Hello First Name

by Frank Delmelle - February 11, 2016

5 Pointers To Tackle The Triple #Personalization Paradox

Image title

“The marketing industry has been promising personalization at scale for the past 20 years. Expecting a machine to generate the perfect personalized experience, however, remains a fool’s errand,” a three-headed committee of Analytics Directors at McKinsey told HBR, last November.

So far, “7% of consumers receiving personalized offers – via email, display ads, social networks and mobile – say offers are relevant regularly or all of the time,” according to The Lytics State of Marketing Report 2015.

If we’re to figure out this year’s Great Leap Forward on the personalization front, perhaps these three ‘personalization paradoxes’ are an interesting place to start:

  • Paradox #1. While paramount to cure the sheer saturation of inboxes and social feeds - see, for example, the Twitterverse’s recent ‘algorithm anxiety’ - personalization requires content in an even more vast variety to cater for individual needs and tastes.
  • Paradox #2. The closer marketers get, it seems, the more likely they are to miss the mark: success recipes to ensure messages fall on the right ears at the right time definitely grow longer as conversations get more intimate.
  • Paradox #3. Consumers seem to suffer from some sort of Catullus 85 Complex when it comes to personalization: they hate and they love personalization to a very similar extent: “39% of consumers say they get frustrated when retailers don't offer personalized recommendations; 38% say the same about personalized offers.”

Here are five takeaways from our experimenting at These Days that might help to proceed beyond the fool’s errand mentioned above.

1. Personalize As A Service (PAAS)

If we’re ever going to be comfortable with our ovens, thermostats, phones etc. spying on us, we’d better be getting a ‘fair value exchange’ in return indeed.

Microsoft’s “personal assistant” Cortana, for example, “knows your schedule, your whereabouts and alerts you when you need to leave by monitoring traffic.”

Likewise, the personalized food discovery platform Yummly – dubbed the Netflix of Food – “connects people with recipes and other food content that matches their personal and dietary tastes.” Yummly staff receive personal thank you notes in return, by the way, on top of the quantitative ROI.

Personalization at its best is a problem solver, a relevant, tailored service.

2. Pinch Your Personae

‘Raise your hand if you’ve ever met a customer persona in real life…’ Chances are you never have shaken hands with a persona. Here’s why personae often prove a stumbling block between you and your future stellar personalization practices: “A reason that personalization can be ineffective is that the content triggered to the visitor is predefined based on a persona they may fit, rather than the actual indications of their wants or needs.”

If you’re not ready to say farewell to your personae, pinch the abstract customer profiles you’ve crafted – add some extra data and/or empathy? – or at least make sure they are ‘Both Flesh and Not’.

3. Personalize Politely

Image title

“Across almost every industry studied, including the recipient’s name in the email subject line increased open rates – some by as much as 42%,” according to KissMetrics. “Hubspot, for its part, confirmed first names in subject lines tend to increase open rates, whereas Mailchimp found there was no significant difference.”

Open rates, of course, tell only one part of the story. The stats above certainly didn’t stop me from unsubscribing to the mail depicted, after receiving such a ‘personalized message’ every other day. ‘Robert’ made me want to reply something like “Dear Bot, How about ‘Hi Frank-ing’ me after we’ve met?” “When you hear your name too much, it starts to sound insincere.”

Successful cases, it appears, are often characterized by courtesy, politeness or even patience: they do not ‘first name’ in the opening line, but rather personalize ‘post task completion’.

SalesCycle, for example, reports that abandoned cart emails have a 46.1% average open rate, and average order value from abandoned cart emails is 19% higher than typical orders.

‘Abandoned article emails’ - gentle reminders to re-engage with a great read you left behind - are another way to personalize without ‘giving peeps the creeps’ or even have them convey “retargeting’s OK”.

As a parameter for personalization success, courtesy furthermore seems to include some degree of transparency and/or (co-)control: “Bring the customer into the personalization process so they have some control over the situation and don’t feel like they’re being spied on.” See also Facebook’s latest algorithm, which still allows to “manually choose friends whose updates you see first.”

Netflix, a.k.a. ‘House of Data’, took this (sense of) shared control to a next level many years ago, by the way, and still is effectively co-creating their “highly regarded” recommendation algorithm today.

4. Profile Your Content

“It’s not enough to gather insights, even at a massive scale,” says a recent reminder by the McKinsey ‘triumvirate’ quoted above. “The organization has to be able to act smartly on those insights and therefore needs a.o. “a lot of very good content”:

“Content fuels personalization — and someone needs to develop and organize it. You don’t want your “robots” to guide people to stale, irrelevant, or low-quality content. This puts a significant onus on developing a strong content “supply chain” fed by designers, copywriters, animators, and videographers. All content attributes can and should be tested regularly—to refine look and tone, calls to action, and the value proposition.”

Content is probably the most often overlooked component of the “unified data ecosystem” enabling personalization. A vital key to personalization success is, nonetheless, to be found in your CMS. If your messages are to be tailored and meaningful in a one-to-one conversation, you are going to need a massive amount of them and they’ll have to be tagged / calendared ex-ten-sive-ly.

“Onus” that implies, indeed, as we’re experiencing at These Days, on the occasion of content profiling tracks in progress for a.o. Pioneer DJ and Bridgestone Europe, even in spite of wonderful toolsets such as Sitecore’s.

“Many marketers are still struggling to curate relevant content for their audience,” an Editorial VB Insight webinar sponsored by Boomtrain recently highlighted. (…) For encouraging content profiling inspiration, have a look at last.fm, for example, “surfacing all of their listening data and music in new and more relevant ways to offer the strongest personalised music recommendations around” or at Outbrain’s new ‘Custom Audiences’ product, enabling marketers to “retarget website visitors with valuable content.”

5. Follow Through

Success factor number five, finally, would be to consider personalization as part of ‘the long game’. In the words of Adobe Target’s Head of Product Marketing Kevin Lindsay: “There’s more to building a relationship than simply triggering." (…) If personalization is to contribute to a long-term, high-value relationship – tomorrow, next week and next month – we’ll need to do better than – “If you bought shoes, you might also like socks” – keep our audiences in endless loops.

“Saying you’re going to do personalization and not follow through is a common mistake,” says Yummly COO Brian Witlin. “You have people fill things out or share information, but they don’t get results that make it clear that what they just shared has any benefit to them.”

“Following a purchase, consumers don’t want the hard sell for another purchase – even if the suggested next product or service is perfectly tailored for them. Instead, marketers should provide consumers content that fits their individual buying profiles and help them make the most of their lives,” says Jim Dicso, President of ‘audience of one’ agency SundaySky, who sees a ‘marketing paradigm shift’ from next best offer to next best action

As long as Amazon can mistake the soberest of my colleagues for a marijuana maniac, however, because he’s bought a gourmet coffee weighing scale, I will be tempted to conclude chances are homo sapiens will remain too capricious a creature for even the fittest algorithm to ever entirely figure out.

Image title

If even Netflix, in spite of unprecedented computing power and massive amounts of data, is still humbled by “unpredictable consumer tastes” (including the taste for serendipitous discovery or‘binging out of the box), personalization will very probably remain work in progress for a while.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue trying to get it right, of course. Personalization, after all, is believed to “deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend” (by those same Directors at McKinsey) and probably our best shot at an actual ‘Rock Around The Content Shock.’

Frank Delmelle

Content Strategist