Why Personalization Just Became Mandatory

Segmentation won’t cut it anymore. To win the day, a brand needs to know its customers’ needs at an individual level, before its competitors work that out.

Because content consumption has significantly increased in the past few months and direct-to-consumer channels may be your only ones open for business, your audience is becoming even more discerning about the content that meets their needs. 

CMOs believe a more personalized approach will lead to deeper relationships with customers, higher conversion rates and increased sales. Before March 2020, they also believed personalization served as a defense strategy if they were competing against the likes of Amazon or other direct-to-consumer brands. Now all brands that survive and thrive will have mastered and scaled their own direct-to-consumer strategy.

The consumer gives the brand time and attention. The brand provides content that has utility and interest for the consumer.

Many marketers believe they are well placed to decide what is the right content to serve to customers at each stage of their journey. However, those same marketers barely know the content they hold in their content libraries. They may recall content that’s been created over the past four weeks—maybe 20 pieces of content. 

But what about content that was created three years ago by a previous content team that still does a good job at answering a specific question? When was the last time you conducted a content audit?

The time has come to view personalization as essential to making content decisions. Personalization is a significant step forward in building and maintaining your audience. And that step involves technology, people and processes. 

Personalization goes far beyond including the customer’s name in communications, a mere salutation. It goes beyond customization, where customers do the heavy lifting to tailor their own experience. 

When done well, personalization helps to ensure that the overall experience your customer receives is relevant to his or her needs, wants and desires—either explicitly stated or implied. Advanced personalization delivers content based on the unique characteristics and behaviors of each customer, and in turn delivers individualized content for each person based on his or her content consumption history across channels—and in real time. 

While marketers have been mistaking segmentation for personalization for years, today’s consumers expect personalized content experiences from brands. But advanced personalization should:

  • Personalize content to a segment of one.
  • Be refreshed in real time based on individual profiles.
  • Be updated constantly based on user behaviors and preferences.

Advanced personalization is what experts are dubbing “individualization.” Marketing technology today enables organizations to understand customers as individuals, including their unique preferences and behaviors. Based on these insights, marketers can provide meaningful content experiences for individual users.

Here are the building blocks to have in place that ensure your approach to personalization becomes a long-term improvement:

Vision: Define your vision for content and personalization. Review your customer journeys, identifying where customers’ needs vary and where personalization can help serve up relevant content to different segments or individuals to improve their experiences. Share this vision with internal and external stakeholders to gain feedback and ultimately buy-in.

Pilots: Develop pilots that directly support your most important business objectives. Aim to find success early to build confidence and momentum with personalization.

Large owned audience: The need for first-party data has never been clearer. First-party data allows you to communicate to a significant share of your customers without the need for a media intermediary and away from the company of other advertisers. Owned audiences, and the resulting first-party data, are built through first-class content, because there’s no data unless your customer engages with content. You need to do this fast, because you are at risk of your competitors building first-party data on your customers and then luring them away.

Content operations that can grow: To meet the different needs of customer segments or individuals, your content operations will grow in both quantity and quality. Content is the fuel of personalization, and you will need more content to meet the micro needs of your customers. Personas will remain helpful for high-level strategy and concept development, but they are not meaningful for advanced personalization, where companies like Unilever are driving toward a billion segments of one.

Improved content quality: Answer this question: What is the content that only your brand can provide that would also be genuinely valuable to your audience? Your competitors will also be racing to build owned audiences and their content operations. The winners will find the right audience to meet and deliver that in a distinct and memorable way—just like great advertising. Now is probably not the time to offshore your content efforts to lower your costs. Bring it up close and personal and double down on content talent, whether it be internal or external.

Measure the Return on Personalization

No doubt you have some form of measurement framework in place to evaluate and optimize your content efforts. The move toward personalization should not change your measurement framework. When personalization is done well, it will have an exciting impact on several KPIs:

  • Engagement rates, scroll depth, time spent on page, bounce rates and recirculation
  • Email click-to-open rates
  • Action rates 
  • Brand health metrics

Time spent on content management will drop significantly because gone are those interminable debates about what is the right content to serve up to each customer at various stages of the journey and on each channel. 

Personalization allows for a much richer understanding of customer segments. Segments will proliferate, uncovering which are your friends and which are your acquaintances and friends of friends. The benefits will transcend marketing and be a critical input into product development and supply chain management.

The Role of Technology to Support Personalization

Each technology vendor claims to work either broadly or at a point in the personalization spectrum. Here are the most critical functions and capabilities a personalization platform needs to be most effective:

AI capabilities: Some level of machine learning is necessary, but the most robust platforms leverage natural language processing to create a deep content-based use case (such as deeper engagement with long-form content).

Content specialty: Some solutions refer to “content” as images, buttons and copy on the website. Some might refer to articles and white papers. And others might refer to content more broadly as products and offers. Be sure to understand which content type the vendor is talking about and whether it’s appropriate for your use case.

Personalization methodology: As more brands invest in personalization, many are confusing it with segmentation. There are many types of content personalization, but it’s important to make sure your definition and personalization strategy align with the type the technology vendor delivers.

Data sophistication: Because personalization relies on customer data, make sure you understand which data the vendor is using to make decisions. For example, is your vendor taking in your data, third-party data or creating its own as users engage? Is the vendor open to incorporating the data you have, or does it want to power your personalization initiative?

The Path Forward

The brands that move forward with confidence will gain a long-term competitive advantage from increased engagement and action rates, stronger brand health metrics and a much more intermediate understanding of demand that can inform supply chains. That’s essential.

If you’d like to learn more about how Manifest helps clients establish personalization strategies and roadmaps, please email david.brown@manifest.com.

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