Personalization, marketing, and the middle ground

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Much ado is consistently being made of personalization and customization in the digital marketing world. We as marketers are allured by the (over)promise of personalization and customization because we’ve been told it’s the pathway to profit nirvana. We can supposedly charge more for a personalized, customized product and customers will allegedly be happier and more loyal with personalized, customized products. It’s another layer of shiny gloss to be applied to your marketing, but is it what you should be aspiring to? The answer is: not always.

Personalization matters if you are dealing with prospective customers on a true one-to-one level. If you operate in such a way that every customer is truly an individual, then you’re already doing personalization in your marketing and customer service anyway. Here’s an easy way to determine if you’re actually at this level of true personal engagement: does your company (or could your company if you chose to do so) hand-write its holiday cards? If the answer is yes, chances are you have a deep level of personal engagement where personalization not only matters, but is something you’re already doing. It’s baked into your corporate processes and can be fine-tuned or improved, but it’s not a marketing initiative that needs to be rolled out.

Personalization doesn’t matter if you are dealing in commodities. A ton of bulk paper clips needs to be delivered efficiently to the right place at the right time. This year’s holiday toy needs to be on shelves at the right price for maximum profit. Even your email newsletter and blog posts need to be written for the audience you serve, but not necessarily be a special snowflake for every single reader. What matters to the customers of a commodity business isn’t personalization but perfection of execution. I don’t especially care that Apple’s iPad isn’t available in a perfect, unique model just for me and me only as long as it works flawlessly.

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Is there a middle ground between unique relationships and the mass market? Absolutely: it’s market segmentation. If you have clearly defined segments of your audience, you can create marketing that serves each segment reasonably well. The easiest and simplest segmentation is engaged customers vs. un-engaged customers. For example, in my personal weekly newsletter, I have a section that’s called Premium Content. In order to get it, you have to fork over a lot more personal information, but that section of the newsletter is given only to those folks who do so.

If you want to start down the road of personalization, there is no better place to start than serving the customers who want to be more engaged with you.

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One response to “Personalization, marketing, and the middle ground”

  1. Boingnet Avatar

    Great piece Christopher – we at Boingnet are in the personalized marketing automation business and completely agree that segmentation is the best way to “Mass Personalize” marketing campaigns. Thanks for posting and glad we found you – we’ll be social followers.

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