Content & ExperiencePreparing for the third act: We’re getting marketing personalization all wrong

Preparing for the third act: We’re getting marketing personalization all wrong

The transition to Web3 and increasing emphasis on anonymity highlights the need for new approaches in content creation, distribution, and engagement with the customer as the main focus

30-second summary:

  • The traditional approaches of personalization and community management are becoming outdated
  • Providing a truly personalized experience is difficult, expensive, and not easily scalable, leading to limited personalized content creation
  • Brands can use social channels and influencers to steer conversations towards solutions and provide opportunities for product interaction

Before I dive into marketing personalization and its actual essentials, here is a description of a well-known digital role that I recently stumbled upon –

They serve as the face of a company. They are generally responsible for managing and handling communications in both directions. They are involved in various activities such as marketing, PR, social media, events, and content creation.

It felt so at odds with the nature of how digital engagement models now operate that it was no surprise to see it was a community manager role. This has long seemed an outdated concept but in the networked world, as we prepare for the upheaval of Web3, it’s positively archaic.

Not least as it’s built on the grand illusion of marketing personalization. This much-overused concept, is an indulgence that has consistently turned customer-centricity on its head. Despite the name, marketing personalization is really a conceit that uses content to suit the needs of the originator rather than the potential user.

Content finds its audience, not the other way round

Marketing personalization is a throwback to the days of direct mail magazines and flyers. If we can just get someone to look at our message, we’re on our way.

It overlooks 30 years of online behavior that demonstrates the single-mindedness of humans in following our interests and desires. These are a far greater indicator of our immediate needs than any other factor.

So many organizations still think in terms of targeting. This is the content that we want you to see and to which we want you to react.

But in a search-driven networked world, we just don’t conform to this concept anymore. We ask questions of Google and share requests and ideas with our networks. We tap into groups of cohorts based on interest and need. Our trust is based on experience rather than assertion.

The conceits of personalization and community management are archaic because now content tends to find its audience, not the other way around. We invite brands into our lives. We control our sources, our sharing, and our sense of trust.

Marketing personalization cannot prosper

Understanding enough about any given individual to be able to provide a truly personalized experience is challenging, expensive (and in terms of both time and resources) not readily scalable.

Therefore, so little of what we receive meets the promise of tailored messaging. Few, if any, organizations can commission and create personalized content beyond aggregating individual items into a newsletter.

This is not a personalized experience. It’s a newsletter. It may have some selected content tagged through some broad taxonomy. But it’s not a personal entreaty.

And nor does it need to be. Content is the currency of the internet and networks are the distribution mechanisms. Organizations need to think carefully about what they are trying to achieve with their marketing and communication activities.

If not personalization, then what?

Firstly, we need to understand the clear purpose of any content. This not only clarifies its function but also its form. As does its role in the overall journey. If the content is the destination then it must be designed – and supplemented – to fulfill multiple roles.

If not, then the ultimate form of engagement with the originator needs to be defined a broad context – this allows for more a flexible channel mix. This in turn creates new opportunities to either maximize the impact of evergreen content, through direction or provide new opportunities to interact through responsive tools or react to online events now possible through Spaces or Lives.

Organizations must define and understand the method or medium by which the audience will find it and engage with it. A content engagement approach can be much more successful than personalized content and a lot easier to implement.

Customer changes?

It also means behavioral change on the part of the customer.

Which, of course, suggests that the challenge is people. We don’t conform to the ideal of what we should be like, or do, based on the minimal amount of indicative information we are willing to share.

Instead, we are eclectic, contradictory, and obtuse. Supporting a certain football team doesn’t tell us anything – not even about our geography – let alone whether we were carnivores or vegans or photographers or skydivers. We are not divisible or easily categorized. And we don’t care.

Social networks have helped enormously in driving the change toward a cohort-based engagement model. They are helping to insulate us from things that we don’t wish to be exposed to and offering virtually limitless opportunities to define our interests. The fact that some don’t take up these offers isn’t the point.

As well as the things our customers look for, we as brands can also use our social channels to point conversations towards known solutions or to provide opportunities to interact with products. Similarly, expert voices and influencers are good ways to ensure that you are providing potential clients with key insight at the moments that matter.

Preparing for the third act

As we move towards Web3 objects, and a world where anonymity will give users even greater control over their personal information and how it gets shared and used, the need to reshape content creation, distribution, and engagement models is becoming ever more urgent.

As we enter the third act, it’s perhaps time for many to skip a generation and start to embrace a world where the customer really is at the center.


Nick Masters is Head of Growth and Digital at PwC UK. He can also be found on Twitter at @nickmasters.

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