School report card with all As and A+ - marketing personalization strategy
PHOTO: Adobe

Marketing has evolved from the typical, broadcasted messages to a segment of users or customers; to granular, personalized messages aimed at a particular type of customer and even to a single user. 

This desire for 1:1 communication with customers has increased personalization efforts; however, according to Gartner, most marketers will have abandoned their personalization efforts in 2025 due to a lack of consistent ROI.  Based on Gartner's findings, marketers start their personalization efforts with great fanfare but end up burned out and casting personalization away after not seeing results.

The lack of results can come from many places, but the major culprit is the lack of real customer data and marketers' inability to grade their personalization strategy. If marketers don't know how to grade their efforts, their chances of success are slim to none.

With that in mind, we decided to ask marketers and C-suite executives about gaining visibility over their personalization strategy and how they grade and measure it to determine what is working and what isn't.

Marketing Personalization in 2021

Most marketers use personalization engines to apply context rules about individual users to create, tailor and deliver timely content, offers, and other touchstones to digital channels in support of both sales and the overall customer experience. 

Yet, almost no company deploys personalization beyond the digital channels in a true omnichannel way. For instance, according to McKinsey research, the next frontier for personalization could be offline personalization and person-to-person experiences.

When asked about personalization in 2021, Jon Moran, product marketing manager at Cary, NC.-based SAS, thinks "personalization will move from reactionary to guided, where historical data is combined with current or in-session data, possible marketing actions and perceived customer states." 

This presents a huge opportunity for marketers in the post-pandemic era as the advancements in AI-driven personalization, location recognition, and biometric tools will drive business growth across sectors, both in the software and ecommerce industries. 

These advancements in AI and machine learning mean that marketers will need to redesign shopper journeys for both at-home shoppers and brick-and-mortar consumers so that both seemingly different experiences present a cohesive narrative for them, connecting consumers both online and offline.

These are some of the keys that will drive marketing personalization in 2021 and beyond: 

  • Digitalization of brick-and-mortar stores
  • Automated assistants like Alexa will simplify shopping 
  • Ecosystem-based customer journeys that integrate different services
  • Improvement of machine learning algorithms to understand social cues
  • Buying decisions will become a conversation between users and products

Related Article: 6 Personalization Tips for a Better Customer Experience

Getting Personalization Right 

Personalization has become one of the cores of marketing, but more than a means to an end (i.e., converting visitors into customers), it needs to become a central part of your strategy to cement a relationship between your product or brand and your customers. 

However, to make sure that these personalization efforts come across as real, marketers shouldn't overdo it. Amanda Goodwin, head of Experience Design at Saint Louis, MO.-based Ansira expands on this concept by saying that “personalization is used by many marketers to cover a broad range of meanings, so it’s important to further break it down as there is a distinct difference in brands being “personalized” with their communications to customers versus creating a “personal” experience for customers.”

Thus, getting personalization right becomes a must or marketers risk losing customers altogether due to poorly planned personalization strategies. Moran says that "the best personalization strategies are seamless and not bound by timeframes — providing context, advice, and content at exactly the right point in time along a customer journey — without feeling forced by the brand or forced onto the customer."

Plus, it's necessary that marketers see at the center of their strategy to understand what personalization means in their particular context rather than merely applying tactics and fixes. 

These are some first steps marketers could implement to get personalization right:

  • Leverage a pilot or proof of concept (POC) with a vendor before investing in a personalization tool
  • Create a cross-functional team composed of sales, marketing, and customer support to assess the effectiveness of the strategy
  • Localize experiences in accordance with the community your customers belong to
  • Rethink strategies across a more extensive set of channels
  • Think of non-intrusive, compliant ways of reaching customers that don't seem like an intrusion into your customer's private life

Grading Your Marketing Personalization Strategy

Assessing the effectiveness of your marketing personalization strategy can be a tough business. Research by Evergage shows that 86% of the surveyed marketers feel less than comfortable with their current personalization strategies and that only 1% feels extremely confident. 

The respondents cited issues such as a lack of data unification and lack of omnichannel strategies as their main hurdles towards personalization. Plus they mentioned problems with their tech stack as another issue that prevented an adequate assessment of their personalization strategies.  

To assess whether or not your personalization strategy is working, we suggest you do the following:

Identify Your Objectives

Since your objectives will vary depending on your business, industry, and growth stage, you shouldn't follow a cookie-cutter approach here. For example, your goals can be: 

  • Improve sales performance
  • Increase the customer lifetime value
  • Drive traffic that ends up in conversions
  • Increase average order value
  • Or strengthen brand recognition

Define Your Primary KPIs

When you have your objectives in place, you need to define your metrics to indicate the progress towards these objectives.  

Remember that everything you define as a KPI needs to be quantifiable and you need systems in place to measure them. 

Think of metrics such as:

  • Conversion rate
  • Returning vs new visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • Top traffic sources
  • Click-through rate

Measure and Analyze

Once you have metrics to oversee, you need to establish benchmarks to understand whether you’re  making progress or failing to meet your goals.  

Also, make sure you're integrating all of your metrics into the systems you've put in place. Send all the information to a centralized hub to get a bird's eye view of what's happening with your personalization efforts. 

And finally, be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into seeing only one segment. Instead, see all of your data consistently and over time to extract as many insights as possible.