The mass marketing strategies of yesterday revolved around categorizing customers as statistics and demographics. Brands communicated at them with generic messages meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and it worked for a while. However, the fact is that today, customers are in control, and customers are people, not demographics.

The tips below will help you humanize your marketing efforts.

Don't fake authenticity

Customers tend to trust each other far more when it comes to making purchasing decisions than brands themselves. Social Media Today referencing a recent Forbes/Marketforce study noted that 81 percent of consumers' purchasing decisions are influenced by their friends' social media posts.

Thus, the way to reach customers is through user-generated content (UGC) strategies. UGC consists of photos, videos, reviews, and any other content that customers create and share about brands on social networks. Gartner reported that 84 percent of Millennials say UGC from strangers has at least some influence on what they buy, and 86 percent believe UGC is generally a good indicator of a brand, service or product's quality.

However, this begs the question: How can marketers make the most effective use of UGC? The answer lies at the intersection of where data and content meet, and it all revolves around social sharing at every stage of the customer journey.

Take personalization personally

Marketing technology is constantly striving to deliver more personalized experiences by collecting and interpreting customer data. A myriad of MarTech apps, hardware, and software programs are built around the notion of creating one-to-one communications with customers to address their needs directly. The problem for marketers is that customer data is only as good as it is actionable.

When it comes to UGC, it's not enough for marketers to know their audiences, they need to know what will move them to share their individual brand experiences. The double-edged sword of UGC is that while it's real and relevant, there's also a ridiculous amount of it out there. This can be troublesome because it's simply unfeasible for marketers to sift through all the UGC available to find the most compelling customer stories that will with resonate best with each individual consumer.

For example, let's say you're a large youth travel brand such as Contiki. You know that you have many different customers who use your services for many different reasons such as college kids planning backpacking trips across Europe and young professionals looking for unique experiences in exotic locales.

The problem is that you must ensure that your communications to each group are authentic. All these individuals depend on you to appeal to their interests, and yet none of them will respond to the same marketing message, especially when it's communicated through UGC.

Compete with technology but win with people

The ideal solution rests on utilizing technology (machine learning, AI, etc.) to help you find UGC that will resonate with your audiences at a granular level based on the data you collect about your customers and their behavior. Over time you'll be able to learn how to serve them content that speaks to them as individuals to create a truly personalized customer experience. Here's how:

Publish higher quality UGC, more frequently

You'll no longer be guessing, but will instead be creating your own luck by curating the most effective UGC possible to offer a personalized customer experience that grows more powerful over time.

Tell more compelling and authentic brand narratives using UGC

The brand narratives you convey will be more authentic because they're based on what you know about your audience's interests. In addition, you'll learn more and more about what messaging your audiences find the most compelling at the individual level, allowing you to extrapolate these lessons to all your marketing communications.

Save time, money, and bandwidth

To drive ROI you must create personalized customer experiences that generate incremental sales for your company.

One company that's on the leading edge of machine learning and AI-enhanced UGC technology is Stackla, who recently released its Co-Pilot feature that aggregates UGC to observe patterns in the content you publish and how it engages your audience.

"This is how you personalize customer experiences - with real content, comprehensive data and intelligent technology," said Pete Cassidy, co-founder and CMO of Stackla in a phone interview. "The convergence of machine learning and an explosion of social media sharing is finally delivering on a promise 20 years in the making: personalization, at scale, that actually feels human."

By curating and sharing only the most relevant and compelling content, you'll be able to make your customers feel as though you know who they are as individuals and are communicating with them based on their specific interests. The result will be an authentic experience that builds your brand in their minds while generating revenues for your company at the same time.

Published on: Jul 31, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.