Gartner tells CMOs personalization is dead. Is it?

Misia Tramp

19 February 2020

Personalization has long been a hot topic in marketing. Top of every marketer’s agenda in recent years. But Gartner now predicts 80% of marketers will abandon personalization by 2025. A bold statement. But not one I find myself agreeing with.

Gartner cites lack of ROI, the perils of customer data management, decreasing customer trust, increasing regulation and tech barriers turning marketers off. All are valid issues. But not reason enough to despair and give up.

Instead of abandoning personalization strategies, we should go back to basics and ask: what really makes personalization personal and have marketers been missing the mark with their narrow focus upon data-driven campaigns?

Personalization is dead. Long live personalization.

The concept of personalization pre-dates the current wave of data collection technologies and the ready availability of multitudes of touchpoint and profile data. The best of the services industries have offered individualized experiences for as long as modern memory serves. Long before your PII was ever dunked into a data lake, local shopkeepers knew that remembering your tastes and picking up on previous conversations would keep you coming back to the store. It’s hard to believe that now is the time to step backwards.

If we examine the different barriers marketers blame for the current impasse, it is possible to determine the direction personalization strategies should take in the next five years:

1. If an ROI is lacking, you’re doing something wrong

Many marketers try to engage implicit personalization, using machines and reems of datapoints to individualize each element of a campaign. This data-driven approach to personalization theoretically takes any burden away from the customer. But data-driven is not data-smart. The resulting campaigns often present as low-value, and sometimes creepy. Customers have worked out the mechanics marketers are using: yes, I visited this web page but no I don’t want to be chased across the internet with lookalike offers.

Explicit personalization, on the other hand, empowers the customer by asking for their input. This provides an exchange of value and higher relevance.

A move towards the application of explicit personalization techniques will yield better results and cut dependency on technical solutions to dictate personalization strategies as a function of their available feature capabilities, rather than as a set of deliberate marketing strategy choices.

An understanding of these two different personalization approaches will also encourage a smarter use of personalization technology.

Marketers need to get back into the driving seat. Just because the technology can, doesn’t mean marketers should. A great experience is not determined by collecting together the tallest martech stack.

2. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should be accountable for it

The goal is to be data-smart instead of data-driven. Collecting hundreds of data points on the customer won’t add any value if you treat them with a lack of respect. Customers are more than a collection of cookies being forced through a funnel.

The person at the center of everything seems to have been forgotten in the rush to deploy personalization technology.

Marketers need to get back to strategic decision making. We must see our customers as human first and not just as a collection of data points.

The Metia Insight team is full of bright data scientists using advanced data techniques, but we never lose sight of our true north: the customer. Always put the person and their conversation first.

Understanding the characteristics of a group and their experiences is enough to successfully personalize. If, for example, we know there are six different types of customer group and experiences that address 70% of our need, then target the conversation to these people and create the experiences they want. Forget bombarding them with offers because of an implied intent that is little more than guesswork.

Starting at persona level means you can test and learn, giving your customers a real stake in their experiences instead of having marketers make decisions for them.

3. Build back customer trust (and solve those regulation and tech barrier issues to-boot)

As an agency Metia undertakes many research projects identifying the triggers that drive trust and loyalty in order to define best-of-breed customer experiences. From those projects a few themes recur.

Firstly, we don’t only ask whether the customer is loyal to you. We also ask if you are loyal to the customer?

Are you vested in the relationship long term? Are you listening to the customer? Do you hear and understand the small nuances of their constantly moving conversations? What are the conversational tells that indicate how they are thinking, feeling, behaving?

Instead of over indexing on targeting the person’s profile, target what they want from the conversation with your brand or business. Our projects in and around the topic of Content Resonance explore and answer these points.

Secondly, we often recommend being demonstrably more explicit in data collection. Yes, it is possible to hoover up the detritus of our journeys around the web. But you can also just ask.

Taking a more explicit personalization approach, for example asking customers to make their own choices, gives marketers a more valuable dataset for decisioning. It will also build back customer trust by providing genuine value in exchange for data.

Mistrust in data stems from semi-covert collection, leading to corporate decisions determining what customers should or shouldn’t see. This approach raises hackles. People don’t like missing out and increasingly want to know how, what and why their data is being collected.

Using more explicit methods builds trust and remedies many of the problems of increasing regulation. Customer involvement mitigates many permission issues.

What next? Here’s a checklist

Personalization is not dead. But it does need to change.

Here’s your checklist:
• Take a strategy-led instead of a data-led approach
• Put the conversation first
• Humanize the marketing experience
• Drive the technology (not vice versa)
• Involve the customer in the data collection process

If you’d like to take a more data-smart approach to your personalization, please get in touch.