Gartner predicts 80% of marketers will abandon personalization efforts by 2025 because they’ll be tired of either a lack of ROI or the stresses of managing customer data. Or both. Yikes. So, what is a marketer supposed to do with that information? Five years from now, their tipping points of frustration with marketing personalization efforts will lead them to pack up their campaign bags and, what, go back to batch, blast and pray? 

OK, so maybe these predictions are just that — predictions. Sure, there's a lot of data and research behind these findings, but how can we really know how marketers will feel in five years? Regardless, the fact remains — personalization is anything but magic, it's "hard work, time-consuming and expensive," according to a blog post this week by Gene De Libero, chief strategy officer and head of consulting for Geekhive, a marketing technology consultancy. “The lack of upfront strategy, the inherent complexity of marketing technology used to implement personalization at scale, and the persistent disconnect between a company’s business and marketing goals make the likelihood of achieving a personalization initiative a long shot," De Libero wrote.

1-to-1 Marketing Will ‘Become the Norm’

What’s the future of marketing personalization, and is 1-to-1 marketing possible? What are the steps to get to a 1-to-1 marketing level? Or are we forever buried in the one-to-segment approach, or one-to-persona? 

It’s not all doom and gloom, according to some. “1-to-1 marketing is not a myth, but it's definitely tough, both technologically and financially,” said Mayank Batavia, manager of marketing and partnerships at QuickEmailVerification

“Against that, it's highly rewarding and has the capacity to build customer loyalty and slash customer attrition. Margins are getting squeezed, and businesses are struggling to differentiate their offering from those of their competitors. That means sooner or later 1-to-1 marketing will become a norm for marketers.”

Related Article: 6 Marketing Personalization Strategies for 2020

Nope. Not Possible. Not Yet

But some don’t buy into the promise of 1-to-1 marketing. Brandon Cook, director of marketing for Clean Origin, said there is no place that he has seen in marketing that does not require scale. “Thus, as much as we love to personalize,” he added, “a one-to-one relationship is not attainable or efficient enough for most businesses.”

As a marketer, Cook spends much of his time thinking about this as his team sells products that require a highly individualized approach. They sell diamonds. “Just as no diamond is the same, each customer has a unique shopping journey,” Cook said. “The more that we can tailor this experience to reflect the individuality of each customer, the better the results that we see.”

In his team’s email marketing program, there is a personalized relationship with each customer segment looking for diamonds. Some customers are looking for a certain metal type or ring style. “We build custom email drip campaigns for each landing page and email capture point, ensuring that each customer gets products tailored specifically to their interests,” Cook said. “Yes, it is possible for more than one customer to enter the same email journey. That’s where we add personalization, abandoned cart and abandoned browse emails are able to fill the gaps, ensuring the products they love end up in their inbox.”

Related Article: What Is Machine Learning's Impact on Marketing Personalization?

Don’t Rule Out Dynamic Product Ads

Cook said he would argue that dynamic product ads offer a level of personalization that almost no other medium can offer. Yes, some consumers perceive them as pesky reminders of the products that they looked at last week or last month, he added. “However,” Cook said, “gauging from their performance, I see a much higher click-through-rate, and subsequently conversion rate from this type of ad. Dynamic product ads offer a 1-to-1 relationship between the customer and the products they’ve viewed regardless of whether you're using Google Display Network, Facebook Dynamic Product Ads or vendors like Adroll.”

Learning Opportunities

IT Must Be Agile

If you are attempting to to pull off 1-to-1 marketing, your IT backbone should be sturdy and agile enough to carry all the data you will keep on adding, according to Batavia. “The only way each of your subsequent engagements with customers can be enriched,” he added, “is by drawing data from all the previous engagements. Additionally, all departments and supporting systems should be upskilled to contribute to the collective customer intelligence you are building.”

Related Article: One Reason Personalization Fails? Customer Journey Mismanagement

Segment Before 1-to-1 Marketing

Dave Bowden, founder of Irreverent Gent, said he’s found in his experience that 1-to-1 marketing is possible, but only after effective one-to-segment marketing. How does he go about it? One way is, he sends a weekly newsletter to his subscribers and tailors the editorial calendar to the general interests of his audience. In his case that includes everything from clothes and grooming products to dating advice and book recommendations. In addition to a call-to-action driving to his website, his newsletters usually end with a request to reply to the newsletter and let him know how they feel about whatever issue he discusses. “The response rate is far less than the click through rate, but those who do respond tend to send very detailed replies, which I then respond to personally,” Bowden said. “The result is that this one-to-segment newsletter evokes a response, which starts a genuine 1-to-1 conversation,” Bowden said. “Those conversations have proven invaluable in helping me identify my most loyal readers/customers, and by responding to them and continuing the dialogue, I've made them even more loyal."

1-to-1 marketing would not work without first prompting customers and prospects to raise their hand and identify the topics for which they're interested. "It would feel inauthentic," Bowden said. "But allowing them to start that conversation, and essentially inviting the 1-to-1 interaction, has proven to be really effective for me.”

Go for 1-to-1 Marketing, But Expect the Work

Brands shouldn’t shy away from 1-to-1 marketing because it’s at an advanced stage and is extremely useful when brands want to hit potential buyers individually, according to Aqsa Tabassam, editor-in-chief of “One-to-segment marketing is a right approach, but many times, it makes clients feel like brands misunderstand them. It is the worst feedback that a brand could get,” Tabassam said. “1-to-1 marketing has diminished this flaw of segmented marketing. The brands using it are steps ahead of others.”

What’s one way to pull it off? Dynamic blocks can be created according to the activity of each user. “In these blocks,” Tabassam said, “things like the client’s data, the website’s navigation pattern and purchase history are stored. Afterward, clients are laser targeted through ads, email letters and displaying relevant products to the already purchased ones. Interestingly, this makes users feel special.” 

Getting there is another issue, though. As we said earlier, there’s no magic in this process. “1-to-1 marketing requires resources, budget as well as technicalities to implement it,” she said. “It requires combining each customer’s unique footprint with data science to get highly personalized data and doing marketing accordingly. No doubt, data science is an emerging field, but it is most expensive at the same time. Hiring the resources and buying relevant software is too costly for small to medium business owners.”