Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Most Effective Personalization is Invisible

Delivering outstanding experiences to existing and potential customers has become the prime strategic objective for most B2B and B2C marketers. In the 2016 Digital Trends Quarterly Intelligence Briefing by Econsultancy (in association with Adobe), surveyed marketers identified optimizing the customer experience as their most exciting opportunity.

Most marketers now recognize that the ability to personalize marketing messages and other marketing content is an essential requirement for providing great customer experiences. The authors of a 2016 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) used a quotation from Kristin Limkau, the CMO of JPMorgan Chase, to highlight the importance that marketers place on personalization:  "Achieving personalisation at scale is the biggest and most important challenge for us to get right."

But despite the recent focus on personalized marketing, it's clear that marketers have more work to do to make it truly effective. Research has shown that many customers aren't particularly impressed by the personalization efforts they encounter. For example:

  • In a survey by Adobe, 71% of consumers said they like receiving personalized offers, but 20% reported that offers are not done well, and another 20% said that personalization efforts are too intrusive.
  • In other research by EIU, 70% of survey respondents said that many of the personalized messages they receive are annoying because the attempts at personalization are superficial, and 63% said marketing messages that use their name are so common that they have grown numb to the practice. In addition, only 22% of the respondents said that personalized offers are more likely to meet their needs than mass market offers.
Clearly, most of us want companies to provide personalized messages and content, but many of us are becoming more concerned about our privacy, and we feel that some personalization efforts are just plain creepy. When CEB recently asked a panel of nearly 400 consumers how "online ads that use details about what I have done" make them feel, almost three-quarters (73%) of the responses were negative, and almost half (49%) used synonyms for "creepy."

To avoid the "creepy" element and make personalized messages and content more engaging and effective, marketers must keep one critical principle in mind:  The most effective personalization is usually invisible. By invisible, I mean that the personalization is undetectable by the customer or prospect.

Since the early days of personalized marketing, the most common way to personalize a marketing message has been to include specific facts about the recipient in the message. Some examples would be the recipient's name, her job title, company affiliation, or information about a recent purchase. I call this practice explicit or overt personalization.

It's as if we marketers believe that the effectiveness of personalization comes from telling the customer or prospect what we know about him or her. There may have been some truth to this belief several years ago when personalization was still novel, but today, most types of overt personalization are ineffective at best, and can actually be seen as "creepy" by customers or prospects.

What our customers and prospects really want are offers, messages, and content that are relevant to their interests and needs - in other words, something that is useful or valuable. So, we marketers need to stop telling our customers and prospects what we know about them and start using that knowledge to craft marketing content that provides them real value and utility.

Image courtesy of Lisa Lowan via Flickr CC.

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