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The 5 Pillars of Personalization for 2024


"If you want to build trust — you better be prepared to prove it...authenticity is the name of the game, and consumers appreciate it more than ever. This means every strategy should be hyper-focused on personalization."                                                                                                          



In an era where being “real” reigns supreme, marketers must be prepared to demonstrate their genuineness to build trust with consumers. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through personalization. There is enough data today to show its value. However, to maximize the benefit of advanced marketing personalization technology, there are five critical pillars that every organization needs to establish. Before we delve into these pillars, there are three important points to help us frame the situation.


First it's time to retire the term "digital marketing." 

In 2024, marketing is inherently digital. We need to embrace the capabilities that support customer experiences and engagement channels, regardless of analog vs. digital. By continuing to create separation of “digital” vs. traditional marketing, we’re intentionally dividing the customer’s natural lifecycle. They will consume experiences on their terms, at their pace. Digital is just one of the options. Personally, I use at least three channels to interact with the brands I trust depending on what’s going on that day. 


Second, Search and Social are not merely expanding mediums; they are the primary channels through which most people consume information today. 

When a commercial break happens on TV, most people pick up their phones and leverage a social or search UI to get to the information they seek. This is not unique to retail brands, or consumer technology, or to age. It’s all people. If your organization isn't integrating real-time search and social data with your customer data, you're not effectively personalizing your content.


Third and finally, let’s define what Personalization is and isn’t… 

Personalizing a first name or company name - it’s not personalization. Database marketers in the 90s could do this at scale, and today every off the shelf email tool has robust channel personalization built in. Let’s also think about context - sending a survey with my name and a relevant offer post-stay still isn’t modern personalization - it’s expected. I gave the brand all of my information when I booked, and the ERP has every transaction I made on property. If the brand is not combining them, that’s a lost opportunity. Their competitors will. 

So - moving the needle isn’t about personalizing the basics - you probably are. To me, personalization is a combination of capabilities - can your brand recognize the moments that matter? Do you know what the customer or audience wants at that moment? And, can you consistently deliver an experience that matters in that specific context? That’s what creates real impact. This is the business process of personalization


Enough background. What are the five pillars of personalization for 2024?


1 - Context matters. Content is queen, Data is king. Identity has to come first.


An everlasting debate. The fact is that to achieve context, both data and content are critically important and complementary. Content is the queen that attracts and delights customers, while data is the king that informs and guides your strategies. So what does this actually mean? 


First, businesses need to recognize that content personalization strategy changes drastically based on one overarching data factor - identity.


Do I know you, or do I not know you? Can I recognize you 1:1 with enough certainty to personalize 1:1? Your CDP should be the tool resolving the identities of those you know, and helping you to curate audiences of those you want to know. But, on top of this identity foundation, what are the profiling dimensions that group how people might act, think, feel or make decisions - is it really that they own product A, or are men between 30 and 50? Probably not…it’s more likely a dynamic combination of both based on context.


Transitioning from outdated segmentation to dynamic profiling is crucial to understanding your customers' identities and needs. This is a critical foundation on top of which marketing personalization technology goes from good to great. Solve this first or alongside your personalization initiative. Maturity here matters!


2 - CDP vs. Real-time Decisioning vs. “Content Personalization tools” - they are not the same thing, and all of them have a function in working together. 


If personalized content is meant to create more authentic connection and increase the likelihood of action, you better have the ability to inform your systems that are rendering and delivering those personalized experiences. This does not mean your CDP or Marketing Automation tools become your real-time decisioning / personalization engines. It doesn’t mean your channel and content personalization tools now handle segmentation, activation and air-traffic control of who gets what content.


Confused? Most of the market is, too…the confusion of these layers is where many organizations get wrapped around the axle. Understanding the differences and knowing when to use each of these capabilities is key to effective personalization and content automation. Let’s break it down:


In most brands, the role of a CDP is to ingest, resolve, inform and instruct. More likely, your CDP becomes a source of truth on which your marketing automation and channel personalization tools can rely to make better decisions. Your Marketing Automation & Channel Delivery tools should serve as execution engines. They receive external data and instructions, render the experience elements for the appropriate channel(s), and deliver a message - usually to Segment A and B in a given program. So, what’s informing which tool delivers which message to which segment? What if that buyer belongs to 20 segments that dynamically change? When should Personalization Recipe A stop, and Recipe B take over? What about Recipe C sitting in the cupboard waiting for a specific behavior to show itself? 


This is likely where real-time decisioning capabilities, also called "Next-best-action", play a role. What channel will display what creative given the context of the last interaction? This essential element to marketing personalization helps organizations orchestrate the right experience - regardless of channel or content type. This capability sits on top of your CDP, Marketing Execution &  Content Management platforms. It plays the role of an “air traffic controller” and decision engine for your execution platforms and content platforms. The technology should use CDP segments to inform its decisions.



