Should Marketers Give Up On Personalization?

A recent Gartner article reported:

By 2025, 80% of marketers who have invested in personalization will abandon their efforts.

Predicts 2020: Marketers, They’re Just Not That Into You.

Now, this may seem a somewhat alarmist point of view, but what’s missing is the context, and I think it’s this…

It’s a fairly universal truth that the difficulty of a task is measured in relation to the tools and resources at one’s disposal. For example, digging a ditch with a teaspoon is an infinitely more miserable experience than with a backhoe. In a similar fashion, using outdated, legacy data platforms and messaging solutions to drive your personalization strategy is much more costly and difficult than it needs to be. This point of view seems supported by the fact that, when asked, marketers cited, lack of ROI, the perils of data management, or both, as their primary reasons for giving up.

It isn’t surprising. Personalization is hard, and a lot of things need to come together in a symphony for it to be done both effectively and efficiently. As with many aspects of business, successful execution of marketing strategy comes at the intersection of three critical components; People, Process, and Technology, and difficulties arise when those components don’t—or can’t—keep pace with one another.

Personalization: People

Let’s start with People: Meaningful and effective personalization begins with having the right intent, to put the customer at the center of a value-centric narrative. No amount of AI, predictive analytics or automation can replace the most important factor in communications: EQ. So, having the right people, with the right mindset, is foundational. 

Personalization: Process

Next, let’s look at Process. An ideal campaign process should be considerate of the goals, requirements, input, and timelines of each contributor, and allow teams to work in the manner in which they are most confident, comfortable and effective. But too many marketers are forced to compromise, finding their processes restricted and dictated by the shortcomings of their marketing tools and platforms. Process should serve the team, not the other way around.

Personalization: Technology

Lastly, let’s talk about Technology. Your marketing platforms and tools should be a fulcrum of enablement, a force multiplier, not a factor of limitation. Personalization requires that marketers know their customers, and knowing your customers requires data…a lot of data, from many sources, collected and updated continually. Merely having the data isn’t nearly enough. It’s the ability to quickly access and sift actionable insights from the data that allows marketers to deliver personalized messaging that maintains both the pace and context of today’s customer experiences. 

Many of the most familiar and trusted platforms struggle to meet the ever-increasing demands challenging the modern marketer. Data stored in older tablular structures (relational or otherwise), is inherently more difficult (and/or expensive) to store, scale, update and query than data in non-tablular structures, such as arrays.

Most legacy messaging platforms use a SQL-based database, requiring that marketers either know SQL, or forcing them to relinquish control of their queries and segmentation to IT or Engineering. Lastly, these older platforms typically update their data via nightly ETLs and refreshes, restricting marketers’ ability to deliver messaging that is relevant and timely.

Presenting Iterable

By contrast, modern platforms such as Iterable, use more scalable NoSQL data structures, allowing for real-time data streams and API connections from multiple sources concurrently. Such data structures are inherently faster to segment and easier to access to drive personalization elements, significantly reducing the time and opportunity cost of building and launching campaigns. 

Built more recently than their more tenured competitors, most of these platforms also natively include or support multiple communication channels, such as email, mobile push, in-app, SMS, browser push, social retargeting and direct mail, empowering marketers to more easily deliver a single continuum of experience as consumers move their experience across brand channels and touchpoints. 

While these solutions can flatten the curve of program sophistication and shorten marketing’s time-to-value, adoption has been rather slow among larger or long-standing brands, who are traditionally more conservative and risk-averse. Thus, much of the advantage has shifted to new or emerging brands that carry very little legacy technical baggage or emotional trauma.

Consumers aren’t likely to let go of their expectations of value, convenience and experience anytime soon. In fact, history teaches us that those expectations are only likely to grow. Abandoning your personalization strategy makes no sense in a crowded marketplace, at a time where customer experience is arguably any marketer’s best opportunity to deliver and differentiate their brand value, especially as there are plenty of viable alternatives available. 

Here are five commitments that marketers and their organizations can make to help them through a successful evolution:

  1. Define the experience you want to deliver. Let that be the compass point for all else.
  2. Agree that change is necessary and commit to it.
  3. Evaluate solutions that may be new or unfamiliar. 
  4. Decide that the reward of the outcome is greater than the perceived risks.
  5. Let the people define the process; let the process set the requirements for technology.

Marketers have to dig the ditch, but you don’t have to use a teaspoon.

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