by knowing the customer better?

Because to really do both effectively, you might need to be some kind of superhero.

Your Secret Weapon for Amplification: Employees!

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

Very few companies fully engage employees in the work of connecting with customers, prospects and new markets, according to a 2014 Altimeter Group survey of HR and marketing executives. Only 41 percent of respondents reported having a strategic approach for employee engagement, and just 43 percent say they have a culture of trust and empowerment. Yet, Altimer finds that company who do engage employees in a purposeful digital outreach enjoy measurable business impact, greater reach and improved customer satisfaction.

One of the biggest factors in this untapped opportunity, according to the report, is that most employees don’t have a clear understanding of what they can or should share on behalf of the brand. As a result, most stay quiet.

A quick way to measure the impact on your business is to assess the variance between the collective reach of your employees on LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest and the number of fans and followers on your branded corporate pages. That delta is your opportunity-every professional post or pin by an employee is an opportunity to connect people back to your corporate properties.

Of course a purposeful approach to empowering employees must be respectful of everyone’s personal brand and voice. Forcing people to stiffly spout the company line will not only backfire in terms of employee loyalty, it will be a turn off for readers. The engagement has to be authentic in order to resonate.

The technology is here-in the past decade there has been a plethora of new digital tools for helping employees connect with each other and with their professional communities. Many tools are embedded in the CRM and sales enablement tools already in use for outside engagement. Why aren’t people using them internally? Perhaps because the presence of a tool itself is not enough-to create business value the tools must be accessible, helpful and aligned with the business culture.

Marketers who want employee engagement must develop a repeatable and respectful plan for advocacy:

  • Cross-Functional Reach:
    While sales, marketing and service teams often advocate for the business as part of their job descriptions, employees across the organization can also be incentivized to participate. Making these activities a win-win for the employee and the employer is key to participation.
  • Training:
    Most employees would be happy to support a respectful program, but truly do not know what to say. Setting clear boundaries and sharing sample messaging is a start, but also be explicit about the “how to” aspects. Encourage employees to make the message personal-and thus of higher impact-by translating the corporate message into their own voice.
  • Culture of Mutual Respect:
    Employees who cannot be trusted with confidential information also can’t be expected to fully engage in any innovation or forward-thinking programs. If this is the case for your organization, then your culture may not be a fit for employee engagement.
  • Content:
    Most businesses are publishers today-from blogs to social media to customer service scripts. These are rich sources for content that can be easily shared and amplified through employee engagement.

Creating active and visible employees may give some managers pause. Altimer recommends encouraging personal brand building anyway, claiming the risk is low that top talent will be poached. The opposite is usually true, the report says. Employees build a sense of pride and connectedness, and become invested in the company success.

Beyond email signatures and call center scripts, how is your company tapping the rich network of your employees to build the brand, amplify messaging and generate leads? Are your employees already active participants in sharing your company brand story? If so, how can you bring that forward into a more purposeful program? Share your challenges and ideas in the comments section.

3 Success Factors to Insights-Driven Automation

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. In fact, we’ve crossed the chasm of a few years ago, when technology could not keep up with marketers’ vision of customer engagement. Now, we have so much technology, we can’t utilize it strategically and we struggle to integrate it.

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. In fact, we’ve crossed the chasm of a few years ago when, technology could not keep up with marketers’ vision of customer engagement. Now, we have so much technology we can’t utilize it strategically, and we struggle to integrate it.

At the same time, marketers do not have a data problem. There is more data than we can manage or use wisely.

Marketers do have an optimization problem when it comes to using their technology and data to generate meaningful insights. Many of us struggle with how to prioritize our integrated marketing technology, practices and teams in order to generate the kinds of insights (a key output of many of our technology and data solutions) which will move the needle for the business.

There are three factors to this challenge.

  1. Analytics must be integrated with campaign management.
  2. Content must be created to solve problems.
  3. Insights must be scored and prioritized.

First, We Have to Get the Analytics Closer to Our Outbound Messaging. Personalization is the key to successfully creating relevance for each customer, so the analytics can’t happen off to the side. It has to be integrated with our IMM/campaign management solution so that each customer and prospect will be connected with content that is important, and available at a time that will resonate.

We can pretty easily automate our marketing response to insights. Programmatic buying has been around for many years and is expanding beyond search to Web display, ad re-targeting and campaign management (outbound) solutions. The rise of the DMP (or DSP)—platforms which allow utilization of consumer data across websites—provides great benefit to marketers looking to serve customers and prospects as they interact with any combination of owned, earned and paid media. This is helping us identify the anonymous and known people in our marketplace. Yet, the insights from interactions with branded messages across the ecosystem are not yet accessible fast enough or completely enough to allow marketers to be nimble in serving customers. We have to get these programmatic insights back to the main IMM “hub” and the campaign messaging platforms.

We need automation to also serve the process. Marketing operations efficiencies like workflow and social CRM require these insights at scale. While truly integrated IMM on a single platform is nirvana, the marketing technology landscape is huge. Real engagement often requires a few tools that will work together.

Second, Our Content Creation Machines Have to Focus More on What Sells and Our Brand Purpose. Too much content is created simply because it’s interesting. That is not a high enough bar. If your product is water, then the content needs to be all about fire. Content has to create need and speak to the “Why” of what you do, not the “What.” Why brands produce a product is usually about vision, value, need and satisfaction. Look at those heartwarming Super Bowl ads—do Dove products make you a better dad? No. But the brand is about being true to yourself and to celebrating your own personal values. So the advertising content worked.

If 2015 has a theme in marketing, it’s got to be personalization. Of course that means something different now than it did 10 years ago, when we first started really considering what is possible with custom-branded experiences. Effective personalization now means curating the content that will resonate with each customer’s individual needs. Automation technology makes this possible through content blocks and integrated native advertising units.

Third, We Need More Discipline About the Types of Insights That Will Help Us Do More Effective Marketing. I’ve always found in marketing analysis that certain demographics have clear preferences in tone, pace and language when interacting with a sales rep or brand. We can capitalize on these preferences to increase sales and connect the right rep with the right type of customer.

One way to solidify the discipline is to have some sort of mantra or brand promise that is very clear, and so all analytics work can strive to generate insights that are true to that brand promise. Remember the Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 Manifesto? Auditing your landscape of opportunity and focusing on the areas that have the most impact on revenue and market share will help you identify the kinds of insights that are most meaningful for your business.

Granted, this task is complicated by the fact that much of our data is channel-specific and measures the effectiveness of campaigns against previous campaigns. We need more insights around the impact and engagement of individual customers. Silos are still present, and organizational structure can severely limit marketers’ ability to learn about the customer-level engagement. One way to bring the team together is to score insights as they are applied to the business (much as we score leads). Did this move the needle? Have we improved our reach or response? Are key audiences engaged? It’s not just a volume game, but an engagement game with priority, high-value customers.

With these three success factors in mind, marketers can use the technology they have in a test and learn methodology to help better understand how automated insights can grow the business. Once the key drivers are identified, we can start to also assess current technology and pare down the options for improving the integration and efficiency of your organization.

Are you automating the use of insights that help personalize the customer experience? Please share your success factors in the space below.