Today’s brands are producing an enormous amount of highly personalized content. The reason — according to research by Adobe — is that 67% of consumers want brands to tailor content to them, and 42% even get annoyed when content isn’t personalized.
The sheer amount of content and the complexity of matching this content to various audiences, however, could be too much to handle manually for most brands. Does that mean artificial intelligence (AI) is the only realistic way forward?
We asked marketing experts why they need large scale personalization and how they’re scaling the personalization strategies at their companies.
Why Brands Need Large Scale Personalization
“It seems strange to talk about large-scale personalization, when the very idea of personalization is to narrowly focus on an individual’s needs or desires,” stated Geoff Webb, VP of strategy PROS, “yet that is exactly the challenge that faces businesses now.” Today’s consumers want their individual needs met immediately, and don’t want to be treated as just another member of a business’s broader target market.
“Vendors must now be able to demonstrate a clear response to a specific need in a buyer, while doing so at scale,” Webb explained, “across many buyers, globally, through multiple purchasing channels.” This need for personalization goes for B2B markets as well, which have buyers willing to pay more for solutions that meet their specific business needs. “Failing to do so risks losing individual deals to a more nimble competitor,” warned Webb, “and ultimately the buyer themselves entirely.”
Related Article: Why the Time Is Right for Personalization
Does AI Play a Critical Role?
“When you consider the scale of many businesses — the number of products, customers, configurations, options, sales channels, price points and so on,” said Webb, “it becomes clear that the volume of information that must be consumed and analyzed is simply too great for human methods.” Even if companies do attempt to grind through the data manually, it often takes too long to offer the responsiveness consumers expect.
“AI has therefore become one of the central pillars in delivering personalization at scale and speed,” continued Webb. AI technologies — paired with a good customer dataset — can spot trends and make discoveries faster and better than humans in many cases. “B2B business of the future will be masters of analytics and extracting insight from oceans of data, very, very quickly,” Webb stated. For this, he believes AI will play a critical role.
Jeffrey MacIntyre, principal at Bucket Studio, however, believes the smartest teams know that information architecture (IA) is far more critical than AI. “There is no scale without structure,” he explained, “you cannot afford to forego understanding the data around your customer journey and the contextual delivery of content.” The reality is that content creation and design are prerequisites to algorithms that machines simply cannot deliver.
The Way Forward for Personalization
For Webb, personalization shouldn’t be the end goal itself, but a means for supporting the company’s overall sales and customer engagement strategy. “We personalize so that we can achieve exactly the right outcome for the customer and the vendor together,” he said. That means for brands to foster personalized interactions, they first need to listen to their customers and then engage with them.
“The truly transformative part of this,“ Webb continued, “is that the process of engaging with a customer enables us to learn more about their desires.” Every interaction is an opportunity to learn more about the customer, which can be factored into the next interaction. “It becomes a virtuous, reinforcing cycle in which the relationship moves from transactional to long-term,” Webb explained. When this happens, both the buyer and the vendor derive more value from the relationship.
“AI is not the sensible way forward for most organizations to scale personalization efforts.” added MacIntyre. He believes personalization doesn’t need to be launched on every platform at once, but should be slowly implemented over time. “Incrementalism is not just smart scoping with personalization, it’s oftentimes the best way to generate learnings, momentum and a sponsor's confidence.”
“AI is able to deliver the right kind of advice, insight and information to shape how businesses deliver exactly what a customer wants,” said Webb. But brands with the most successful personalization strategies need to know how to feed AI the right data.