How “Automated Personalization” Is Curing Our Creativity Crisis

Creativity in business is highly prized. If the culture is right, we use our human ingenuity and imagination to think creatively and generate new ideas, which when applied to business situations drive innovation. To be specific, in marketing, we have plenty of great creative ideas and technology innovation in the form of content and channels and ad placements that we use to connect with people in various stages of the sales cycle. The challenge is in getting that most appealing content to the right person when the timing is best.

I think of that challenge as a personalization challenge (and, admittedly this is “personalization” writ large) – how can I personalize this experience and this connection to improve my brand’s relationship with high-value audiences? This need for greater personalization has created a huge opportunity for automation technologies, and spawned a data-driven content trend that I think is the new frontier for marketing organizations.

There is a great need for analytics to play a role throughout the customer lifecycle. One area that is of particular opportunity is in personalization – knowing what to create in order to full engage someone at a particular moment.

Personalized marketing is the kind that the audience takes ownership of. Ownership means that people engage with it, share it, help create it, review it, and consume it like it’s part of the brand experience. The greatest compliment to a brand is when customers start to use branded content and share it as part of the product experience. The Anthropologie campaign on DIY summer drink recipes is a good example. The content has nothing to do with what they actually sell – they don’t sell rum or mixers or glassware or ice. But they do sell the kind of clothing that is presumably worn by people who know what the best drinks are for summer parties.

The whole movement around Zero Moments of Truth (ZMOT) is based on this notion that people will connect with brands when the content and timing is relevant.

Knowing what content and when is the output of many analytics challenges. I was socializing an idea (which I will explore in a future column!) that the use of analytics could be expanded from just the bookends: The predictive MOTs at the beginning of the cycle and the purchase MOTs at the end. We could be using analytics insights more strategically in the white space in between – all that nurturing that must happen between purchases. This is a more informed version of data-driven content marketing. It also helps build that precious ownership of the brand by customer.

The most shareable and engaging content marketing is usually not the direct sales pitches (those are, however, the content sets that get the most buying action!). It’s often about engagement BETWEEN the sales pitches. The best strategy is how to be helpful to your audience. If you sell books, help people connect with the kinds of books they like. If you are a restaurant chain, help people make plans with others – or join new communities – to dine out more. If you sell cookware, create cooking tips.

A good example is the great Callaway Golf YouTube channel. Videos include how to hit a bump and run and vertical centers of gravity in golf drivers. You don’t have to be a Callaway customer to benefit from this content, and it certainly builds the leadership position of the brand. A data-driven content strategy would use analytics to understand when to present the various videos to prospects as they visit various websites or even anonymous website visitors at Calloway, in order to engage them in a more meaningful way.

Of course, all the content in the world is no good to you if NO ONE SEES IT. Getting the right mix of content to the right person at the right time is not a job you can do well with systems that don’t talk to each other, latent data sets, distinct channel systems, and dysfunctional business goals. I propose that marketing automation is the missing link here.

Personalization is now automated, and so the creative team doesn’t have to make a guess as to when a certain message will resonate – it leaves that detail to the technology and the scientists. What the creative team must do, however, is understand the customer journey and create messaging for each phase. Then, the work of matching creative assets to the right channel, right time, right cadence is easily done by the automation tools. So is a lot of testing.

Consider the humble website. It’s the best online analogy we have to a real human for creating customized experiences. Your store reps don’t greet each customer the same way – particularly if they have been in the shop before. Neither should your website. Content personalization for websites could very well be the next big thing in marketing automation – and already some of the more popular MA solutions are offering integrated tools for this purpose.

This goal of personalization has created a big opportunity for all of us on all sides of the analytics spectrum – whether you are an analytics pro or a marketing strategist looking to put insights to work. Can you envision some scenarios where automated personalization can improve the placement of your content? Perhaps you can start now by tapping the technologies already in house to start to move in this direction. Please comment below to share your ideas.

Image via Shutterstock.

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