personalized marketing

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Great. Another newsletter I don’t remember subscribing to just sent me a weekly update. Normally, I don’t see these emails come in, because SaneBox spirits them away to the “SaneLater” folder, never to be seen again, but this one happened to come in while I was refreshing my mailbox.

“Ugh,” I think, and tag it “SaneBlackHole,” which is basically passive aggressive way to unsubscribe without unsubscribing.

Then I click the next email, which is also a newsletter. This one’s from Chris Brogan, whose emails I read in their entirety most every week. Why his?

Why do some emails go unread while we open others and immediately act on them? Why do some ads strike us as annoying and disruptive, while others are so on-point that we’re a little creeped out? The answer: relevance and personalization.

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There’s Power in Getting Personal

Personalized marketing involves targeting your messages, products or services to an individual customer based on data you’ve collected about them (or about a like-minded group of customers).

Armed with this information, you can design marketing messages highly relevant to that audience segment. You might even roll out products and services more in line with that group’s preferences.

Sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. You probably already have the data you need to start tailoring your marketing communications.

Kiki Burton, senior manager of product strategy at Adobe, says that many companies are sitting on an “untapped goldmine” of first-party data about their customers. “There’s a huge expectation in the industry that you’re going to have to go and buy all this data…to make sure you have robust audiences,” explains Burton. “While there’s some data sets that you might need to purchase,” she says, “so often, customers are sitting on a goldmine of first-party data that’s just sitting there untapped.”

And yet only 31 percent of marketers use data to enhance the customer experience. They might make more of an effort if they realized how much better their return on marketing investment could be with some tailoring.

Personalized Marketing Pays

Email, wrongly pronounced “dead” multiple times over the past few years, continues to best other channels in terms of ROI. Add personalization, and the future of email looks even brighter: 90 percent of marketers report increases in email open and click-through rates as the result of personalization. (Five percent of respondents reported a 70 percent increase in open rates.)

Research by McKinsey & Company found that “personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend, and can lift sales by ten percent or more.”

So personalization pays, but what, specifically, are we talking about doing? Anything that makes use of customer or audience data to create more relevant, targeted messaging.

Personalization might mean segmenting your audience based on lifestyle or interest, so that you can design more relevant emails or advertisements.

Personalization might mean creating messages specific to users who are logged into your website, offering tutorials or related information on what they’re trying to do based on their actions on your site.

It could even be as simple as personalizing the send times on your emails. BustedTees increased email revenue 8 percent simply by segmenting its audience by time zone, then delivering emails at an appropriate time for each segment.

For companies using mobile apps, personalization might mean A/B testing numerous variables so you can identify what’s causing customer churn and improve your retention rates.

Personalization has even breathed new life into another industry that’s widely reported dead: publishing. “Winnipeg Free Press, a 143-year-old publisher, used curation to individualize which content displayed on their home page,” says Lauren Pedersen, vice president at SaaS company Cxense.

“Winnipeg Free Press saw an 87 percent increase in average page views per user, and user duration increased 124 percent,” according to Pedersen.

Tips for Personalizing Your Marketing

By now, you’re probably sold on the idea of personalized marketing, but where should you start?

First, determine what data you already have. Burton at Adobe recommends doing a full inventory of the data you currently have, identifying the data elements most relevant for your needs, and incorporating into a data management plan.

“Then,” Burton explains” you can start to see where the specific gaps are…then develop a strategy to purchase or acquire that data through second- and third-party relationships.”

After you’ve turned your data into insight about your audience, you can create audience segments who share common interests. For example, you might group everyone who works at Salesforce, so that when someone from SalesForce visits your site, they see a custom message.

Write messages that are more narrowly targeted, then send those different messages to different audience segments to increase your email ROI. Or keep it simple, as BustedTees did, and simply adjust your send time based on time zone.

Tools for personalizing your marketing abound, from customer relationship management software with marketing automation, email providers offering segmentation and A/B testing, software for personalizing e-commerce and retail sites, and more. (Ian Cleary’s RazorSocial blog compares a wide variety of automation tools, if you want to start researching.)

The possibilities truly are limitless, and predictive analytics could take this science even further, creating hypertargeted customer experiences and bringing marketing ROI to a whole new level.

Just don’t take it too far, or you might creep people out. No one likes brands to get too personal, so try to stay on the right side of the customized / creepy line.

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Instructional Design Manager, Enterprise Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Google+ and Twitter.

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