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How marketing personalization should evolve

While personalization is key in marketing, it can go too far at times. Invoca’s Laura Schierbel looks at how marketers can go beyond targeting and “translate data into a more human experience.”

5 min read

Digital Technology

How marketing personalization should evolve

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

Automation can power personalization, but it can also be a marketer’s worst enemy. Too often, consumers are getting served ads that make them pause — how did they know THIS about me? — freezing their shopping journey instead of inspiring them to purchase. Heading into the 2020s, it’s time for the industry to clearly define what the right level of personalization is.

Brands should follow a simple rule when setting up marketing automation: make sure consumers can reasonably connect the dots on why they are getting the personalized experience. Oh yeah, I liked Black & Decker’s Instagram ad or Googled “toolkits” the other day. That’s why I’m seeing that ad now — makes sense. 

Conversely, no one appreciates it when brands sneak up on them about a shopping need that they thought was still private information. It’s been almost eight years since The New York Times uncovered a retailer accidentally disclosing pregnancies to family members before the mothers-to-be even had a chance to share the news. That example is extreme, but we’ve all experienced first-hand a targeted ad that seemed far more invasive than typical remarketing after a Google search.

People don’t want to wonder if they got an Instagram promotion based on a personal email or text exchange they were having with a friend. It’s part of the reason why 96% of consumers don’t trust ads. And, after all, only 17% of people are willing to describe the online tracking they’ve experienced as “ethical,” even though seven in 10 of them want personalized ads.  

Our industry still faces a personalization paradox in which shoppers want relevance and privacy at the same time. That paradox underscores the difficulty of building trust via digital channels. It contributes to why 61% of mobile consumers pick up the phone and call brands when they are ready to purchase, and 52% of consumers feel frustrated if communicating with a human rep is not an option. One-to-one conversations establish trust, and part of the beauty of marketing automation is the ability to take action on data gleaned from inbound calls to businesses. In 2020, there’s an opportunity for brands to go much further than retargeting and translate data into a more human experience. 

Let consumers invite the interaction
To balance the competing needs for relevance and privacy, marketers should aim to make consumers feel like they opened the door to an interaction. From there, brands can provide a high-quality, customized journey that builds credibility. 

There are inspiring uses cases. For instance, Sephora employs expert staff who help shoppers choose the perfect products and provide personalized skin consultations. It also has a “Color IQ” program where customers scan their skin to help them choose the right shade of makeup for their complexion. When shoppers log in to their Sephora account and browse online, they can easily see the products that are a fit. Sephora also sends emails encouraging customers to shop their Color IQ matches. 

Such cutting-edge personalization needs to happen across channels. For instance, inbound conversations are always initiated by the customer. So if brands aren’t using this offline data to create better online customer experiences, it’s a missed opportunity. And artificial intelligence is helping make conversational and web data more actionable all of the time, as marketers continue to try to close in on 1:1 relationships at scale. 

Finding the sweet spot
AI’s advances should help marketers’ achieve the right level of personalization, and campaigns are becoming more probabilistic and less based on broad rules. Digital marketers are evolving from segmentation like “men who buy hiking boots once a year” to much more granular personalization that looks more like “Seahawks fans who like to hike, drink light beer and prefer text messaging as a communications channel.” Also, Deloitte found that customers are willing to spend 20% more on products if the experience is personalized. 

And while Sephora offers a great instance of a brand that mixes data with human interaction, Spotify is about the best example of end-to-end automated personalization. Its data-powered recommendation engine helps listeners unearth tracks based on their shown musical interests. It curates the tunes they already like into playlists and uses AI to recommend other tracks based on the time of year, time of day and trending songs and genres. Its personalized “Decade in Review” is one of the most compelling examples of personalized marketing — and shareable content — to come out of 2019.

In the 2020s, marketing strategies must be driven not just by personalization at scale but also by finding that sweet spot of relevancy where your customers react with oh yeah instead of stop following me.


Laura Schierbel is director of content marketing and communications at Invoca. Previously, she held positions at Oracle, Responsys and Hill & Knowlton, where she honed her skills in all things PR, content and social media.

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