Why Can’t We Tackle Personalized Marketing?

It’s completely natural to jump on the business buzzword bandwagon. It’s exciting to get behind the new shiny toy and expect something magical to kickstart our business. Once upon a time, we were excited about “big data”. Then, we fell in love with (and are still enamored with) “predictive analytics”. In a former life, I worked for a company that invested major marketing and product dollars to increase the “virality” of its product.

Over time, these concepts will get widely adopted and become part of standard business lexicon. For instance, big data today is merely … well, data.

Interestingly, year after year, one concept seems to just hang around: “personalized marketing”. Personalized marketing is the act of segmenting and marketing to specific audiences using relevant content to maximize engagement. Its promise – at least in the B2B environment – has yet to be realized. At a recent marketing event, personalized marketing was being trumpeted by vendors, speakers and attendees alike.

I was curious as to why personalized marketing hadn’t yet taken off so I reviewed one common marketing channel: my work inbox. Most emails started off with “Hi John” (a good start I suppose) but the personalization ended there. The messaging failed to relate to my role, company, location or purchasing history. I had advertisements for IT security (I’m in product management), a software workshop in San Francisco (I’m in greater Boston) and a general promotion for a new creative design software solution (I already owned this product at the time of the email). Yikes. Well, at least they knew my name.

The truth is that personalized marketing is still not widely adopted and has been a steep mountain to scale for most companies operating in a B2B environment. Why? Personalized marketing is a two-prong approach requiring a solid data foundation coupled with clever content strategy. Many companies focus on one of the two when both are attainable with the right solutions and personnel.

The two prongs – data and content – were recently outlined in a New York Times article which described the struggle that political campaign marketers have with connecting to voters. According to the article, the “science” of collecting data for personalized advertising is outpacing the “art” of creating effective campaigns leaving marketers to scramble to develop the content.

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers face challenges on the scientific front. According to NetProspex’ 2014 benchmark report, 88% of over 61 million data records analyzed were missing basic firmographic (company) data attributes. Good content is rendered useless when a marketer can’t segment across key attributes like industry, revenue, company size or location.

The challenge of understanding and implementing a personalized marketing program creates problems for many companies but incredible opportunities for those who can pull it off. By truly knowing who your customer is and curating effective messaging toward that audience, a marketer can present relevant opportunities, start meaningful conversations and solve real problems. This extends well beyond knowing a potential customer’s name.

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