It wasn't that long ago that mass marketing was the way to reach consumers: Cast a wide net into the lake, and you're bound to get a bite.
That's changing as brands can identify individual details about their customers and use them to create personalized pitches to increasingly tech-savvy customers. Data tools enabling personalization affect marketing strategy, too, pushing organizations to address individual preferences to make sales more likely.
For organizations that use technology to add a personalized touch to their marketing or selling process after harvesting detailed data on their customers, there is a line between positive sales messages and the invasive.
"I'm convinced that personalization is a great idea, but it's really easy to make it feel weird," said Lance Cummins, founder of Nectafy, a B2B data and content strategy company. "I've been to sites where they use my name in the copy, but it feels strange. You want the feeling that it's anonymous, even though we know you're tracking everything we do."
Personalization technology is growing
Personalization is something that consumers are asking for. Most consumers volunteer the data they provide companies and, in return, demand a more catered experience.
According to Acquia's 2019 Customer Experience Trends Report, 61% of consumers feel that brands that should know them simply don't. Some 78% of consumers indicated they would be more loyal to brands that understand them through previous interactions. And nearly half of the global consumers surveyed said brands they engage with don't meet expectations for a good customer experience (CX).
"One thing we keep hearing from customers and partners is that the generic experience is no longer enough to please the customer experience," said Lynne Capozzi, chief marketing officer at Acquia. "There's been a huge increase in the past 12 to 18 months around personalization."
Lance CumminsFounder, Nectafy
The personalization technology market is growing, as web content management (WCM), marketing software and sales software providers all race to build those capabilities into their platforms. Acquia, one of the largest WCM platforms, offers Acquia Lift, a personalization engine for marketing content. Other vendors, such as HubSpot, Evergage, Salesforce, Adobe and Emarsys, promise better personalization capabilities in the near term. And there are aspects of personalization technology that can help companies like Nectafy make the CX more seamless for prospects without crossing that creepy line.
Not every company will have the capacity to deploy personalization software, however. Larger companies may be able to use personalization technology to separate good prospects from general web traffic noise. Smaller companies often can add a personal, human interaction with their leads without the assistance of sophisticated, AI-embedded personalization technology, because they're working with fewer leads.
Cummins licensed HubSpot CMS in October 2018, mainly for simplicity, but it also offered a chance to add some personalization to Nectafy's marketing. Using the Smart Content feature within HubSpot CMS, if a prospect has already given Nectafy data, such as contact information, Nectafy offers its content without requiring re-entry of that data in forms.
"We're using the Smart Content feature for a better user experience, and we may sacrifice a little bit of data," Cummins said.
A company the size of Nectafy -- a small marketing agency -- doesn't need to license sophisticated, expensive AI software to help with personalization when its team can handle the interactions on its own, Cummins said.
"Companies dealing with a huge volume of noise -- using personalization technology to sort out the real people from the noise is valuable," Cummins said. "At Nectafy, we have the time and luxury to look at every lead that [larger] enterprises don't have."
'You see so many industries looking at personalization'
Personalization isn't industry-specific. More B2C and B2B organizations are trying to figure out how to better market to its prospects, and the adoption of both account-based marketing and personalized marketing is rising.
And the technology is making personalization a more viable option. According to the same Acquia report, 81% of marketers surveyed believe that AI-powered innovations will improve interactions with their brands, while 77% are intent to make AI and machine learning part of their marketing strategy in the next year.
"You see so many industries looking at personalization," Capozzi said.
Capozzi outlined three stages that organizations are typically at when trying to implement personalization technology. The "crawling" stage starts when an organization is still gathering customer data and trying to build a customer profile. The "walking" stage comes once an organization has that data and involves figuring out how to remove the silos and integrate the data. During the "running" stage, companies can act on the insights customer data provides.
"What we see with the tech stack that marketers have is they want to integrate data and they want to do that with personalization," Capozzi said.
Too much personalization possible
There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to personalization. It's hard to describe, but most of us know it when we see it -- an ad that chases us around the web, appearing on multiple sites and even social media, showcasing a product one has only talked about with a friend.
"It's important for people to realize there's a dichotomy. Some people don't like personalization and find it intrusive," said Bruce Eppinger, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "I don't think it's awesome when I see a brand sending me an email with crap to buy when I didn't ask for it."
Customers are looking for consent when dealing with personalized marketing. When customers initiate interactions and transfer data to your organization in order to market to them more effectively, then no problem. But no one likes to be blindsided by ads so well-targeted that they start to wonder whether a company is spying on them.
"It's about making that customer experience the best and most relevant it can be with consumer privacy," Capozzi said. "It's about the balance between privacy and personalization."