Understanding Personalization at Scale: It's More than a Buzzword

Digitas

Understanding Personalization at Scale: It's More than a Buzzword

Jennifer Fernbach

Personalization at Scale is a Growth Engine 

When I was growing up, my grandmother would test if spaghetti was cooked by throwing it against the wall. If it stuck, that meant it was done. But advertising is not like spaghetti. You can’t haphazardly throw ads at consumers and hope some of them stick. You need a strategic approach that combines media and creative targeting with personalized messaging. Using this formula, we’ve seen as much as a 585% lift in ROI. While the results aren’t always so dramatic, to date we haven’t seen a negative outcome. 

All content is not created equal

Today, consumers are exposed to more ads than ever before — even by conservative estimates, thousands of ads reach them every day. At the same time, they also have higher expectations for concierge-level service and customized experiences from the brands they interact with. But with spam filters and the ability to skip ads, many messages aren’t even being seen or heard. 

The challenge for brands is: How can you have a series of connected, relevant conversations with thousands of different consumers?  

To do so requires not only a keen understanding of your customers’ purchasing patterns and habits — knowing what they want even before they do — but also having the technical capabilities to create individualized messages and reach them at the right moment, in the right place and in the right mindset, as well as the capacity to produce all this content while staying in budget.

Welcome to the world of Personalization at Scale.

You can have all three

There’s an old saying that goes, “You can have it fast, good or cheap: Pick two.” The implication is that it’s impossible to have all three.  

With personalization at scale, you no longer have to choose. Marketers now have the opportunity to connect with a greater number of consumers and create more meaningful interactions with them, for a fraction of the cost.  According to the Harvard Business Review (as well as our own experience) we know that personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend, and can lift sales by 10% or more. So, why isn’t every brand doing it?

While the value of personalization is well documented, it can be challenging for companies to take the plunge. Fear of change may be part of the reason. The idea of shifting to a new way of doing things can be intimidating, especially if you’re not sure where to begin. But the reality is that transitioning to a new solution doesn’t mean starting from scratch. Brands can begin with many of the assets they already have, and it’s easy to test, learn and adapt along the way.  

Four guiding principles

Many brands we speak with at first think they’re already doing personalization at scale, when in reality they’re doing audience segmentation based on purchase data. Scaling personalization requires a combination of process, people and technology, and is dependent on close collaboration and commitment to working differently. But it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Consider these four guiding principles: 

Audience First: We flip the traditional advertising model upside down. Rather than leading with the :60 spot — or any other single piece of content — we begin by learning about brands and their customers, and gain a greater understanding of their unique business challenges. We then build on that in our data discovery, where we look for additional opportunities to reach new creative audiences with more personalized messaging, and then build a content plan to best deliver on those needs. 

For one of our CPG clients, our data discovery process helped identify a new factor that could lead customers to purchase their product. This particular benefit hadn’t been part of their messaging, because it wasn’t something that stood out just from looking at purchase data. Using this new insight, we were able to target incremental creative audiences, resulting in a significant lift in ROI.  

Smart Production Planning: By anticipating all creative needs early in the creative process, we can ensure we have a plan to efficiently capture all required content.  As an initial step, we map out who we need to reach, what we want to say to them, what we want to learn as a result, and what assets are required. 

While we use existing assets where we can, we employ the “Shoot Once, Use Many” philosophy when we need to capture new content, ensuring that assets can be sliced and diced any number of ways according to all of the audiences we’re trying to reach. So, we’re not just producing more for less, we’re producing smarter.

Powered by Technology: Leveraging tools and technology is a must, including Digital Asset Management systems for visibility into all existing content, Workflow Management tools to expedite review and approval of work, and DCO and Creative Management Platforms to automate creative versioning. When we use these tools we move faster, save money, and ensure better overall collaboration and control.

By using a Creative Management Platform, brands can deploy large-scale campaigns with sophisticated decisioning and targeting tactics. This enables us to test and deliver unlimited versions of targeted creative based on variables including customer segment, location, browsing activity, or device. This level of personalization, speed and scale would simply not be feasible with a traditional content model.

Continuous Optimization: Staying fresh and relevant to your audience is a fluid process. That’s why to maximize effectiveness, we’re constantly diagnosing where things are working well and where they can improve, giving us the capacity to optimize in real time. This enables us to easily refine a message based on a key new insight, or test a new concept. 

Get Started

Personalization at Scale doesn’t have to be an abstract buzzword or a vague, overwhelming concept. By following a few easy steps, brands can move beyond the buzz and begin using content to unlock significant business growth.

  1. Crawl/Walk/Run. Begin with an assessment of your current technology platform, available data and assets as well as creative capabilities, and then build the right roll-out plan. But don’t wait for perfection. Start small, with existing data and assets to run a pilot, and build from there. 
  2. Embrace change. Making personalization a priority means changing how we work. Success requires commitment from the top, as well as investments in the right data and technology foundations and the ability to operationalize a new model. These upfront investments, and ongoing governance, are what enable brands to plan, execute and scale personalized content. They are key to driving business growth. 
  3. Collaboration is key. Cross-functional teams must be agile and work in lock step to be successful. Assemble key players across Technology, Data & Analytics, Media, Creative, Production, and Strategy teams – across Brand, Agency and Partner organizations  — to ensure full alignment from day one.

Want to learn more? Reach out to Jennifer.fernbach@digitas.com

Jennifer Fernbach

Jennifer Fernbach

SVP, Optimized Content Solutions

With 20+ years of experience supporting some of the world's most respected brands, Jen Fernbach is currently the Digitas North American Center of Excellence Lead for Optimized Creative. In this role, she oversees the implementation of client solutions, including standing up global teams and capabilities; Transcreation and Localization; and rolling out tools and technology, including the DAM, workflow management, dynamic creative, and more. 

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