6 steps for improving personalization to improve marketing results

By Chuck Leddy

Personalization is one of those magical marketing words that we’ve been hearing forever. It should come as no surprise that personalization means different things to different people. In theory, personalization means leveraging all the data marketers have about a particular customer to craft messaging that gets sent to the right person at the right time through the right channels, with every interaction informed by customer data.

In practice, “perfect” personalization remains largely a dream. What marketers have instead is imperfect “personalization initiatives” of varying degrees with varying levels of success. Using a customer’s first name in an email blast to your full list would qualify as the lowest hanging fruit of personalization efforts, while crafting messages informed by a customer’s demographic data plus her purchasing history and channel preferences is a much higher level of personalization. Personalization can thus be viewed as a continuum.

Personalization requires marketing maturity

A recent report from our partners at Adobe Marketo, called Pull Away from the Pack: Six Steps to Taking the Lead with Personalization (report free with registration), describes 6 key steps organizations and marketing teams can take to achieve higher levels of personalization. The report begins by connecting personalization to positive marketing outcomes, including higher rates of conversion, stronger customer engagement and lifetime value, as well as more revenues. “Companies using personalization have increased revenues by between 10 % and 30 %,” the report explains.

But to be effective, personalization requires that organizations coordinate people, processes, customer data and technology. Data management is a key component of success, meaning disparate systems such as CRMs and MAPs must be integrated. Marketing and Sales teams must also align to drive personalization. As the report explains, to achieve more sophisticated, ROI-driving personalization, organizations “need to move past disconnected systems and data, and break down ever-present team silos.” The report maps out 6 steps to reach that level of maturity..

6 steps to personalization success

#1: Clarify the requirements. All personalization initiatives should begin by outlining the strategic goals and how to reach them. If using a customer’s first name in an email improves click-thru rates by 5%, and you want to increase that rate by another 5%, you might consider using additional demographic data, such as the recipient’s location and/or profession/industry. The point here is to map out where you want to go (your goals and KPIs) and how you plan to achieve them, including what data and systems you’ll tap into to support those personalization initiatives.

“It’s important to get specific requirements for personalization initiatives up front,” notes the Adobe Marketo report. “This means working closely with marketers to understand exactly what they want to accomplish” and how they’ll go about accomplishing it. As every wise marketer knows, you should start with the end in mind, then carefully work backwards towards a viable plan.

#2: Design your data layer to support personalization. Data is the fuel that drives all personalization efforts, and pulling customer data together from multiple sources to achieve your goals is the necessary back end. Depending on each personalization initiative, marketers and IT will need to design an architecture whereby the right data is pulled from the relevant place to support personalization. Data stuck in silos is a personalization killer, while integrating systems and pulling together data sources is what personalization requires.

For example, if you wanted the simplest-to-achieve level of personalization, you might pull customer demographic data from your CRM and connect it to your marketing automation platform (MAP) so you could send emails that use the customer’s name and other basic demographic data. For higher levels of personalization, designing this data layer would be more complex, perhaps requiring APIs and other connection tools to pull from multiple systems/sources.

#3: Connect your content layer. Your content must be crafted with enough flexibility to support ongoing personalization efforts, so it can be deployed in a way that integrates personalized customer data. Content creators should be building in space for personalization to happen within every piece of content. As the report explains: “This means creating reusable content snippets and layouts marketers . . . can quickly adapt to any surface, screen, customer, or experience.” Put simply, your data layer and your content layer must work in tandem, feeding each other to fuel personalization.

#4: Open up your integration. Whenever you purchase marketing technology or any system that touches customer data, a key value driver is the capability of those systems to “play nice with others.” Any system that sits as a silo will inhibit your personalization efforts, and should therefore be shunned. Open APIs can help by connecting systems, but the system’s architecture must support such connection. “Personalization at scale can only happen if you have an open ecosystem that allows these systems [CRM, MAP, CMP, etc.] to talk to each other,” says the report. Just as members of your marketing team must work together and coordinate efforts, so must your systems.

#5: Automate with AI. Personalization at scale can’t happen if a large number of processes driving it are done manually. Increasingly, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be deployed to analyze your customer data and transform it into personalized customer engagement. AI, for instance, can be baked into the plans you make in step one above (‘clarify the requirements”). Even better, AI can learn about your customers as it interacts with them to drive increasingly better, smarter personalization. “Automated personalization uses machine learning to create its own rules and deliver the best offers and experiences for each” customer, notes the Marketo report.

#6: Unite your organization. Finally, alignment of people and teams matters, just as technology and data matter. Personalization efforts must have support from the top down and will require business functions and teams from Marketing, Sales, IT, Customer Success/Service, and beyond to work together toward the same goals. “Making personalization work means getting everyone in your organization on board,” says the report. That takes constant communication and cross-functional collaboration.

As the six steps listed above illustrate, personalization initiatives are inherently complex. Getting personalization right requires maturity that embraces technology, data management, people, and more. But the bottom line is this: when done right, personalization drives revenues and fuels business growth. It’s a goal well worth pursuing . . .

Want to learn more about growing your organization’s maturity to support more effective personalization? Reach out to us here.

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