In the movie The Godfather, Michael Corleone shares the following line with his brother when planning to avenge their father’s assassination attempt, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” In stark contrast, the business world of marketing and advertising is becoming very personal. As noted in a February 2016 CMO Council whitepaper, personalization has become a universal mandate for many marketers; and engaging consumers in a true, real-time, one-to-one manner is the ultimate goal of long-term marketing efforts.
While the desire of marketers to achieve greater personalization in their marketing is not new, the pressure to accomplish this has been intensified considerably of late. Shaped by their multi-channel experiences across numerous business categories, and empowered by technology that puts more control in their hands, consumer expectations for more-personalized communication and customized treatment have never been higher.
To illustrate this, think about your own interactions with major retailers. Many of these multi-channel shopping experiences now start online, often transition to or involve a mobile device, and are sometimes even finalized in-store. Or perhaps this process is reversed, where an in-store shopping experience moves online, with the final purchase executed through a mobile device or tablet. Add in a personal data component from either website visitation history and product searches (think Amazon), or the provision of an email address, and the demands for personalization are raised to an entirely new level. Now multiply these experiences across a dozen business categories including the media used by consumers themselves, and you can understand the keen interest of marketers to create and execute more personalized marketing campaigns.
As mentioned earlier, personalization of advertising/marketing content is not an entirely new phenomenon. One just has to look back and see how direct mail pieces have evolved from their generic “Resident” or “box holder” labeling to the seemingly hand-written, customized content and offers we now receive in hard copy or electronic format. In fact, in today’s customer relationship management world content personalization is now more the norm with more than 60% of marketers personalizing content at some level according to a recent survey by Demand Metric Research Corporation. However, many marketers and advertisers are also making attempts to expand their personalization efforts beyond traditional CRM communications into more mass reach media vehicles.
Online display and search ads were perhaps the first mass reach outlets where advertisers extended their personalization efforts with first-generation, behavioral-targeted personalization approaches. The availability of data, relatively inexpensive customization of creative, as well as ease of execution all facilitated this expansion. Powered by the user-registration data that providers can access, personalized social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter are becoming much more common. One recent example is IHOP Restaurants’ GIF-powered Twitter campaign that sent promoted tweets personalized with Twitter users’ names in each ad.
With ever-growing datasets and improving technology to mine this information, many of these same functional efficiencies now apply to other forms of digital advertising. For instance, some travel advertisers have started using aggregated data about potential visitors to create and serve personalized online videos to people who visit designated travel-related websites. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development is one such advertiser. Combining a site visitor’s electronic footprint (i.e. stored web searches and cookies) with hundreds of existing video clips featuring state attractions and activities, the group used dynamic creative insertion technology to customize vacation messages that were tied to viewer interests, delivering personalized video ads in near real time! Launched in April, the highly-personalized online video campaign resulted in over 12,000 customized travel itineraries being created in just the first month.
Another instance where data and technology have brought more personalization to a previously generic mass media channel is online circulars. Until recently, most retailers (especially grocers) simply replicated their printed circulars for online viewing in some type of PDF-like format. By doing so, these retailers were as one digital solutions provider put it “inheriting all of the limitations that come with the print medium, such as a lack of personalization, not working well on mobile, and so forth.” Today, companies like Unata and Mercatus (a partner to Harmelin client Weis Markets) are helping retailers create online circulars that are fully integrated with their customer loyalty programs, display relevant deals based on customer purchased history, and even tie online views to in-store purchases. These efforts are a further extension of campaigns Harmelin has placed for clients in the digital space with vendors like MyWebGrocer and Sizmek, serving dynamically generated online display and mobile ads, or custom landing pages to online audiences based on prior consumer behavior data.
