Despite Recognizing the Importance of Personalization, Marketers Are Still Missing the Mark

Only 12% of advertisers feel their strategies are performing well

Not putting in the energy to research and personalize ads comes across as lazy to consumers. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Jeff Hasen

By the time the holiday shopping season arrives, you and I will have been exposed to, on average, well over one million brand messages in this calendar year alone.

As a result of that onslaught, we’ve spent 2018 sending signals every time we clicked, tapped, physically visited or flat-out ignored these communications, which averages out to more than 4,000 a day.

We’ve told marketers of our extraordinary interest in some things and our indifference in others. Businesses now know (or should know) every dollar that we spent with them with granular information that gave them daypart, offer acted upon and purchase pattern, among other particulars.

Of course, this was true last year. Then the holiday shopping season came, and for the most part, we were treated by businesses as equals. The channels and screens were different from our youth, but the marketing was unquestionably one-to-all as if we were still enthralled by The Ed Sullivan Show.

What’s changed in 2018?

Those who run deliver on one-to-one marketing, expertly using CRM plus artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximize efforts.

Not a thing that I’ve noticed in my inbox. I shake my head and delete en masse as much or more than ever. Little that has been sent to my phone has a new and more me, not just everyone, feel. It seems vintage 2017. Or even 2016. Some communications are relevant if not directed to me. But many others aren’t the least bit interesting, much less something that accounts for my likes and dislikes.

My laptop follows a similar pattern. Nothing personal. Each time that I receive something that reads like “Dear Generic Customer,” I think, “Dear God.”

I’ve never, ever had a meatball sandwich from your quick-service restaurant. You, Mr. or Ms. Marketer, know—or should know—from my purchase history that my diet is vegetarian. Why am I still getting those damn meatball ads?

As the season changes and focus for marketers turns to the make-or-break selling season, I’ll again ask: What is it going to take?

If you wonder if it matters, 80 percent of respondents in an Epsilon poll indicate they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences and 90 percent indicate that they find personalization appealing. According to McKinsey, personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by 5–15 percent and increase marketing spend efficiency by 10–30 percent.

The vast majority of marketers (98 percent) in an Evergate survey believe that personalization has at least some impact on advancing customer relationships, while 74 percent believe personalization has a “strong” or “extreme” impact on advancing customer relationships. Yet only 12 percent of marketers are “very” or “extremely” satisfied in the level of personalization in their marketing efforts, while 38 percent are “moderately” satisfied.

As one on the receiving end of marketing campaigns, I’m not even in the moderately satisfied bucket.

The most egregious disconnect for me in the last year was after my wife and I were met with a dirty sock, used robe and rumpled, dirty sheets upon check-in at the Magnolia Hotel in Denver. Despite voicing our displeasure to three employees, our emailed bill the next morning came with this opening: We hope you have enjoyed your stay with us.

To be sure, some brands have improved digital personalization efforts (colleagues and others do an admirable job online and in mobile apps, for instance). No one, including Gartner analyst Noah Elkin, said that this personalization stuff is easy. He sees marketers taking a crawl, walk, run approach.

In crawling, businesses do simple segmentation, grouping customers and prospects in buckets depending on behavior. Outreach happens one-to-many. By walking, marketers look at customers and prospects across channels and determine through customer relationship marketing how best to reach out. It’s still in groups, but with more confidence and accuracy in delivery something of value. Those who run deliver on one-to-one marketing, expertly using CRM plus artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximize efforts.

Sadly, I’m expecting many brand walkers to keep that same pace this holiday season. Hype will tell you otherwise. But until I see it, it’s one more thing that I’m not buying.


@jeffhasen Jeff Hasen is a mobile strategist for Possible Mobile and author of The Art of Mobile Persuasion.