3 Ways to Make Personalized Marketing a Practice, Not a Goal

Targeting and Personalization


Marketing–the process or technique, not the profession–is a verb for good reason. It represents an ongoing dialogue between brands and their audience. While these conversations change depending on who’s participating in them, they’re constantly evolving and creating a foundational relationship between the two parties.

To create, build, and grow these necessary and meaningful relationships, brands are segmenting their audiences and personalizing their content and campaigns. However, many often settle for a bare-minimum approach, adding a prospect’s first name to sales emails or segmenting customers based on sweeping demographic markers.

In today’s increasingly personalized world, this approach is obvious at best. At worst, it doesn’t lend to a meaningful interaction with a prospect or customer. It can also mislead brands into thinking they are achieving personalization when they’ve only bucketed buyers into a broad segment like “millennials” or “empty nesters.” Such an approach falls short of truly representing individuals, their interests, pain points, and actions.

Communicating with your buyers shouldn’t feel like checking a box or completing a form. Below are three best practices for a holistic, personalized marketing strategy, aimed at building meaningful relationships with buyers at every turn:

1. Find the Right Balance of Overt and Subtle Personalization

Greeting people by their first names in emails is a step toward personalizing marketing efforts, but it’s also the most basic and can be offensive if executed incorrectly–we’ve all received enthusiastic letters or emails from brands that got our names hilariously wrong.

Instead, try balancing overt and subtle personalization strategies. An example of an overt approach is offering special discounts and deals based on unique factors like a subscriber’s birthday or loyalty status. Subtle examples include content that reflects the buyer’s intent rather than identity, or offering educational content based on a customer’s purchase history.

Take a look at this short video by T. Rowe Price that educates account holders about contributing more to their college savings plan and pay attention to the overt and subtle personalization. It greets the account holder by her name and highlights her account contributions to date and expected college tuitions. The subtle personalization varies depending on the account holder’s stage within the customer lifecycle. Customer data is not simply regurgitated back to the account holder in a robotic way. Rather, the value of the message lies in the meaning and intent expressed to the account holder.

Overt personalization works best when the message serves a specific purpose–educating a prospect about a product or service, explaining an offer, or showing your appreciation for specific actions. On the other hand, subtle personalization makes people feel like you genuinely care about them and their interests. Subtle elements often come from personalized content used for specific segments and by presenting the next-best action (which is not synonymous with the next-best offer) driven by their past behaviors. Showing prospects and customers that you see them as more than line items on a spreadsheet can help establish an emotional, lasting connection.

2. Use Design and Creative to Tailor Outreach

Personalization should affect all marketing messages—and all aspects of them. Give equal consideration to how your brand is sending every message and what’s being expressed. Are you relying solely on text or using interactive content? Why did you choose a certain image, animation style, or on-screen text? And ultimately, are you telling a story that the recipient will relate to and find valuable long after they’ve consumed it?

For example, Atlantis Paradise Island Resort sends personalized videos to its customers throughout the booking process. In the videos, the resort highlights the different activities and amenities that every guest can enjoy, making it simple to book plans and create a customized itinerary before stepping off the plane. If a guest is traveling with children, those recommendations will include images and videos of kid-friendly events. If a couple is seeking a romantic getaway, they’ll receive an overview of spa treatments and activities that provide the retreat they’re looking for. In every case, the resort shows its commitment to guest preferences and needs.

3. Strengthen Customer Relationships with Every Interaction

There’s a big difference between a personalized marketing action and a complete strategy. To make a real difference and resonate with your prospects and customers, every interaction should inform and support their buyer’s journey. To pull that off, it’s critical to collect customer data at every interaction and build on future interactions with each new layer of data.

For example, you wouldn’t engage in the same conversation repeatedly with a colleague. Instead, you process each new piece of context about him, his life, family, hobbies, interests and more, and use that information to modify and inform your next conversation. Likewise, in your relationships with prospects and customers, personalization fails when its sole focus is to drive the next conversion or transaction. Rather, each touchpoint should aim to guide your prospect or customer along their journey and help them achieve their goals.

Create a holistic customer profile by overlaying different data such as buyer persona, browsing history, stage in the customer lifecycle, and preferred devices. This snapshot should look like a Venn diagram—an intersection of an individual’s characteristics—that each drive different decisions about what should be sent to them and how. For example, a customer’s tenure can affect how you greet them, a mobile operating system can dictate device imagery, and interests can drive the content shown.

Using all of the data available about a person and adopting a holistic personalized marketing strategy, you can avoid making prospects and customers feel like they’ve been lumped into a generic category. Instead, aim to inspire and inform with every exchange. Additionally, finding and applying the right balance of subtle and overt personalization enhances the customer experience. By continually delivering positive experiences, you’ll drive better relationships with them that result in short-term conversions and long-term loyalty.

What brands are leading the way in personalization? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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