Today's consumers can spot forced corporate speak and contrived messaging in a hot second. Whether it's a retail store publicizing its screw-ups and asking for forgiveness or fast food chain being real about its ingredients, sophisticated buyers crave authenticity. They want to trust the brands they choose to engage with.

A recent report revealed 96 percent of marketers believe that personalization helps advance customer relationships. As a result, marketers have rushed to create monthly editorial calendars to fill the air with "personalized" content that puts their brand front and center in an authentic way consumers respond to.

That said, there's a big difference between personalization and simply creating relevant content. If relevant content is the equivalent of remembering names at a cocktail party, then personalized content is remembering they love extra dirty martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives and then having it served by their favorite author.

The catch? Personalized marketing strategies aren't for everyone and every brand. Here's a quick framework to determine if personalization is right for you:

1. Decide if personalization makes sense for your business

The best way to gauge the relevance of content is to ask yourself if it's valuable in the eyes of the reader. Leading indicators such as clicks and views are great to determine if you've truly met the mark. However, if you think you're nailing personalization because you're creating better content that is more relevant, you're not. You're simply creating good content.

Everything you put into kicking ass at relevance is, in this age of information overload, table stakes. After you summit that peak, decide if it makes sense to go further. And make no mistake, it's a decision.

Truly personalized content doesn't really start to make financial sense on an account-by-account basis until you are deriving at least $100,000 in potential annual revenues from that account.

We call this tier of Account Based Marketing, "Scale ABM." There are lower tiers, but these quantities of accounts and degrees of return align more naturally to relevant content rather than personalized.

2. Focus on what matters

Marketers fight the battle of attention spans daily. The stat that often gets thrown around says that 70-80 percent of the buyer journey happens online. However, what really makes someone purchase something is valuable, human interaction enforced by content.

Marketers often see these online buyer stats and go all-in on quantity. Brands can churn out mediocre content at an unbelievable pace, but creating truly personalized content begins by mapping out the buying journeys for each buyer within the buying unit. We must understand these personas, the role they play and ultimately what is required to build trust.

To do it right, you need to know these people not only at a summary level but at an individual level.

3. Create emotional experiences to break through

Buyers often have a hard time connecting when brands try to step it up and create personalized content -- in many cases it doesn't appear any more thoughtful than the rest of the noise. This is why some old school tactics are getting their value back -- handwritten thank you notes or (gasp!) an actual phone call.

Personalization means more than just putting your customers' names in email subject lines. It means using data to learn their habits, and asking questions to learn even more in order to add value to an experience.

For example, at my company LeadMD, we provide a custom benchmark report based on data provided by customers. The report shows a company where they stand compared to others in their industry and what they can do to improve for free. Even if the company doesn't choose to engage with us, they can take this document and build off of it to improve their organization.

No one wants a cookie cutter presentation or demo that has clearly been created in the same old standard form with fields to [insert company name here] before you hit send. They've seen it all before. However, after collecting data, doing industry research and providing something tangible for the prospect to grasp -- you'll get that second meeting.  

4. Just don't take it too far

A lot of attempts at personalization feel like a venture into Bizarro world from Seinfeld. There's something almost creepy that happens when experiences designed to appear intimate fail. There's simply no way to 'scale' true personalization.

Happy Birthday messages or emails that name drop the college your reader attended simply don't provide any value and come across as the exact opposite than intended.

My all-time favorite personalization fail went even further: a company trying to earn the business of a colleague sent her a cake, embellished with a big picture they had snagged from her Facebook page of her own face, right on the top of it. They didn't even include their contact info. The creepy award goes to you, anonymous cake sender.

5. It's hard work, and not for everyone

For every B2B Marketing company getting it right, there are hundreds who don't embrace this way of thinking because it goes against traditional marketing norms. Personalization doesn't always help you hit your marketing qualified lead (MQL) quotas, or set up X number of meetings. You have to decide if you want to focus on velocity or great long-term buyer experiences. Or is it something in between?

If you're selling a $49 piece of software, your level of personalization probably amounts to someone's name on an email and a smile when they call in because the return on investment simply isn't there. But if you sell a product or service that requires you to commit to a long term personal experience for your customers in order to stand out, it's time to start having real conversations even if it means you're talking to fewer people.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum your buyer falls on -- relevance or personalization -- the marketers mantra still applies: one size never fits all. Be human, fill space with relevancy, and let people get excited about you and your product because you make them feel like you understand who they are, and what they need.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017