Modern-day customers are a moving target for companies hoping to get their attention and secure more buyers and users. These customers are more knowledgeable than previous generations of clientele, yet they're in a constant state of perusing, and their buying activities are more stagnant.
To gain the customers' attention, more businesses are using technology to broadcast directly. Gone are the days of mass marketing and using one campaign to lure as many prospects as possible. Now, marketing and sales departments are armed with nearly every detail of shopping and surfing habits, and they're using that information to create personalized content and marketing in the hopes of turning prospects into customers.
Content personalization isn't new. The idea dates back decades -- like most technology trends that are beginning to take shape in this modern age. A bevy of new technologies that are making content personalization a reality, combined with a change in strategy by leading businesses on how to market to customers, has made personalized content and one-to-one marketing a priority for companies.
"If you look at the feedback we get from customers, you see there are opportunities to improve the message," said Shawn Martin, associate director and growth hacker at AT&T. "As a brand, you need to recognize better who your customers are and what their needs are. That's the catalyst for personalization."
'It's hard to change behavior'
Shawn Martinassociate director and growth hacker, AT&T
AT&T recently formed a discipline across the company focused on personalization, combining the shift in departmental mindset with the advances in technology to create personalized content. Martin said AT&T licensed Adobe Target three years ago to maximize data from other Adobe products and better complete the picture of its customers.
"You can imagine all this data you have about consumers -- your own first-party data as well as second- or third-party data -- and all of that can be fed into Adobe Target and build sophisticated business rules driven by the marketer," explained Jason Hickey, Adobe Target senior product marketing manager. "We can feed all that data and turn on the AI. We see that as the future of content personalization."
The market for personalized content technology has grown, creating a need for products like Adobe Target or Evergage, a real-time personalization platform.
"The desire for [content personalization] has always been there, but there's been an accumulation of things over the years to make it a reality," Evergage Chief Marketing Officer Andy Zimmerman said. "Between real-time systems, machine learning and big data infrastructure, those all converged over the years and brought us to the point where we can actually do this."
But for a company to realize the benefits of personalized content, it takes more than just plugging in some technology. It requires a change in thought that starts at the executive level and works its way down to individual marketers and sales reps.
"It's hard to change behavior," Zimmerman said. "Instinctively, marketers recognize that personalization has a lot of value. The idea doesn't suffer from a challenge of buying into that value, but the challenge can be that companies think they're not ready. They're not sure if they have the right content or right skills."
What companies don't realize, he added, is that if they have a marketing department deploying email marketing, account-based marketing or any other modern form of marketing, then they have the data and wherewithal to achieve content personalization.
Focus on engagement
Even though the correct technology and methodology may be in place, personalized content could still exist as a pipe dream if companies are too concerned about conversion instead of engagement. "The idea of personalization is appealing, but it's a matter of how you get it off the ground," said Asim Shaikh, senior manager of global e-commerce, web optimization and personalization at Lenovo. "Content personalization is built on engagement. It's not a short-term play. Companies are asking themselves, 'Should we focus on driving conversion?' or 'Should we focus on engagement?'"
Lenovo is a global producer of laptops and personal computers and licenses Evergage to assist with its personalization goals. "One challenge we had is we have about 5,000 SKUs on the site, and some of the products can be used if you're a businessperson or a student," Shaikh explained. "But if a customer can't find a product to buy or learn more about it, then you may lose them. That led us to thinking about personalization more seriously. Customers are all in different points of their buying journey."
Asim Shaikhsenior manager of global e-commerce, web optimization and personalization, Lenovo
Shaikh and others at Lenovo began using personalized content to match the right products with the right customers -- knowing that customers have already done research about what they want. Simply put, Shaikh said, when it comes to content personalization, it's not always about closing the sale.
"One of the biggest challenges is a company can be too focused on driving conversion and how to sell more," he noted. "This doesn't come naturally. You need to build yourself out and show the engagement and the learning and have some experimentation."
Experimentation, however, is a difficult step to take when it comes to a company's bottom line, but that's exactly Shaikh's point. "Content personalization isn't about trying to sell," he said. "We're here to help customers navigate."