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Personalization Should Be Purposeful

We’ve seen many personalization road maps, and they pretty much end the same way—with an end goal of 100% one-to-one communications.

And while marketing teams frantically try to implement personalization everywhere, all the time, they rarely stop to answer the most basic of questions: What is personalization, and is it really necessary to personalize everything?

In our opinion, personalization doesn’t mean that every single interaction involves use of first names and the tiniest details of customer interactions (e.g., “Thank you, Janet, for purchasing 6 oz. of shampoo at 3:41pm CST, exactly 121 days after your previous purchase of a similar shampoo). That level of personalization is not only nearly impossible to execute, but it’s also extremely creepy.

Instead, our definition of personalization takes a cue from how humans interact with one another. Personalization is essentially about treating people based on the level of your relationship (“familiarity”) and what you know about them (“knowledge”). However, it’s not enough just to act on those data points. It has to be done right, starting with the most basic personalization techniques, like the correct use of your name or preferred communication channel.

Common Barriers To Personalization
The reason personalization often falls short isn’t a lack of customer data, but rather a lack of alignment on personalization priorities across the business. While many leaders may be asked to drive end-to-end customer experience, it’s not uncommon to find siloed and differentiated personalization goals.

This misalignment ultimately creates tension within the organization, where the customer is the victim. Here are some common barriers when it comes to implementing personalization efforts:

  • Unclear priorities (or too many priorities): Personalization efforts often get off to a rocky start because leaders can’t agree on what to do first. Without a personalization vision and road map, it becomes difficult to secure resources or make progress toward one-to-one relationships.
  • Lack of customer definition: Often times a customer is defined by a limited view (transaction versus no transaction), but personalization requires a broader definition that considers customers’ level of engagement and current needs. Not knowing or respecting the type of relationship you have with a customer (and showing them that you understand that relationship) can do more harm than good.
  • Technology as the solution: Marketers often put unnecessary pressure on technology to single-handedly solve for personalization. Although technology can help, customers can sense when it comes across as formulaic and doesn’t feel authentic. In the very worst cases, technology can lead to personalization failures.
  • Garbage in, garbage out: It is equally important to fuel technology with the right data. More often than not, dirty data makes its way to the execution layers. Without proper methods for data management, it’s easy to personalize using incorrect or incomplete data.

Tips For Getting Personalization Off The Ground
Personalization is often thought of as a marketing project, but the reality is that personalization is a shared initiative between marketing, data, and technology teams. This misdirected belief has caused a number of well-intentioned organizations to fall behind in their personalization efforts and has opened a window of opportunity to the competition. Fortunately, there are a few ways to mobilize the team and start making some progress:

  • Align internally and build a road map: This requires a cross-functional approach and a personalization champion who can align business, data, and technology teams. Building a road map will help prioritize personalization efforts at a high level based on channel, reach, and perceived ability for personalization to actually drive meaningful results.
  • Identify use cases across customer touch points: As you go through use cases, determine whether a one-size-fits-all approach is good enough or if a one-to-one relationship is truly warranted. The goal is to enable the ability to be anywhere on this spectrum and to have the freedom to test into the appropriate mix of personalization for each channel.
  • Fail often, learn quickly, adapt: Develop a robust test-and-learn program using a systematic and consistent testing strategy. By not testing, you are throwing away a golden opportunity to learn, improve, and create a differentiated customer experience.

Fortunately, just as in life, not every interaction requires personalization. Reflect on our human relationship example. If you’re having a big party, a single email invitation might be acceptable for spreading the word. However, if you’re having an intimate dinner, a personal phone call would probably work better. 

Marketing communications should follow the same basic principles. It’s OK to reach out to the masses when your message applies broadly to all customers, but personalization makes sense when your message is tailored to a small audience. Over time, personalization can help make customers feel like you really understand them because you tell them what they care about, when they care about it.

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