Commentary

Personalize -- But With Purpose

I recently drove by a billboard addressed to a “Guy-Stuck-n-Traffic,” which stayed with me for all the wrong reasons. The message aimed to build a deeper connection with passersby, but it missed its mark — I wasn’t stuck in traffic at all. As I zoomed by, it occurred to me that, though the pressure to personalize marketing is increasing across all channels, marketers are missing a roadmap for success.

For a long time, personalization was the domain of digital while TV, radio and outdoor ads continued to speak to broader audiences. But today’s constantly connected audiences and the increase in clutter have made it really difficult to capture consumer attention. As mass marketing messages fail to make an impact, it’s no surprise that traditional marketers are enticed by personalization. It’s a promising path — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get right.

Personalization is more than a box to check; it serves to make a campaign more relevant to its audience. When marketing to a broad audience, though, personalization requires a “blunt” approach: you need to find a way to increase relevance without alienating valuable segments of your audience.

Consider the “Guy-Stuck-n-Traffic” billboard. The message could have invoked other details that are not only specific, like traffic conditions and gender, but also reliable. Are drivers on a curvy street? Is there a majestic mountain vista? Is the neighborhood known for its restaurants? Even simply acknowledging that the audience is in a vehicle would have resulted in a more personal and inclusive experience.

Another blunt personalization tactic is to give choice. Snickers’ mood packaging asks consumers to choose a wrapper that reflects any number of mindsets — they can be “snippy,” “feisty,” “spacey” and so on. It’s a win-win: the brand connects on an emotional level without alienating potential snackers.

Along the same lines, Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machines let you choose if you want your beverage vanilla, fruity, caffeinated, diet and so on. By giving consumers agency, these brands get the benefits of personalization without risk of losing relevance.

Blunt personalization offers brands a way to build deeper connections in static environments, but it’s also clear that dynamic, data-driven targeting isn’t just for digital anymore. You’ve likely read about Google’s outdoor ads  and smart billboards that can target gender or car model.

Similarly, as digital and mobile encroach further on TV ad spend, there will be a greater demand for personalized TV spots. Traditional tech is catching up to digital and blurring the lines between the two along the way.

You can see personalization in product development, too. An AI-powered T-shirt business, for example, sold millions by targeting micro-audiences like “mothers who listen to Iron Maiden born in August,” while a Harvard professor built a system that uses deep learning to invent new drug compounds.

Nestle recently launched a nutrition program that builds custom programs based on "artificial intelligence, DNA testing and the modern obsession with Instagramming food,” according to a report in Bloomberg.

The ante for precision has been upped everywhere.

One of the underrated benefits of personalization is the ability to reach consumers based not just on who they are, but how attentive they are when you engage them.

In analyzing more than 20 different campaigns where the primary KPI was store visits, we found that ads optimized based on attention had a 14% higher visit-conversion rate.

It’s more subtle than, say, gender-specific copy, but this kind of personalization helps brands adapt to the nuances of mobile behavior.

It will never be easy to cut through the noise of 10,000 brand messages a day, but marketers who embrace personalization are more likely to capture positive consumer attention. The key is to aim for relevance, while also understanding where your best opportunities lie on the spectrum of personalization.

If you do it right, you’ll spark a valuable connection with your audience: one that results in opportunity instead of an article about how to avoid misfires.

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