When “Personalization” Becomes Bad Marketing

April 10, 2018 Ari Soffer

Have you ever been called the wrong name? Not even something vaguely resembling your own, which is bad enough (Dan instead of Dave, Sally instead of Sarah); but a completely different, totally unrelated, how-did-you-even-get-to-that name?

Annoying, isn’t it?

What if the person talking to you was trying to sell you something? How likely would you be to buy from them?

“Here Joe, you know what? I think this is exactly what you need.”

“Thanks, I’ll tell him on my way out. My name’s Adam.”

I recently visited a website where, upon landing on their homepage, I was greeted with a personalized message. Well actually, to be precise, “Barak” (not my name) was greeted personally. I, meanwhile, was left staring blankly at the screen for a good two minutes before concluding that, no, this wasn’t some industry reference that had gone way over my head, but simply the result of failed “personalization.”

(Who exactly is Barak? I’m guessing someone related to my work computer’s I.P. address. But it’s definitely not me. There isn’t even anyone in our office called Barak. Which just goes to show the limitations of solely I.P.- or domain-based targeting, whether in ad campaigns, email marketing, or lead-to-account matching.)

As big data takes over, this kind of failed personalization is becoming increasingly ubiquitous — but no less irritating.

Can you sell with your eyes closed? (No, you can’t.)

You can't sell with your eyes closed

Take this more common scenario that happened to me just a few days ago: I got an email from a company I’d never heard of trying to sell me their product. It was a “personalized” email from one of their sales reps, addressed to me, and written reasonably well.

On the surface it didn’t look spammy, and whoever sent it clearly knew that I’m in marketing and have something to do with demand generation. They also knew that I wasn’t the decision-maker they needed to reach, so asked if I could kindly introduce them to whoever is.

I deleted the email without responding. But not before clicking (a little too emphatically perhaps) on the link at the end to opt out of any further communications.

Sure, I’m a marketer; that much they got right. But it’s clear they had no idea who they were talking to beyond my job title and maybe the fact that I work for a B2B company. The fact is, their offering was totally inappropriate for Leadspace. They simply hadn’t done their homework. Pulling a list of B2B marketing people in a few target industries and firing at will just doesn’t cut it any more.

I get dozens of emails like this every week (and those are just the ones that don’t get automatically diverted to spam) — as I’m sure you do too.

In a way, these misfired “personalized” marketing emails are more annoying than “classic,” blatant spam. Poorly-targeted marketing emails from legitimate companies are so off-putting because they feel like (and usually are) real people, from legitimate companies, who are just talking at you with their eyes closed. That’s off-putting in real life, and no less so in our online world.

B2B Buyers Are People Too

B2B Marketers: Beware data hoarding!

Consumers today have been conditioned to expect hyper-personalized offerings. And we are all consumers, including B2B buyers — they’re real people, who outside of work are buying vacation packages, clothes, food, gadgets and countless other things in online environments which carefully tailor their offerings to appeal to them personally.

Related: B2B Buyers Aren’t “Rational” — But They Should Be

The same is true of the kind of content they consume. Your prospects are probably all active on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. These platforms all use algorithms to figure out the kind of content we engage with, and then make sure to serve more of the same, while filtering out content that won’t interest us. (There are of course many concerns about creating such online echo-chambers, but that’s a different discussion.)

In short, the world we live in has conditioned us to expect full personalization, all the time. The standard is being set ever-higher by the likes of the above-mentioned players, so it jars badly when someone gets it wrong. (In fact, it would probably be better if they didn’t pretend to know you in the first place and just went for something more generic.)

According to The State of Engagement report, most marketers know personalization is important, but are blissfully unaware that their own personalization efforts are falling short. So while 82% of marketers believe they have a deep understanding of who they’re trying to reach, in practice more than half of buyers “think brands could do a better job aligning with their engagement preferences.”

That disparity between what marketers understand in theory and what they are doing in practice is the direct cause of failed personalization efforts like the examples outlined above.

To make it in our hyper-personalized world of big data, AI and high customer expectations, B2B marketers need to take a leaf out of the B2C playbook and execute accurate, targeted, personally-tailored campaigns. Generic marketing is becoming less and less effective, while ham-fisted “personalization” simply harms your credibility — that is, if it doesn’t get sent directly to your prospects’ Spam folder. To get it right, you need to have the right data, and the right analytics tools to translate that data into actionable intelligence and insights.

If you’re still just buying lists based on job title, industry, and so on, you may still get it right some of the time; but in the long-term you are wasting so much more time, effort, money and — perhaps most importantly — credibility.

Read our free B2B Marketer’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn how AI marketing technology is bridging the gap between B2B and B2C marketing, by driving effective personalized marketing campaigns:

Get The B2B Marketer's Guide to AI

 

Picture credit: iStock

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