Marketing TechnologyContentPerfecting the human connection for your personalization strategy

Perfecting the human connection for your personalization strategy

Four masterstrokes that big brands can use to optimize and improve their digital marketing by observing what’s working in smaller, local markets

30-second summary:

  • Contrary to the “go big or go home” approach that global brands use, going small and more targeted can bring big results
  • Connecting with local markets is easier with localized messaging, imagery, and more
  • Award-winning branded content creator, Melanie Deziel shares advice on how to personalize connections as your audience grows

As a marketer, it’s really easy to get stuck in an echo chamber of “big brand marketing.” We watch what similar-sized companies are doing. We gush over the Fortune 100s pumping out big-budget ads with big names for the big game and their big sale. We admire international corporations that win awards for global campaigns, pull off outlandish PR stunts in Times Square, and land impressive celebrity spokespeople who rake in millions just for holding a product on Instagram Live.

While it’s great to get inspiration from big brands that push the envelope, it’s easy to miss out on priceless learnings from more clever marketing moments that small and local businesses do to reach new customers, increase loyalty and set themselves apart.

Working with so many local and independently owned businesses—both as a consultant in the past and now with The Convoy—I’ve really come to appreciate the ways that they approach marketing, and I think we’ve got some big lessons to learn from these small businesses.

1. Prioritize people

One of the best things about local businesses is the personal relationships that form between the customers and the owners and staff. 

When I walk in the door of my favorite coffee shop, they greet me by name, and my local pizza shop asks if I’m having “the usual” before I can even place my order. It makes me feel seen and valued as a customer and makes me more likely to go back. 

For many big brands, scale comes at the cost of personal connection, and customers can end up feeling like a number. And while email merge tags can certainly help create the illusion of personal connection, they sometimes fall flat. Don’t you agree, {First Name}?

Look for opportunities to bring personalization and human connection back into your customer experience at each stage of the customer journey. 

Here are some considerations

Q1. What standardized communications could benefit from some personalization?

  • Make order confirmation, purchase receipt, and other automated emails more specific and personal with merge tags, turning “Thanks for your purchase,” into “Thanks for your purchase, Alex. Can’t wait for you to get your hands on your new Fancy Widget Thingamajig!”
  • Bring personalization to your fine print too. Why leave a plain “unsubscribe” when you can say “If you’d like fewer emails, Omar, you can adjust your settings here.”

Q2. Where can you add video or audio to make things feel more human?

  • Use video messages (instead of text-only) as a follow-up to meetings, calls, or orders. Ideally, record a personal one for each person, using their name.
  • Have your CEO, or another leader, record a more generalized welcome video that can be included in your customer onboarding sequence.

Q3. Where can you swap general identifiers to individuals?

Q4. What communities have naturally formed around your products or services?

  • Acknowledge those communities by mentioning them in your materials, to drive membership and engagement.
  • Empower those communities by offering exclusive content, community-only discount codes, or something else that makes them feel appreciated.

Q5. How might you surprise and delight a bit more often?

  • Add a handwritten note to your shipments, like grocery-shipment company Boxed does.
  • Give your sales teams or other key employees a small monthly “surprise & delight” budget so they have the flexibility to identify these opportunities and act on them.

2. Think local

Just because you’re a national brand, doesn’t mean that every campaign and every tactic needs to be national. 

While it might sound limiting to focus marketing on just a few of the countless markets you need to reach, local markets present big brands with an opportunity to create the kind of deep connection and perception of omnipresence that local businesses enjoy. 

One way to leverage the power of localized marketing is to unearth local search opportunities. This might mean paying attention to the opportunities hidden in localized search queries, the way Airbnb has by creating landing pages specifically for stays in major destination cities.

Airbnb-x-ACME-Mail - to find local search marketing opportunities

Source: Foundation Inc

Why this worked well for Airbnb:

  • It used search data to segment, group, and target audiences based on geography
  • Designed landing pages with H1 titles that featured location-specific keywords and aligned with search intent
  • Added a curated list of the “Top rated rentals” on-page to optimize the user journey to drive bookings
  • Used short and easy to share URL structures like – Airbnb.com/rome-italy/stays

Another way to put the “market” back into your marketing is to localize messaging. Each market has its own language, culture, and expectations, so personalizing your messaging for each individual area can help create a deeper connection (and better conversions) than blasting the same exact messaging and imagery to Cali surfers, Texas ranchers, Midwestern moms, and NYC fashionistas. 

StreetEasy did this especially well with its ‘Find Your Place’ campaign in New York City. Rather than using generalized ads about finding your perfect apartment on their site, StreetEasy ran ads in the Five Boroughs that referenced specific neighborhoods and amenities that would be relevant for NYC residents. (A Doorman? No, thanks. Fire escape? Yes, please!)

Example to help you think local to master the human connection with personalization

Source: Ads Of The World

Questions to ask as you embrace the power of local marketing

  1. Which markets could benefit from some more personalized attention? 
    • Which markets could benefit from localized messaging?
    • Which markets could benefit from localized imagery?
    • Which markets could benefit from having a voiceover with a local accent?
  2. Which markets are bringing in enough search traffic to warrant personal attention?
    You might decide to create content in a new language, for example, to be more accessible to a foreign audience that represents a significant portion of your traffic.
  3. Which markets aren’t bringing in as much search traffic as desired?
    If you’re not getting enough traffic from the geography that you expected to dominate, you may want to create content that speaks directly to these geographies specifically, as with the StreetEasy campaign above.

3. Embrace analog

While much of the conversation around marketing is focused on digital marketing, there’s an entire world of engaging tactics beyond search, social, and programmatic display.

But for most local businesses, “digital marketing” and “marketing” aren’t so synonymous. These smaller brands often leverage a significant amount of analog advertising tactics to reach new consumers, retain existing customers, and improve the customer experience at all points in the funnel. 

But you can embrace analog experiences in other parts of your marketing as well.

I will never forget when I got my Starbucks Gold Card in the mail: In a world where most loyalty programs live inside apps and online accounts, I had a physical card with my name on it. 

Prompts to discuss with your team for discovering analog marketing opportunities

Q1. What analog ad tactics have you overlooked or underestimated?

Consider which local media might be worth advertising in, which local sports teams or events might be worth sponsoring, and what out-of-home tactics could have an impact.

Q2. Which customer experiences could be made more memorable with an analog touch?

Some examples: onboarding, purchasing, celebrating, recognizing, upgrading, renewing, meeting, visiting, etc.

Q3. Which digital acknowledgments could be made physical in some way?

Sure, a birthday email from a brand is fine. But an actual birthday card received in the mail would be even better!

4. Think small to win big

At the end of the day, marketers at big brands know we’re lucky to have large budgets to work with and large teams to support us. 

But we’re not the only ones throwing lots of budget into reaching and retaining our audience. 

By thinking like a small brand, we just might be able to out-think the competitors that we can’t outspend.


Melanie Deziel is the co-founder and VP of marketing at The Convoy, a B2B marketplace helping small businesses save money on everyday expenses.

She is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning branded content creator, and lifelong storyteller. Melanie is also the author of ‘The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas’.

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