3 Personalization Principles for Marketers

February 8, 2019
Contributor: Chris Pemberton

Follow these core principles to navigate the complexity of personalization and deliver more effective marketing experiences.

Marketing personalization is hard.

Consumers want more tailored and personalized experiences. Marketers seek to deliver targeted messaging at the right time in the right channel. The goal is to provide experiences that reflect where a customer is in the buying journey. And, the price of getting it wrong is steep.

When marketers don’t use personal data accurately — using too many data dimensions or using the data in a way that seems too personal — the messaging can be seen as creepy. Customers then opt out or stop doing business with the brand. As a result, marketers have many questions when it comes to personalization:

  • What internal and external data should we collect and use?
  • How do we create more versions of our content efficiently?
  • What should our marketing technology stack look like?
  • What skills and staff capabilities do we need to build and buy?

“For the vast majority of marketers, returns on personalization hold many unknowns,” says Martha Mathers, managing vice president, Gartner for Marketers. “Whether they relate to strategy, data, technology, people, content production or distribution, most teams are learning as they go.”

“You don’t need to collect every piece of data imaginable. Instead, collect high-priority data and use it well.”

Despite these unknowns, marketers are forging ahead with investments in personalization. They can turn those unknowns to knowns with Gartner’s three personalization principles. Based on research across thousands of customer and brand data points, the principles help marketers to ground, and grow, an effective personalization program.

Principle No. 1: Focus on key barriers

The top barriers to effective personalization, according to the 2018 State of Personalization Survey, are people, content, data and technology. Sound strategy ensures the program will be grounded in business fundamentals.

  • Data. You don’t need to collect every piece of data imaginable. Instead, collect high-priority data and use it well. For example, marketers at the global consumer products company Clorox found that they needed far fewer data points than previously thought to deliver effective personalized experiences.
  • Technology. Although marketers’ investments in personalization technology have increased by double digits since 2016, much of the technology needed to deliver effective personalized experiences may already be in place. This includes web content management systems, digital commerce engines or email platforms. Leverage the technology you have to learn and build the business case for more sophisticated personalization before investing heavily in new tools.
  • Content. While content is king, it is also an insatiable beast that is getting hungrier with consumer demands for more personalized content experiences. Create personalized content at an “atomic” level. “Atomized” content breaks down messaging into smaller component pieces (atoms) of content, each with a defined message or purpose that contributes to a larger experience.
  • People. Marketing leaders cite staffing challenges — such as upskilling and hiring for needed skills — as key barriers to effective personalization. Marketing’s lack of digital, technology and data analytics skills is often cited as a major impediment to personalization efforts. Build your team’s baseline knowledge of personalization competencies and provide real world collaboration experiences.
  • Strategy. Although it may seem obvious, the complexity and privacy risks inherent in personalization mean that marketers must define a vision for personalization that aligns to market and customer insights. Connect personalization strategy to brand strategy early in the planning cycle. Set a strategy that optimizes ROI and lifetime value, realizing that one-to-one personalization may not be necessary.

Principle No. 2: Walk before you run

It’s important to walk — even if it’s a very slow walk — before you start running. To determine what is right for your brand, test and learn your way from crawl to walk to run. Along the way, identify when the ROI of personalization hits a point of diminishing returns. To carry out the tests, you’ll need the right execution tools, tailored content for the audience and the data to cleanly target those audiences.

“Marketing leaders often aim high without first piloting personalization techniques,” says Jennifer Polk, VP Analyst, Gartner for Marketers.  

Principle No. 3: Develop key competencies for personalization

Marketers typically focus on data and technology to enable successful personalized digital marketing communications. These components are necessary, but on their own are not enough to guarantee significant returns.

People make the difference. Gartner research found that digital talent and skills are key differentiators between average and above-average performance in personalization. Develop staff competencies in four areas related to personalization:

  1. Prioritize personalization opportunities
  2. Produce more content efficiently
  3. Increase knowledge of data and technology
  4. Better understand consumer reactions to personalization

The marketing team at beauty care company L’Oreal USA developed individual and group training modules to build teamwide personalization capabilities and enable effective collaboration with nontraditional stakeholders. The program aimed to give everyone a grounding in the basics of digital and technologies such as data acquisition and content marketing. Training focused heavily on the practical skills and knowledge required for personalized marketing communications, including programmatic buying.

Read more: What Marketing Needs to Know to Hire Top Talent

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