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Are you fooling yourself when it comes to personalization?

Personalizing the customer experience is the most important trend for marketers in 2018, says Serai Schueller. She provides three ways to avoid any adverse side effects

As a B2B marketer, you know personalization is important. If you can tailor your messaging, content, and interactions to suit your unique audiences, you’ll improve their overall customer experience. And, according to our 2018 Connectivity Report – where we conducted 32 interviews and 506 online surveys with marketers – 'personalizing the customer experience' is the most important trend for marketers in 2018.

But, personalization can mean many things to different people. While some organizations have it all figured out, others might be missing the mark without even realizing it. So, perhaps the most burning question is: What does personalization really mean, and are we pulling the wool over our eyes thinking we’re achieving it? 

Personalization goes deeper than inserting a name or saying 'you'

Personalizing the experiences you create for your customers goes beyond addressing them by name in an email or using 'you' or 'your' in communications. It’s about delivering experiences throughout a customer’s journey that feel tailor-made for the individual. It’s about taking the information you know about a customer or customer group and using it to give them what they need, when and how they need it.

Furthermore, personalization has to do with your ability as a B2B marketer to tap into the emotions of it all. You must leave people with that coveted someone-gets-me feeling. The way you engage them and the content you deliver needs to make them feel important, special, and heard – like you read their mind and you’re here to help.

So, what does this look like in action? Take Netflix, for example. They’ve managed to create experiences for their customers that cater to the likes, dislikes, and consumption patterns of individual subscribers. Customers receive personalized recommendations and unique options based on their preferences. And while you, as a B2B organization, may not have the resources or big data that Netflix has, you can certainly achieve this on some level. It’s about solving the 'rabbit in the hole' problem. Based on what you know about your audiences, you can refine their experiences, and avoid inundating them with every single content option. You don’t want to send them down a path just for the sake of it. Rather, you want to serve them what they need at the time they need it.

Are your personalization efforts headed in the right direction?

No matter how well-intentioned, it’s easy for personalization efforts to take a wrong turn. You can easily draw incorrect conclusions about what your audiences need and serve them content that’s entirely ill-suited. Or, you can fall victim to another, less-obvious risk of personalization known as the echo-chamber effect.

An echo chamber describes a situation where existing views and beliefs are reinforced by repeated conversations and actions within an isolated environment. On first glance, this might not seem like such a bad thing. Your audiences like, share, engage, or provide feedback. And, in turn, you give them the kind of content they crave.

But, herein lies the problem: Over time, audience groups only end up seeing the content that already appeals to them. They aren’t challenged to think differently or try something new. Their world is smaller, and you’re only serving them a narrow slice of the greater possibilities. Without realizing it, you could be missing other opportunities and angles to reach them with your marketing. And, on the flip side, they could be missing out on valuable solutions or information they need.

How can you achieve personalization without the adverse side effects?

The stakes of getting personalization right are high. If you consistently deliver content that doesn’t resonate with your audiences, you risk annoying, confusing, or even losing them forever. But get it right, and the rewards are plentiful. According to a team of researchers at global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, personalization delivers five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend, and can lift sales by 10% or more. So, how do you reap the benefits of personalization without falling victim to negative consequences like the echo-chamber effect? Here are a few tips that’ll help:

1. Create personas

The better you understand your audience, the better you can deliver personalized experiences that ignite action. By developing personas, or semi-fictional descriptions of an ideal audience group, you force yourself to articulate the most important details about your target audience. You challenge yourself to think from an audience’s point of view, speak in their language, and elevate the things they care about. 

Creating personas doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking – a little reverse engineering will help you get at what you need. First, get a lay of the land. Look at a sample of your audience. Who are they? What content do they consume? And, what actions do they take? Based on the patterns you identify, group audiences with similar mindsets together. Then, keeping it top-level, document persona details such as who they are (i.e. job titles), what they care about (i.e. big picture versus tactics), what motivates them, and what challenges they face. Remember, your personas need to be broad enough to stand the test of time but detailed enough to facilitate personalization.

2. Put personalization at the heart of your content strategy

A content strategy that doesn’t consider the needs and wants of your audiences isn’t really a content strategy at all. To create a content strategy that’s actually useful, you need to think about the relationship between your content, your business goals, and the user experience. How can your content help you deliver on both experience and your goals? And furthermore, what does this experience need to look like? According to our Connectivity Report research, a good customer experience must first and foremost be relevant. So, how can you use your content to create relevant experiences for your audiences that help you achieve your business goals?

Before you can begin to document your content strategy, you must go back to the buying journey. By mapping where your customers are and where they are headed, you can figure out what content to create, how often, and at where to deliver it. With these insights in mind, put together a content strategy that outlines your goals, audiences, and how you’ll reach them.

3. Involve machines and humans

Technology doesn’t only help you deliver personalization at scale. It helps you understand if you’re delivering the right messages and content to the right people. Analyze the data from your platforms to determine where you’re losing or winning attention, and what content resonates with whom. But, don’t rely on one data stream to guide all of your marketing decisions. Review platform analytics from multiple sources, looking at different types of data across multiple channels. And, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! So, dig deeper.

Anecdotal data can also help. Use it to validate your assumptions or to prove or disprove conclusions you’ve drawn from quantitative data. And, while hard data is critical in guiding your personalization efforts, you also need to involve a human element. Listen to both positive and negative feedback from your audiences. Talk to your teams about what they are hearing from persona groups. And, always revisit and update your personas and strategies based on what you learn along the way. Nothing is set in stone!

Is ignorance really bliss? 

Creating quality content that’s on brand is challenging on its own, but bringing your customer into the mix makes it even harder. And, as much as you know that personalization is a key element in creating relevant, positive customer experiences, it’s more important to get it right. Take it step-by-step. Lay the groundwork and do your homework. Work up to a level of personalization that your customers need. And, always (always!) question if you’re headed down the right path. Because believing you’re achieving personalization is far different from actually achieving it.

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