Without this orchestration capability, there tends to be a spectrum of how personalization gets from idea to delivery. One one end, organizations over-engineer the CDP or segmentation process to manage 1000s of segments with built in rules for what experience its intended to deliver. Those segments move 1:1 into channel platforms, where templates and rules are in place. In effect, the CDP is “orchestrating” the experience. On the other, the CDP is used for dynamic profiling and more macro segmentation, and the channel tools are carrying more of the weight of the personalization decisions and logic. This requires heavy configuration of rules in each of those channel tools to operate on unified segments, without something in the middle connecting. There ain’t a right or wrong answer - but I’d argue for balance and to aim in the middle. Let the use cases guide. Then ground the "what we need to buy" conversation in capabilities to support each - not in the platform feature or widget name!



3 - Master Content Workflow - you need to develop an “Insight Flywheel” to compete

Personalization at scale. Content supply chain. Content Workflow. ContentOps. Pick your phrase. They are all connected. So what does this mean? Why is it important to actually deliver on marketing personalization? Content Personalization requires feeding the content beast at scale, without degrading the quality and authenticity of that content. Many marketing organizations lack the maturity in content operations, automation, and most importantly, customer insights to quickly distill real-time signals from customer operations and external sources, and turn that into relevant content that can be put into market. However, successful brands have removed bottlenecks and inefficiencies in their process to build a content “flywheel” that turns these insights into relevant cross-channel campaigns in as little as 72 hours.


Tip #1: Most organizations are using search, social and customer insights to inform content creation. The magic lives in the middle - the intersection of these data sets is where you should aim to create content. Also known as a “Content Topography” this is a process that should be built in. Tip #2: If you’re reading and thinking “that can’t work for us” - it can. Workflow and process matters. On average, it takes 3 teams, 4 systems and 8 handoffs to execute on any given campaign. What if you could eliminate 10-20% of that effort with a more streamlined Content Workflow and Automation tools? Could you free up time to apply insights to new personalization ideas? My bet is yes!

 


4 - GenAI works - its value increases when a human supported process helps prevent compromising quality for scale


While Generative AI (GenAI) is a powerful tool, it doesn't replace the foundations of great content and experience. Social media experts predict 2024 will be the year of “beige” content - generic, AI powered, and flooding our channels. Authenticity will matter more than ever. 


While GenAI can generate authentic, intent-based content, the governance and human element to GenAI operations is critical. LLM models, even with Trust Layers and Hallucination controls, can deliver a range of what one may call a “final asset”. It may get 40% right for some use cases, 90% for other applications. A process and workflow for quality control, governance and training here is critical. Personalization experts exploring GenAI know that human eyes not only support final mile creative tweaking and compliance checks, they also help your model get smarter. Over time, the organization can get to a place where AI generated content performs at the same confidence level as traditional content. 


See #3 - if you don’t have ContentOps and Content Workflow behind your Content Automation and Distribution tools, you might end up scaling bad practices beyond control. 



5 - Change management is not just about marketing


Consumers have the power (see #2). But, brands have to deal with governance. Sales have sensitive relationships. Product leadership have engagement metrics to hit. Every business group has reasons for wanting to know, approve, test, and set expectations for every permutation of a brand experience. It’s not scalable today.


Brands must embrace governance within guardrails and be comfortable with a dynamic set of choices based on real-time behavior. In today’s world, legal and compliance aren’t going to look at every offer or permutation of content. Brands have to be with a “Set of choices” that may change or look dynamically different based on real-time behavior. To do this effectively, CMOs need to bring your compliance, legal and salespeople along the journey and ensure your policies are evolving along with you. The change management element needs to expand into the departments that can limit the personalization capabilities that you’re trying to expand. Two things can happen without this foundation.


First - you aren’t able to move at the speed of the customer and of the business.


Second, you may encounter more resistance from (or even derailment by) your stakeholders down the line by keeping them out of the design process. Bottom line - Education and a plan for managing marketing change is table stakes, but if you’re designing for a world in which legal, compliance or product doesn’t feel comfortable, your personalization initiative will false start multiple times.



Conclusions & Takeaways


In conclusion, these five foundations will be essential for effective personalization and building trust with your customers in 2024. Let’s put a bow on the key takeaways:

  1. Personalization at the speed of the customer isn’t possible if identity and customer data activation are immature. It’s not either or. Both matter.

  2. Don't apply AI on top of inefficient processes. Get your content operations and automation processes right, and ensure you're not compromising quality as you scale. 

  3. Be wary of anything claiming to be “the single platform for personalization”. There isn’t a single silver bullet, and getting personalization-at-scale right requires multiple capabilities, people and processes working together. 

  4. Remember that the customer is in the driver's seat, not your compliance team. Bring them along and educate your stakeholders on what personalization means, and what might need to evolve to unlock the “flywheel” of creative content.


Next year, let’s challenge ourselves to get to the UpperRight in this area. Struggling to start, veering off path, or need to renovate what’s in place today? Let’s talk! Send me an email at mike@upperight.com

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