How to master personalization in marketing

There is a restaurant near my house that I go to a lot. I almost always order the same dish. The first time I ordered it, I asked for it without two ingredients that normally come in the dish. I also added another ingredient that’s normally not included. The waitress brought it just as I had requested. Now, every time I arrive and order that dish, I don’t have to request it my special way. She just knows, and it always comes out right. She practices personalization when she delivers her service to me.

I love that she remembers what I want. For example, I also try not to use straws due to the unnecessary waste they produce. The first time I ordered a drink at that same restaurant, I asked for no straw. Now, she never brings me a straw. When I arrive, she remembers what I like, and caters to my needs. And that is in large part why I keep coming back to the same spot.

Personalization in marketing, in theory, has the same effect. It involves getting to know your customers and prospects, and compiling data on their likes, dislikes, needs, and interests. Armed with that data, you can deliver exactly what they want, when they want it. This makes your customer feel valued and builds loyalty.

The prevalence and importance of personalization in marketing are steadily on the rise. So much so that 94% of top-level executives say that personalization is critical to reaching customers. So, how do you succeed at personalized marketing? Let’s dig in.

Personalization depends on data… lots of data!


You can only deliver a personalized message or experience to someone if you know who they are and what they need. And the only way to know what they need is to collect personal data from them.

Enter marketing automation. This is where data collection happens. With the use of lead generating landing pages and web forms, you can collect personal information from anyone who is interested in your offer and navigates there. You may be offering content, a special discount for signing up, or anything else your readership will be willing to trade their info for.

In most cases, you’ll be offering content to gather personal data. The content must deliver value, educate readers, and solve common problems they have. Otherwise, you’ll get no data. According to Jose Vasquez, “In the content marketing world, it’s far better to have one solid piece of work than a dozen mediocre pieces.” Always focus on quality over quantity and you’ll gather more lead data, allowing you to personalize to a higher degree.

Personalizing your content

We’re past the point where personalization means automatically putting the recipient’s first name in the salutation of a marketing email. Your content itself needs to be personalized and speak to the specific needs of each individual in your database.

There are a few things to take into consideration when personalizing your content.

  • Mapping content to the customer journey

Leads and prospects they will be interested in different types of content as they pass through the various stages of your sales funnel. Define which type of content prospects need at each stage and develop the content with that specific audience in mind.

You can use system tags provided by your marketing automation system to track each prospect as they move to a new stage. Then, you can send them content that aligns with where they are in the customer journey.

  • Segmentation to drive content personalization

As you collect all that customer and prospect data, you can start to create segments of contacts based on the various data you have stored. For example, if your primary types of customers can be broken up by industry, create industry segments. Then, create content that speaks to the needs and solves the problems of that particular industry.

The use case of a bakery using a CRM is quite different than that of a construction company. And so are their needs, interests, etc. Armed with the right data, you can develop content that speaks to the pain points of prospects in the construction industry who are at the top stage of the funnel. Your content will be much more relevant and engaging than if you take a one-size-fits-all approach. You can get as granular as you want with personalization but doing so requires having the data to do it.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning


Early personalization involved pulling data fields into emails, much like a mail merge. You remember those, right? These days, personalization is much more complex and can do exponentially more, due to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Marketing automation solutions can remember things like the web pages you have visited, which items you left abandoned in your cart, which emails you opened, your past buying history, etc.

They can learn and predict your behavior based on how you’ve behaved in the past. With that type of data stored, you can use marketing automation to personalize pop-ups on your website, the type of content that appears on a landing page, and more.

The possibilities are vast when you consider personalization of push notifications, the website experience, mobile SMS messages, etc.

The use of AI and machine learning will increasingly dominate personalization in marketing. Consider this telling quote by Vijay Chittoor, co-founder & CEO of Blueshift:

“Until now, marketers had two choices: they could either pick personalized, or scalable, but not both; they could opt for inefficient manual ways of personalized engagement or choose static digital marketing that scaled but took a one-size-fits-all approach. Machine intelligence is changing that. AI-driven brand storytelling intelligently adapts to a consumer’s unique preferences and behavior to deliver truly personalized stories at scale, by combining the human elements of storytelling with machine-powered personalization.”

Relevant, timely, and helpful personalization

It’s important that personalized messages and experiences are helpful, timely, and relevant.

For example, if someone looked at a product page on your website but didn’t buy that item, you could have a trigger in place to send them an email a day later with an offer for that product. It will bring the product back to mind, and they may buy it. It could be that they wanted it all along and just got distracted. In this case, your personalized email was helpful and timely.

On the other hand, let’s say someone is browsing that product and buys it. Then, a week later you send them an email offer about the same product. At that point, it’s neither timely nor relevant. It could be enough to convince that customer not to shop with you again. Plus, it’s just plain annoying.

What lies ahead  

As AI and machine learning burrow deeper into marketing automation solutions, we will see the entire customer experience personalized. Your website will know when a customer arrives and present a different version of your homepage focused on upselling. When prospects arrive, they will see the prospect version.

Virtually every step of the buyer journey will be personalized. And there’s very little doubt that this will take place. A survey by Forbes found that marketers who are delivering a personalized web experience (still a new and evolving concept) are enjoying double-digit returns on marketing performance and response.

Moving forward, we will continue to see more companies leveraging AI and machine learning in their marketing efforts. Those that will come out on top will be those that start researching the topic now and begin leveraging it in their marketing automation solution as soon as possible.  

Do you have any tips to share with your peers about personalization in marketing? Let us know in the comments section below.  

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