B2B marketers are widely considered to be deeply rational and practical thinkers – but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to twisted logic when it comes to some things. If the latest report from McKinsey is anything to go by, ‘personalisation’ is one of those areas where we appear to have a mental blind spot.
Despite advances in technology, data and analytics – personalisation stubbornly remains ‘too hard’ or ‘too expensive’. A nice thing to do, but not an essential many would argue. Contrast this viewpoint with the bounty on offer at the other end of the rainbow and the logic seems deeply flawed.
For those ‘doing personalisation’ the rewards are a 5-15% increase in marketing efficiency and revenue. Yet, these market leaders remain in the minority with fewer than 10% of businesses deploying personalisation in a systematic way.
“Despite advances in technology, data and analytics – personalisation stubbornly remains ‘too hard’ or ‘too expensive’”
Start with the holy trinity
Outside of this small number of vanguards in the B2B marketing space, personalisation hasn’t really progressed much beyond the realm of email marketing. Much of this is down to poor data quality, lack of technology know-how and inadequate planning processes.
These are the ‘Big 3’ foundational elements of marketing and if you don’t have them, there’s very little chance of making personalisation a success. In fact, you even argue you have very little chance of making marketing a success without some basic competency in these areas. So, why is this holy trinity so important?
Data pools, lakes and oceans
When it comes to decision-making and accountability, the conversation tends to start and finish with data – and quite rightly so. The best creative, content and go-to-market plans in the world are rendered impotent if the data to target on a personal level is absent. If you’re looking to be hyper-targeted – now or in the future – you’re going to need a data strategy that covers first, second and third party sources.
First party data is simple enough – it’s the stuff held in your CRM, or on spreadsheets, and is hopefully GDPR-compliant. This is gold dust and it should be your aspiration to build a high-quality customer database for as long as humans communicate by conventional methods. Yes, email as a B2B channel ain’t going to die anytime soon – no matter what the doom-merchants predict.
Second party data is leveraged less frequently in B2B than consumer, but is still worth understanding. This is effectively shared data between two parties. For example two complementary brands sharing a digital cookie so they can both market to the same prospect across both of their websites. One rents its data to the other, which is relatively common in the transport and retail industries. Think AirMiles and British Airways or Sainsbury’s and Argos as part of the Nectar points scheme.
“When it comes to decision-making and accountability, the conversation tends to start and finish with data – and quite rightly so”
Arguably, the most interesting area of innovation for B2B marketers is in the field of third party data. This is both simple and complex at the same time. The easy bit to grasp is the email and postal address lists you rent from a professional data provider like Experian or Blue Sheep. You blast a few email campaigns out and what you capture is yours. The rest goes in Room 101.
The complex bit is that third party data also now incorporates data warehouses who aggregate it in enormous volumes from multiple sources and make it anonymous to advertisers. These third parties are called DMPs or data management platforms and they sell their data to advertisers who are looking to expand their reach. By using ‘look-alike’ modelling they can help you reach identikit prospects to the ones that have become your customers in the past.
Select your audience segments, just like you would with a paid social campaign, and off you go. If your target audience, and budget, is big enough then this form of ‘programmatic’ advertising could very well be up your street.
Technology and intelligence are inseparable
As we’ve just learned adtech is powering the world of third party data, but there’s also a fast-growing martech space too. Marketing technology today is dominated by a few enterprise-scale providers – namely, Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce, IBM and Microsoft. Each has spent the last 10 years building up an ecosystem of ‘marketing cloud’ apps to do everything from email marketing to content management to CRM.
These marketing automation providers are multi-billion pound business entities that are not just supplying technology to marketers, but showing them how to do technology-powered marketing. They are a more relevant source of information and learning than you’ll find in any marketing magazine or industry conference. Why? Because their business is to understand what technology can do, then build it and, finally, monetise it.
These are the genuine thought leaders of the present day. In the age of influencer marketing it’s easy to become distracted by the pseudo marketing experts and ill-informed, shouty bloggers. Instead, I suggest that you save valuable time, money and energy by following the active community of true ‘marketing technologists’. Perhaps make a start here and here.
“These marketing automation providers are multi-billion pound business entities that are not just supplying technology to marketers, but showing them how to do technology-powered marketing”
Take a look at what Oracle is doing, for example. It has a suite of apps that can help you deploy personalised campaigns across all inbound and outbound channels, while enabling you to track and score prospects in real-time. It can be used to automate campaigns, nurture prospects at scale and hand-off leads instantly to sales. It’s about as sophisticated and expensive as it gets.
The point is not to say “buy it”, but to suggest that you imitate it. But at a level of monetary and resource investment that you can tolerate. It’s not easy, but it is worthwhile. The first step is understanding it (technology). The second is doing it (personalisation) and the third is repeating it ad infinitum (scalability).
To attempt personalisation without some form of technology infrastructure and automation in mind is a foolhardy endeavour. Some have tried. Almost all have failed or given up. Given that a CMO’s shelf life is about three-years, the need to upskill knowledge and skill sets quickly is a race against time. ‘Digital transformation’ is all the rage right now, but this is what it means when it comes to marketing. Data and technology know-how is mission critical.
Don’t just plan to personalise. Plan to measure it.
It’s a disconcerting thing to admit that most planning processes have failed before they have started. In marketing, the planning phase tends to be rushed and therefore poorly conceived. Others argue it’s the other way around, but when it comes to personalisation this is very rarely the case.
Deciding at what level to personalise is all-critical. And it’s actually not difficult decide. Start with the budget – yes, I know every agency bod says this but we truly, madly, deeply believe it. What is the point of planning to personalise to a certain level of granularity if you don’t have the money to do it?
Take this scenario. You want to deploy a three-step buyer journey campaign to sell concrete into the bridge and tunneling sector. That’s a minimum of three items of content and possibly an equal number of emails, landing pages, web pages, ads and anything else you use to go-to-market.
Now add in one category of personalisation – let’s say job function. We now have contractors, consultants and end-clients as a bare minimum. You’ve potentially just multiplied the number of deliverables by a factor of three. Is that extra workload built into the budget and the production lead times? It’s simple mathematics that can be determined at the start of the conversation. It sounds obvious, but my advice is not to start any audience messaging work until this is defined. Planners are intelligent folk, but as far as I’m aware they are not Claire Voyant.
“What is the point of planning to personalise to a certain level of granularity if you don’t have the money to do it? Why waste time going through the motions? Save everyone the disappointment”
Okay, so now we decide that job function level segmentation is good but we also want to target by business size as well. We think that there’s no real need to further segment the content or promotional assets, but our prospect database doesn’t split by turnover and we’ve discovered that third party data is only available for multinational parent companies. This means we can’t rely on the data quality and could incur the cost of acquiring leads that are not relevant to the regionally-focused UK sales team. In this instance, it’s not a just a budget issue but a practical one in terms of targeting and effective lead generation.
We could apply many more instances of personalisation (vertical sector, interest area, key account etc), but the same rules apply. Do we have the data split by these criteria? Is data available to buy or rent? How many content and promotional assets do we need? Can we afford to create them? Do we have sufficient lead time and skills to produce them? Can we track, score and follow up on leads in this way?
Only when these questions have been asked, answered and budgeted for is it appropriate to start writing a campaign brief, let alone putting subject matter experts through planning workshops and much more besides.
Targeting a person of interest demands much more than a ‘spray and pray’ approach. Get your data, technology and planning processes in shape and you’ll be armed with the ability to turn unknown suspects into known leads in no time at all