According to a Harris Poll survey 63% of consumers in North America and the UK said they expect personalization from brands and retailers. Providing personalized experiences is a very real, very big challenge for marketers. It's not easy and if you don’t get it right, your consumers could walk. In fact, a Gartner survey found more than half of consumers will unsubscribe from a company’s communications and 38% will stop doing business with a company if they find personalization efforts to be “creepy.” 

Those in the personalization trenches said common struggles involve a combination of talent, resources and execution.

Personalization Engines Providing CDP-Like Capabilities

Let’s start with technology. One route vendors take trying to hook in marketers to create personalized experiences is through their "personalization engines." According to Gartner, personalization engines “apply context about individual users and their circumstances to select, tailor and deliver messaging such as content, offers and other interactions through digital channels in support of three use cases — marketing, digital commerce and customer experience.” Forrester has called the personalization market landscape “a mix of large, established players; emerging challengers; and niche solution providers all vying for a piece of the increased demand for personalization solutions."

Jennifer Polk, a vice president and analyst at Gartner focusing on personalization technologies, told CMSWire most personalization engines in the marketing technology stack integrate at the data layer. “We do see a number of personalization engines that have added what I would call customer data platform-like capabilities,” Polk said. “Some offer CDPs, but more of them are offering and adding data management capabilities. They may not necessarily meet Gartner's definition of a CDP, but they are allowing marketing teams to have a place where they can begin to integrate different types of customer data from different sources and build and manage customer profiles.”

The result? The personalization engines can support segmentation and targeting based not only on past behavior, but also real-time behavior and a customer profile all in one place, Polk said.

Related Article: The Challenges of Delivering Personalized Customer Experiences

Talent Needed to Enable Technology

While most of the vendors in the personalization engine space have sophisticated enough capabilities, the big impediment for actually creating experiences with the tools is lack of talent, according to Polk. “They're buying tools without necessarily having the people to go through the training and invest the time to learn how to use them,” she said.

That’s also a problem on the vendor side, too. Can the vendor support user certifications and training? Can they go beyond the onboarding help? Can they really be a resource to their clients on an ongoing basis? “They're getting better in that area,” Polk added.

Polk encouraged marketers to understand what that vendor support model looks like. Am I going to be paying for consulting services? Or is there going to be a success team in place? Will the vendor help make sure my team knows how to use the tool? It's about having the teams in place, having the training in place, and the vendors being able to support both the talent as well as the teams. Polk said she’s been encouraged lately by vendors recognizing potential complexity of the tools with improvements to the user interface such as lightweight visual editing tools.

More advanced marketing teams implementing personalization engines will already have strong data science capabilities and want to bring in their own models for scoring and their own customized algorithms. Vendors, Polk said, need to continue to invest in innovation, but they also need to make sure that they're giving flexibility and transparency to those more sophisticated teams.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Personalized Marketing: Where We Are in 2018

Personalizing in a B2B World

Some marketers are facing the complexity of offering personalized experiences in a B2B environment while having to keep an eye on consumer needs. Mike Veal serves as vice president of marketing for Ardent Mills, a flour and grain supplier. They sell ingredients to large brands but also need to know what consumers want. “How do we help those companies and their consumers? How do we make those connections?” That’s the question Veal and his team are constantly pondering when executing personalization strategies.

Veal’s very much focused on personalizing experiences for individual roles within the companies for which his brand serves. “From a B2B standpoint, what’s important to each one of those functions?” he asked. “It's very difficult.”

Conor McCrea, who runs global strategic marketing for W.L. Gore & Associates, agrees that is the daily challenge: Getting his brand’s message out to the right people along a wide range of B2B prospects. Finding the right target along a path of six to 10 potential individuals is “just about exactly what we do on a daily basis,” he said.

Understanding Behavior Is the Golden Ticket

Ultimately, in order for brands to truly engage with their customers, you have to show empathy, according to Joe Aleardi, chief revenue officer at Swrve. “In order to show empathy you have to understand the behavior, you have to have a deep understanding of that behavior and get that deep understanding of the context of that behavior,” he said.

Brands who send a targeted email will know what that prospect or customer did but won’t know the content of their behavior. “To truly understand the behavior and the context is enabling you to be relevant,” Aleardi said. “You have to know what that individual is up to.”