Speaking of loyalty programs, these platforms are becoming an increasing important component of many companies’ personalized marketing efforts, especially those that are integrated into mobile apps. But it’s not just grocery chains looking to make stronger connections with their customers. Companies across a number of categories including quick-service chain restaurants and convenience stores are all launching loyalty rewards programs. Even McDonald’s has announced their intention to start a program that could be in place sometime later in 2016 or early in 2017. The reasoning driving these efforts is twofold. First, with smartphone penetration around 80 percent, the scale and ease of execution has never been better. Second, and more importantly, companies recognize the data collection and targeted marketing possibilities that the mobile channel offers. Even with privacy strict restrictions, it’s hard to imagine a more personal channel or platform available today than one’s smartphone.
Moreover, advertisers don’t necessarily need a loyalty program-based app to take advantage of the improved targeting or personalization capabilities that mobile data collection provides. Many advertisers are already executing data-informed, location-based mobile ad campaigns on ad networks like xAd, and traffic/navigation apps like Google-owned Waze. Others are partnering with mobile ad players like Aki Technologies, a company that tracks consumers’ phone activities and data, to uncover timed-based moments for more-personalized mobile messages. For example, by identifying which apps users open and check first thing in the morning, advertisers like Taco Bell have been able to improve placement and delivery of mobile ads featuring their new $1 breakfast menu offers and items.
But it’s not just the newer media channels like mobile that are looking to leverage data and technology to enhance targeting and improve ad performance. Traditional, mass media channels like radio and outdoor are also looking to get into the act with their own innovations and tools. For instance, in April iHeartMedia launched a programmatic ad platform for its 850+ broadcast radio station group powered by cloud-based technology provider Jelli Inc. Using a combination of data sets, iHeartMedia’s platform promises advertisers the ability to better-target audio ads using music-based psychographic groups, real-time weather and traffic patterns, and even prior consumer purchase behavior. Advertisers will also be able to apply their own data (if available) to identify more-targeted inventory opportunities across iHeartMedia’s station network.
Another subsidiary of iHeartMedia, Clear Channel Outdoor, is also leading the increased personalization through data charge within the outdoor marketplace. Earlier this year the company announced the launch of its ‘RADAR’ data analytics tool. RADAR will help clients plan, buy and measure the impact of out-of-home (OOH) campaigns against more-precise audience targets. The platform takes aggregated and anonymized mobile location data from companies such as AT&T Data Patterns SM, Placed, and PlaceIQ, and compares it with existing OOH inventory to identify locations that would be more effective to reach these target segments. This approach hopes to maintain the mass reach advertisers seek with OOH advertising, while increasing message relevancy for consumers, and quantifying the response or impact directly attributable to the OOH exposures.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, I have yet to mention any of the new personalization approaches being implemented within the largest, and perhaps most-prominent mass media channel – television. And there’s a very good reason for this glaring omission. Most of these tactics were effectively detailed by my colleague Brad Bernard in his recent whitepaper, The State of Programmatic Television, with addressable TV ads chief among them. I would only add that with addressable TV penetration among pay TV households expected to reach the 50% mark in 2017 based on AT&T AdWorks estimates, the possibilities for delivering more-personalized ads at the individual household level will continue to grow.
With the desire for and the options to conduct more personalized marketing campaigns growing, the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves moving forward is this: how do we deliver these personalized messages while maintaining the mass reach required to meet the sales and growth objectives that most advertisers have? Interestingly, this same question was tackled recently in a WARC 2016 Admap Prize essay titled, How do I deliver Personalization at Scale? In that piece, the author offers three guidelines to follow that I whole-heartedly support.
- Make sure that your media buys retain scale
Media buys themselves should not be personalized, but creative executions or messages should be personalized based on data inputs using dynamic personalization technology.
- Employ a user-centric personalization approach instead of rule based execution
In other words, avoid basic re-targeting techniques that group people based on pre-set rules. Whenever possible, strive for and deliver more context about individual users.
- Make sure the brand positioning is rendered in every personalized variation of the ad
Don’t sacrifice who and what you are as a brand in order to connect – stay true to yourself.
And one final guideline of my own that I would like to add. Be sure you are working with a forward-thinking, knowledgeable media agency partner who will help you apply these guidelines, achieving the right mix of ad personalization and the broad reach needed to grow and sustain your brand long term.