Monday, June 29, 2009

Top Automated Marketing Personalization Tactics

There is a lot of talk these days that personalization is back in marketing but what does that really mean and what are some of the tactics you can use?

This is important: Besides all of the technology out there that can make this process easier, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal is to create engaging experiences for your customers and potential customers so that they will respond and ultimately purchase your products and services.

A personalized approach facilitates this process. It allows you to make people feel special by providing timely communication that is more like a dialogue than a one way conversation. The trick is to create this type of personalized experience that will drive sales but to make it easy for marketing to execute and not break the marketing budget bank.

I've listed the top tactics that I typically discuss in my day to day client meetings. Together, these make up a personalization playbook that you may want to keep in mind when you plan and execute your future campaign:

  • Email / direct mail merge fields: This is the bottom of the pyramid in terms of personalization. Adding someone’s “first name” to an email is the least that you can do these days. While it may seem obvious, don’t overlook it as it’s more important in conjunction with the other tactics I've listed below.

  • Personalized URLS (PURLS): I like to think of PURLS like those place cards at weddings that have your name on it and tell you where you’re sitting. It’s like an exclusive invitation that is also very practical. It’s saying “Yes, you belong here – now go sit down at table 10”. What do you do? You go find your table! PURLs act in the same way as they have your name as part of the URL and they take you to what you feel is an exclusive website designed just for you. We've found that people have responded better to offers that contain a personalized URL (such as With the right technology, this is also very easy to do.

  • Form pre-population: When you've strike up a conversation with someone you've just met at a party, do you keep asking them what their name is every two minutes? NO! They would feel that you weren't listening to them and move on. It’s not that much different in the world of marketing. We want to feel that when I’m engaging with you that I’m at a place where “everyone knows your name” (now you know why I included the video on Norm). If you've already collected information from someone, avoid asking for it again at all costs. You should make the customer feel that you are carrying on a conversation from where it left off last time – not starting all over again.

  • Email / direct mail sender personalization: Notice how this is getting more difficult as we move down the list? When you send a post card to your family from your trip to Spain (I really want to go back to Spain but can’t with a baby on the way) do you sign it “Yours Truly, the marketing team”? NO! If there is someone in your organization that has a direct relationship with the intended recipient, send it from them.

    For B2B companies, have communications sent from sales reps or Account Managers if a relationship has been established. A recent Aberdeen Research report has proven that this technique can dramatically boost response rates. In B2C, this is more difficult but there may be opportunities to explore. For example, some sports teams can experiment having communications personalized from their players.

    Yes this method requires additional effort and yes it does mean that your data needs to be in order for it to work but it’s a proven method that brings your company closer to your prospects and customers. When sales reps call into prospects and they're not seen as strangers, there is a higher chance that they can make traction. This is especially the case if your prospect has already received an email from your company with a thought-leadership piece that was based on their interests and had a picture of the rep to put a face to the name. This process is 100% easier when you have tight integration between your customer relationship management tool and your marketing automation tool.

    I use this technique as part of an automated customer education nurturing program that I created and am seeing greater than 50% open rates when emails have the sender name of the account representative.
  • Personalized email/direct mail content. There are two parts to this and I could spend a whole blog post just on this topic. I’ve already discussed the first part which is personalizing the sender and signature of email or direct mail communications. The next part which is even more difficult is personalizing the message.

    Why is this part so difficult? For example, it would be great to have a platform that would know your home insurance subscription is due in 60 days and have an email automatically sent to you that told you to look for a mailing with your renewal documents. This email would include the name of person that will call you and what the new subscription cost will be.

