We know too much. The current B2B obsession with personalization is a result of all that lovely data cascading onto our dashboards.
Now that we have 360 visibility of our customers, surely we can build intimate relationships with them of a kind that was impossible to imagine in the days before digital?
Enter Jeff Goldblum, as usual. There's that quote from Jurassic Park, where his character berates scientists for getting so excited about what they can do that they forget to consider whether or not they should do it.
Marketers risk the same hasty mistake. You don't have to show your customers how much you know about them just because you can. In fact, you're likely to annoy them or scare them off if you do.
This is why 'personalization' is a tricky word. It tempts you into using people's first names and repeating their job titles and company names at them. Which at best is a bit clunky, and at worst can be intrusive and inappropriate.
In fact, the best direct marketers have always known how to make personalization work. They understand that it's about relevance, rather than chummy familiarity.
One example is the flyer from Bose that regularly dropped out of almost every magazine I read, no matter how niche it might be (Fortean Times, anyone?). I loved the Bose Wavestation, but it was a bit pricey for me at the time.
Then a flyer appeared with a cover picture that showed four CDs spread out in front of the product. I already owned three of the CDs. There was Keith Jarrett’s Vienna Concert, Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and, I think, a Pink Floyd album that wasn’t The Dark Side Of The Moon – probably Meddle, an inspired choice for a nailed-on Floyd fan like me.
The fourth one was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which I knew was a serious omission. I rushed out and got it immediately.
Bear in mind that Bose had no idea of my name or where I lived. I had never dealt with them and functional e-commerce was years away. But they knew who I was. I felt recognized and understood. I knew I could trust them.
It doesn't get more personal than that.
Of course, B2B marketing is tougher than B2C on every level. The propositions are often more complex or harder to differentiate and the audiences more elusive and resistant.
This is where sophisticated use of data can be particularly valuable. Your data can present you with a more detailed map of your audience's world, helping you to find the territory unoccupied by competitive propositions.
You can then take a more nuanced approach, segmenting audiences on the basis of what really matters to them and finding fresh, relevant, and valuable messages that differentiate your proposition and your brand.
As B2B marketers in 2021, our data is far more sophisticated than anything Bose had available. We have more of it, and brilliant tools for interrogating it.
Still, the Bose example demonstrates that data is worthless without a strong brand and proposition to help you work out how to use it.
You might say that to really understand who your customers are, you need to know who YOU are as a brand. You need a starting point for the interrogation of all that lovely data: what are we about, and why would anybody care?
This insight provides a benchmark, which you can use to set initial KPIs for your channels and your creative. You can then refine and improve your communications in near real-time as people begin to interact with it.
It might be as simple as a tweak to a headline or an email pre-header, or it might involve testing different pieces of content to see what resonates and prompts interaction.
The aim is to get closer to the language used by your readers and make your messaging and content more relevant and compelling. This is the true art of personalization.
And to prove it works, I was listening to Time Out on my beloved Bose Wavestation as I wrote this. Clearly, they got me right through the funnel.