"If there is one thing you can learn about marketing," writes Sari Gabbay, "it's that just because you create a service or product, and it came from your vision this does not mean that you are your target audience." ["You are not your target audience," Huffinton Post The Blog, 10 July 2013] She continues:
"Knowing who you are marketing to is CRUCIAL to your business's success. What you may perceive as innovative and cool, or what you may respond to in terms of communication may never be what resonates with your potential clients or buyers. So many times business owners make the HUGE mistake of thinking that how they perceive the world is exactly how their audience will perceive it; and 9 times out of 10 they couldn't be further from the truth."
Shelly Kramer agrees with Gabbay. In a post entitled "B2B and Data Driven Marketing: About Them, Not You," she writes, "Data driven marketing is changing the face of marketing today, in both the B2C and the B2B space. Personalization, segmentation and customization of messages designed to suit the customers' needs, as well as utilization of marketing automation tactics, are critical components of success. And while many marketers understand this on a fundamental level, there are many who aren’t yet adopting these tactics as part of their marketing strategies." [V3 Integrated Marketing, 17 July 2013] Kramer continues:
"Smart marketers are serving up customized website experiences and remarketing campaigns that rely on browser history, on-site behavior, location, purchase history and so many other things. Email campaigns can be highly personalized based on prior purchase history, segmentation, time of day purchases and so many other things it makes me giddy just to think about it. ... Personalization abounds."
Gabbay reminds us, however, that message personalization isn't as easy as one may think. "You may think it is obvious that you wouldn't sell shoes to a snail," she writes, "but sometimes the target audience you are trying to market to is not that transparent. In many cases you may have multiple streams of potential buyers but you also have to be careful not to be everything to everyone. People resonate to marketing communications on an emotional level and one set of demographic will likely not respond the same way as another." That's why Billie Ginther insists that companies need "to develop a solid audience-centric content strategy for the digital age." ["Development and Audience-centric Content Strategy," Optimize This, 29 April 2013]
Before continuing the discussion on the positive effects of personalization, I should remind you that some types of personalization are not customer-centric and, when discovered, are likely to hurt your business rather than help it. Staples became the poster child for this kind of personalization strategy when Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Jeremy Singer-Vine, and Ashkan Soltani revealed that "the Staples Inc. website was displaying "different prices to people after estimating their locations. More than that, Staples appeared to consider the person's distance from a rival brick-and-mortar store, either OfficeMax Inc. or Office Depot Inc. If rival stores were within 20 miles or so, Staples.com usually showed a discounted price." ["Websites Vary Prices, Deals Based on Users' Information," Wall Street Journal, 24 December 2012] The article noted that Staples wasn't the only culprit, other companies mentioned included: Discover Financial Services, Rosetta Stone Inc. and Home Depot Inc. The revelation was generally met with consumer outrage. The reporters were quick to point out that "offering different prices to different people is legal, with a few exceptions for race-based discrimination and other sensitive situations." As a result of their investigation, the reporters concluded:
"The idea of an unbiased, impersonal Internet is fast giving way to an online world that, in reality, is increasingly tailored and targeted. Websites are adopting techniques to glean information about visitors to their sites, in real time, and then deliver different versions of the Web to different people. Prices change, products get swapped out, wording is modified, and there is little way for the typical website user to spot it when it happens. ... Basing online prices on geography can make sense for various reasons, from shipping costs to local popularity of a particular item. Some retailers might naturally cluster in specific areas as well — a prosperous suburb, say — boosting the competitive pressure to discount. But using geography as a pricing tool can also reinforce patterns that e-commerce had promised to erase: prices that are higher in areas with less competition, including rural or poor areas. It diminishes the Internet's role as an equalizer."
Personalization isn't a bad thing if the strategy is customer-centric; but, too often, it is about the business not the customer. In order to personalize messages effectively, companies need to know and understand their customers without becoming creepy. "When you've developed a precise and unique customer profile," writes Maria Geokezas, account director for Heinz Marketing, "it will carry through to your marketing and sales plan, customer acquisition and loyalty strategy as well as the campaigns you execute." ["Three keys to more effective customer profiles," She offers "three components of a solid customer profile." They are:
"1. Go beyond the basic firmographics
Obviously, basic targeting characteristics are essential to understanding the ideal customer for your product or service. Your strategy, messaging, channels and budget will differ if you are targeting managers in Human Resource departments of multi-national enterprises versus Vice Presidents of HR of small professional service firms in the Pacific Northwest.
"2. Get to know where they live
Paint a picture of your ideal customer by describing their work environment. Describe the pressures they face, their pain points and priorities. Understand the decision-making process they go through. How painful does it have to get before they go searching for a solution? Do they have approval authority or do they need to influence another decision maker? If you can figure out what keeps them up at night, and how they make decisions, you have a good start to your marketing plan.
"3. Bring your profile to life
Give your profile a name and build a story about how this customer uses your product (or category of product) and how they interact with your brand. Capture their attitude about the offering. Use language that they would use if they were telling the story to a friend. Bringing in this level of customer insight will add feeling of familiarity to your communications."
When creating a customer profile as recommended by Geokezas, I would remember the caveat offered by Gabbay: "Business owners make the HUGE mistake of thinking that how they perceive the world is exactly how their audience will perceive it." Your instincts need to be backed by big data analytics if you are really going to understand your customer. Richard Ting insists that most companies aren't doing a good job of profiling their customers. ["The Customer Profile: Your Brand's Secret Weapon," Harvard Business Review Blog Network, 11 March 2013] He writes:
"Aside from a select few companies — like Amazon — most brands still have no unified view of what their customers are saying, doing, or buying on their websites, in retail, and across social media. As a result, instead of better targeting and personalizing brand messages, experiences, and deals, most brands are still embracing the 'spray and pray' tactics commonly used during the height of traditional advertising."
Many analysts believe that the power is shifting to the consumer. This shift makes personalization even more important. Monetate Marketing created the following infographic about the importance of personalization.
The fact that 94 percent of companies believe that online personalization is critical to business performance clearly demonstrates that they understand what is at stake. Those intuitive beliefs about personalization are being solidified by research. For example, "Survey results from MyBuys and the e-tailing group reveal customer-centric marketing — the ability to engage consumers in one-to-one conversations across the customer lifecycle and all touch points — increases buyer readiness, engagement and sales activity. ... A record 40 percent of respondents claim they buy more from retailers who comprehensively personalize the shopping experience across channels. Results revealed that consumers increasingly reward customer-obsessed retailers." ["Consumers Buy More When Retailers Get Personal," by Daniela Forte, Multichannel Merchant, 2 April 2013] In other words, when personalization is implemented correctly, a win-win situation is created.