When Personalization Doesn't Work

After the holidays is usually the time you are likely scrambling to recover where you didn’t quite deliver in the past year.

We should all remember, there is a fine line between marketing brilliance — and having to walk into your boss’s office and explain a poor customer digital experience that went viral.

Sometimes the problem could be a personalization attempt that went awry.

The concept of contextually relevant brand messages is the basis for how the email industry grew up, from mail merge to dynamic personalization and recommendation engines. Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen personalization deliver amazing lift, and I’d confidently say it’s a best practice for most. 

From database-driven personalization of consumer information to collaborative and content-based filtering, the options are virtually endless to deliver that “perfect” message or experience to one — or one million.

But does it always work? That’s tough question to answer directly, as it would be blasphemy to suggest that attempts to use customer data to personalize an experience don’t always help.



But let’s start with the dark side of when it doesn’t pay off:
-- When your have more customer segments than you have customers.
--When {FNAME} is used in a subject line with the terms “Cheap,”  “Below Market” or “Reduced.”
-- When the account balance is 0.
-- When your daughter gets email promotions for diapers.
-- When you can’t measure the outcome without looking down.

Personalization does pay off when:
-- The brand’s email and site-side personalization are in sync.
-- Your customer loyalty program drives over half your revenue.
-- You know the name Loren is both male and female
-- You recognize the difference between an iPad, Iphone and iMac email experience
-- You have more creative production people than email marketing managers.

Personalization and recommendations is so intertwined these days, you have to look at it differently.    

A few things to think about when it comes to recommendations:

You are not Amazon, Pandora, Google or Facebook.   You will never have the breadth of personal, performance, or preference data as these leaders, or the real-time requirement to deliver against it.   Real time should mean “near” real time to you.   The more programmatic you become,  the larger the propensity to make mistakes or deliver non-relevant “default” experiences to the 30% of your database you don’t have good data on.  You should think hard about the trade-offs of performance to errors, and what is the risk tolerance your organization can live with.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have the data and the type of brand that prides itself on a connected experience, use it to the best of your ability and try to bend lasers. Just don’t try to outsmart yourself or take too big a bite.   A rule of thumb when in this mode:  If you can’t QA it at the same pace as you create it, you likely shouldn’t take it on a long trip or try to break the speed limit.

1 comment about "When Personalization Doesn't Work".
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  1. Justin Foster from Liveclicker, January 10, 2017 at 6:02 p.m.

    You are absolutely right.  Loren IS both a male and female name. 

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