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How to Make Personalization Work in a Privacy-Conscious World


In my last post, I wrote that it's time for marketers to rethink their approach to personalization. The value of personalized marketing has been widely recognized for nearly two decades, and most marketing pundits are recommending that marketers expand their use of personalization. They contend that marketers should make personalization more specific and use it more frequently, in more channels, and for more types of communications and experiences. The problem with this "more personalization" approach is that it fails to account for widespread and growing privacy concerns among both consumers and business buyers. Personalized marketing will not reach its full potential unless marketers use an approach that addresses these privacy concerns. Simply increasing the use of personalization will be ineffective at best, and may do more harm than good. Personalization has been the subject of numerous research studies over the past few years, and these studies provide a good picture of what is required for personalized marketing to produce maximum results. There are three major components of an effective personalization strategy.

Make Personalization Useful



The first requirement for effective personalized marketing is that it must deliver meaningful and pragmatic value to the recipient. A 2018 study by Gartner/CEB documents the business value of personalization that is perceived by customers and prospects to be helpful. I've previously discussed this research, so I won't repeat that material here. For a more detailed description of the Gartner/CEB study see this post.

Make Personalization "Relationship-Appropriate"



The second component of an effective personalization strategy is to use a level of personalization that is appropriate for each customer or prospect. By appropriate, I mean that the level of personalization should match the real-world status of the relationship. A message or offer sent to a long-time customer can and should be more personalized than a first outreach to a new prospect.

To be effective, personalized marketing must be based on genuine insights about your customers and prospects. When you take personalization beyond such insights, it becomes inauthentic and will tend to be perceived as presumptuous. Corporate Visions recently conducted a field trial involving this principle, and you can read more about that research in this post.

Get Meaningful Permission for Personalization

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Much of the concern about data privacy and personalization revolves around the issues of transparency and control. Many consumers and business buyers aren't confident they know what personal data companies are collecting about them or how that data is used. And many feel they don't have any meaningful control over those data practices.

Several recent research studies have shown how important transparency and control are for customers and prospects. For example, in a 2019 survey of 3,000 people in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., The Harris Poll asked participants about the importance of several data privacy practices. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who rated four transparency and control practices as very important or absolutely essential:

These research findings point the way to the third important component of an effective personalization strategy. In a world where privacy concerns are heightened, permission is critical to successful personalized marketing. If all the research about personalization tells us anything, it tells us that most consumers and business buyers will welcome and value personalized content when it is helpful, authentic, and based on permission that is willingly and consciously given.

So, how can marketers gain this kind of permission? There are three key steps.

Use Personalization "Programs" - In most cases, personalization efforts should be organized into discrete programs, each of which is designed to provide a specific type of value to a specific type of customer or prospect. This approach leads marketers to focus on the purpose of personalized marketing from the recipient's perspective.

Invite Participation - Invite your customers and/or prospects to "subscribe" to personalized content on a program-by-program basis, and reassure them that subscribing to one program won't open the floodgates to other marketing communications.

Be Transparent - It's important to be "radically" transparent in your invitation about the details of the personalization program. The main objective of the invitation is to persuade customers or prospects to participate in the program. So it should include:

  • Why the program will be useful and valuable for the recipient
  • What personal information will be used, and how the information will be used
  • How the personalized content will be delivered (format)
  • How frequently the personalized content will be delivered
  • The duration of the program
  • A clear statement that the recipient has the option to "unsubscribe" at any time

It's About How - Not Whether - to Personalize 

Propelling Brands Through Experience

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