This is the unedited version that was published on Monday 10/24 on MediaPost- Email Insider
Link to original article: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/287505/personalization-vs-individualization.html
There is no doubting the effects of personalizing email. Content should be relevant to the audience and as timely as you can possibly be. You would think that retailers would it easy since they have an endless supply of SKUs and product imagery and it’s just a matter of merchandising the right category of content. In publishing, you’d think it would be easy: a person subscribes and presto, you align types of content based on interests or subscriptions and the curation machine will do the work. In both worlds, email marketers are basically doing a jigsaw puzzle on the fly, but in reality it turns into paint by numbers, which is a slow process if you’ve ever done it.
The problem with dynamic content with tons of if/then rules and complexity is, you gradually diminish the audience/experience and statistically, it’s very hard to understand what worked, outside on long-tail trending. Most end up dumbing it down to a big image or a few content blocks below the fold. We’ve all been there, it usually because we are too exhausted to be real creative.
I’ve been a huge proponent of personalization in general for a long time, but I don’t believe it’s valuable if you look at it like a mail merge. The methods to measure impact can only be seen realistically, over a period of time, not one dynamic image/link at a time. Your program should adapt over time, but it shouldn’t require a too far a view into the future to be creative as you go.
I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry where we need to shift how we think about the customer experience in email. The facts don’t lie. Consumers are place-shifting, viewing email on the run, in the office and at home, and their attention span varies greatly. They’re also time-shifting, so the vision of send time optimization doesn’t work, unless you are delivering horoscopes — which we know everyone wants with their coffee in the morning. The consumer is device-shifting, and in some cases even switching between devices during a task, like shopping. Publishers love this for the shear reach and impression value, but ecommerce people are grappling with fewer clicks on mobile, when that’s their path to the proxy that feed off of- a sale.
The future is what I like to call “individualization.” This goes against all batch-and -blast views of the world and is a more adaptive approach to engagement. Sure, you have your newsletter going out to everyone and it looks the same. Sure, you have promotions where you have little control over the merchandising in the email. There is absolutely a place for just communications, where personalization and the effort doesn’t pay off for everyone. Sometimes, the best personalization is simply the timing of the communication. We all recognize we don’t always have the time to do personalization with heavy production schedules. Yet, if you think about it differently, it can ultimately change your approach and how you think about scaling a small team.
Is it viable to have everything personalized? Is it possible to automate the dynamic nature of content when you send it, vs. having to think up the matrix for each send during a campaign product run? The shift in our market has been with triggered email. It makes total sense to personalize based on a shopping cart event: what a customer bought, what she didn’t, what she looked at and didn’t add to your cart. But this is one person and one event, right? What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the events built up over time and the content was as smart as the audience information you learn over time? What is you had one template vs. nine? or a few that were smart and pulled content based on behaviors and site updates or inventory updates or feeds or social content curation? Scary to think about, a machine deciding on the content. Get ready, its coming soon and there are ways to step into this with Smarty Templates.
What if you had smart templates, where each piece of content has logic, and you consider content management more than image hosting? Instead of programming to the campaign, you are building for the content and how you want to use it. What if you shifted your thinking of how to mai- merge — “Dear David,” with an image of a car — and you could, within any email, make one logic change, and all streams were delivering content based on this logic, updating in real time.
Think differently and you’ll find the solutions are at your fingertips.