Holiday Shoppers: How Brands Can Get Personal with Ad Strategy

Personalization has frequently been cited as a top priority for retailers this year. But in a just-published whitepaper, research firm RSR calls individualization one of two key marketing strategies retailers must adopt to win the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Individualization — essentially Personalization 2.0 — is based on robust individual shopper profiles plus dynamic, real-time assessment of intent, with customized content delivered across all channels and throughout the customer journey. But implementation of an individualization strategy is a big ask. And who knows exactly where to start?

Here are three insights to help guide you.

1. Target persons, not personas.

If you have millions of customer email addresses on file, you simply must start targeting your customers as individuals, not as broadly-defined segments or personas. Adtech and martech have come a long way in the past couple of years, making it absolutely feasible now to deliver individualized digital ads, emails, etc. You probably already have the technology in place to support this. (If you don’t, don’t feel too bad: in a Q1 2016 survey by Forrester, half of digital customer experience professionals said they lacked adequate personalization capabilities.)

But it’s not just an issue of feasibility. It’s a matter of meeting customer expectations. Once people have been part of your loyalty program for a while (or have otherwise registered their email with you), they know that you have plenty of information on their habits to filter and customize your communications to them. Frankly, customers now expect that as the norm, and are starting to view generic messages as a sign of sheer laziness on the part of the sender. If you need to make a business case for this to your management, you can point to leaders like eBay, which personalizes its website, emails and display ads.

“Personalization based on segmentation provides the ‘wrong’ experience for most of your customers.”
Brendan Witcher, principal analyst, Forrester, speaking at the 2017 CXNYC Forum

2. Focus on needs, not names.

Having made the commitment to individualize, the next decision is determining which variables to use for targeting and individualization. Some tips:

  • While everyone likes being called by name, simply displaying a customer’s name in an email or web page is only the tip of the iceberg. The power of the ‘berg is below the surface!
  • Use multiple data points to understand a customer’s needs. In addition to online browsing, purchasing and other behavioral data, consider situational context variables such as day/time, location and weather and self-submitted preferences gleaned from quizzes and other interactive tools.
  • Get the most out of your data by applying machine learning (predictive analytic engines that, for example, analyze your latest browsing behavior to determine what content will advance you on the path to purchase, or that analyze your historical purchases to predict other items you might like). The available toolset has improved dramatically in the past few years. Today’s personalization engines can handle more data points, more accurately predict consumer intent, and enable the delivery of truly individualized experiences across more of your marketing touchpoints.

“To achieve truly meaningful personalization and CX, we needed more than traditional purchase history and overlays of behavioral/inferred data. We needed to get customers to opt-in and tell us their individual preferences.”
Scott Emmons, head of the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab

3. Time to the customer, not the calendar.

The timing of individual shopping has become too unpredictable to rely solely on calendar-driven campaigns. Instead, use your martech tools to listen for signals of intent from your customers, and trigger marketing interactions (e.g., ads or content recommendations) at “just in time” moments in the customer journey.

A retailer of candles, for example, may have historically run all campaigns timed to their release of new seasonal scents. And most holiday season ad campaigns are also directed by the calendar. But retailers may have an even bigger opportunity to use artificial intelligence to predict each buyer’s purchase cycle and deliver their ads at the most relevant time for each customer.

“B2C marketers must align next-best-action capabilities for inbound channels with highly personalized outbound communications to deliver deeper levels of engagement throughout the customer life cycle.”
The Forrester Wave™: Real-Time Interaction Management, Q2 2017

The shift from mass marketing to individualization is well underway. This holiday season, in particular, retailers that live up to their customers’ expectations for individualization will enjoy the gifts of greater attention and engagement.

Originally published July 19, 2017

Juan Molina

Juan was part of Signal's Enterprise Sales team. He previously held enterprise sales roles at Experian, HubSpot and Oracle Marketing Cloud.

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