    This can be difficult for a number of reasons:
    1. It can be costly to have a system that can execute these types of complex campaigns
    2. You need a way to collect the data and systems that make it easy to action on. For example, I recommend creating email campaigns based on the past web behaviour of individuals or their digital body language. This requires a system that can collect this data and then have an easy way to query this data so it can be actioned on.
    3. You need to have clean data. To personalize the message, you need to have the data to personalize it that is normalized and complete.
    4. It requires data sources that are integrated so they can be easily queried to create lists and personalized messages. There’s no point spending days building a list – it’s just not cost effective.
    5. Content must be created for each segment – this requires resources etc…

    To make this a personalization a bit easier, technology advancements allow you to add dynamic content sections to mostly generic communications. By adding in some slightly personalized sections you can really show that you can really make a difference in your response numbers. This may mean displaying a special offer for repeat purchasers or dynamically displaying an article in your regular newsletter that is geared specially to your customers. Is it worth it to make these personalized adjustments? What I recommend is to try it out and test the results. In countless examples it has led to increased response rates and reduced the time needed to execute campaigns by eliminating redundant steps when targeting multiple segments.
  • Dynamic landing page/microsite content.This is similar to the last point but typically is more flexible. Emails and direct mail are fairly static while website content can dynamically change on the go. For example, you can create campaigns that ask a series of questions that builds a profile and creates a personalized knowledge library or demo for an individual based on their selections in a web session. This also goes hand in hand with PURLs as the PURL is the gateway to a personalized microsite.

    This content should change based on the behaviours that the contact has exhibited over time. Only display the content that the web visitor will find relevant or you won’t find them there very long. We use a technique called "Progressive Profiling" where we collect addition information over time and build a more complete picture for the sale team.

    You can blend other elements such as merge fields, form pre-population, and dynamically displaying the sales rep’s contact information to make the web experience as personalized as possible.
  • Event triggered communication. We've talked about delivering the right message, now we’ll talk about how to deliver it at the right time. There are many different ways to do this but the best time to deliver the right message is at a time that matches your customer’s buying process. When my air conditioner blows up and it’s 100 degrees in the shade, that’s the time I want a call from someone that can fix my air conditioner.

    Here are so more obvious examples of triggered communication:
    1. Sending confirmation emails when a product is purchased or a white paper was requested
    2. Sending unique communications to new email subscribers Sending a promotion email to an opted-in subscriber who has visited certain product pages X amount of times in Y amount of days
    3. Email and Direct email sent to trial recipients over the lifetime of a trial
    4. Customer communications based on the terms of an agreement. The insurance example above is a good one
    5. An email promotion sent to customers on their birthday

    Some of the key requirements that I've described above are also required to make this a reality – namely a system that can automatically detect these triggers and fire off the
    right communication at the right time. If you have the right tools and data synced up correctly, your only limits are your creativity and your free time.
  • Automated, personalized voice messages. When I think about automated voice messages, I think back to an episode of the Simpsons where Homer spammed all of Spingfield trying to solicit money from them. That is a bad example.

    An example that I've seen really work well is combining personalized voice messages with email. For example, if you have an important webinar coming up, why not send a voice message from the webinar presenter inviting them to the webinar and telling them to look out for an email invite. For those that have registered, have a personalized voice message reminder. They key is to have this process automated so you don’t have to create different lists and coordinate the execution. All you need to do is to design the process and let the technology handle the rest.

  • Sales tools. A tactic that I recommend is to create email templates for the sales team that allows them to modify the content and supplement their own personalized messages for each situation based on what they know about a customer or prospect.

    For example, I use email templates in Outlook that I've created using my marketing automation tool. I can easily change up the text for these emails in Outlook to personalize them based on the specific circumstance before I send them. The template makes this process easier for me but it’s the personalization that is needed to make the content relevant.

You may have counted 9 points and said “what gives?”. The 10th point is using social media to deliver an automated, personalized experience but this concept is still in its infancy. There are a few examples here and there but for the most part, social media is real time communication by real people and the personalization is controlled more by the consumer. It will be interesting to see what new technologies develop in the near future.

Let me know if you have any other examples or opinions that you want to share.

Chad H

PS: Here is a good article worth reading: The Four Dimensions of Personalization




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