Your Personalized Marketing Sucks. Here Are Three Simple Fixes

By Raj Badarinath | 2.11.18

It’s 2018 and it’s clear that personalized, one-to-one marketing is here with a vengeance. It’s no wonder, because personalization works: 78 percent of U.S. Internet users said personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent. For marketers, personalization reduces acquisition costs as much as 50 percent, lifts revenues by 5 to 15 percent, and increases the efficiency of marketing spend by 10 to 30 percent.


But regardless of how much money and time is spent on personalization, it still remains a lofty goal for most marketers. A survey of 2,200 consumers found that 63 percent of respondents are highly annoyed by the way brands continue to rely on the old-fashioned strategy of repeatedly blasting generic ad messages.


Personalized marketing today, no matter how sophisticated, can never fully deliver on the promise of providing memorable experiences that differentiate their company in today’s Experience Economy.


The reason? Marketing engines are outmoded, given the way they were developed. Built in the “segments” era on the foundation of customer relationship management (CRM) databases, these marketing engines deliver promotions via email, text message, search ads and more, promising “personalized marketing” that will acquire new customers and forge a stronger brand connection. But these efforts tend to be mere one-way push communications that see shoppers as segments, not individuals — a strategy that has so far earned middling results, as is expected from marketers who consider Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Clinton to be in the same demographic segment (i.e., 37-year-old affluent moms).


Brands have also made deep investments in omnichannel commerce platforms, primarily to address the need to compete with Amazon. The goal is to provide “frictionless commerce,” they say, to knit together physical and digital engagement points, mobile apps, and social media to ease touchpoint-agnostic purchasing. But most commerce investments focus on transactional efficiencies and often mistake convenience for an engaging experience. It’s not. Functionality such as enterprise-wide inventory and one-touch mobile ordering are tablestakes, not standout innovations. You cannot out-Amazon Amazon.


On their own, neither personalized marketing nor omnichannel commerce provide a real-time, interactive experience that is relevant to the customer when she is ready to engage. As a result, customers are often left dissatisfied.


This leads to an experience gap in the customer journey, and the slow loss of customers, as irrelevant experiences drive away those who fall through the gaps of “acquire” and “convert.”


Success in 2018 and beyond requires bridging marketing and commerce with a unified “experience personalization” strategy, not just personalized marketing. Through experience personalization, shoppers encounter an interactive environment that learns from their prior interactions and current context, and then curates products, offers, and content accordingly with the help of advanced machine learning/AI technologies. Time with the brand, however brief, is well spent, and merchant offerings help individual shoppers solve their needs in the moment, as well as anticipate future preferences.


Only by delivering such memorable experiences at scale for each of the millions of individuals interacting with their brands daily will marketers truly differentiate those brands and stay competitive.


To realize the goal of experience personalization, digital leaders must take three crucial steps:


Think omni-experience, not just omni-commerce: Marketing leaders need to ensure that the company reflects the holistic experience they want shoppers to have — which means they must break down internal barriers so that data flows freely. Only by enabling real-time access to information across the organization can companies deliver stellar customer experiences.


Barney’s New York has dissolved the boundaries between online and offline realms, with personalized recommendations based on online browsing accessible to stores associates. Mobile location sensors trigger alerts to staff when customers enter stores, enabling associates to greet shoppers by name and resume the conversation wherever they left off.


Take a critical approach to all-in-one platforms — now with AI: Artificial intelligence is the hype du jour, and vendors are rushing to incorporate AI functionality into existing offerings. Vendors across the marketing technology spectrum offer end-to-end solutions that promise personalization features as part of the package. Often, though, these technologies are add-ons or separate platforms scaffolded together, without the specialized machine learning necessary to drive true real-time experience personalization.


Deepen moment-to-moment understanding of customer purchase intent: Marketers can’t invest enough in understanding their customers’ crucial decision points and the myriad contextual factors that drive purchases. Whether shoppers typically conduct extensive research in-aisle or reorder items with a single click, marketers should map customer journeys and use that data to inform personalized experiences.


Bridging the experience gap goes beyond personalized marketing or frictionless commerce. It requires a fundamental shift in understanding what shoppers want. Marketers who succeed in staging memorable experiences will earn lasting loyalty and profitability for their brands.  

About the Author

Raj Badarinath is VP of Marketing Strategy & Ecosystems at RichRelevance, where he’s helping enterprises compete on memorable digital experiences, rather than on mere operational efficiency. Previously, Raj was the global head of communications at Nutanix, and before that he held senior marketing, strategy, and management roles at Avangate, a digital commerce leader (acquired by a PE firm), WinWire, CapGemini (then Patni-iGate), Oracle-PeopleSoft, and Infosys.