I am an artist—data is my palette: the art of automated personalization
I’ve always thought of what marketers do as an art form—we create, after all, and manifest consumer experiences in the same way an artist, in the traditional sense, is inspired to create. When creating a work of art, artists manifest an experience for the beholder—hopefully a moving one. In a similar way, marketers imagine how people will react to our content, appreciate our clever copy and envision using our products in their lives. One could say that marketers are, in a way, artists— manifesting personalized experiences designed to move individual consumers toward the goal they have in mind for them. These experiences comprise an individual’s unique journey with your brand—an evolving work-in-progress.
There’s no disputing that digital has permanently changed marketing. Some argue that digital—in particular, our desire to be data-driven marketers—is stifling creativity in business. I think the opposite is true. Digital provides limitless possibilities to test the bounds and be truly artful marketers, and is in fact encouraging unprecedented levels of creativity. It seems others share this opinion. A recent Adobe/Forrester study found that creative companies—organizations that support and foster creative practices, perspectives and culture—outpace their counterparts in terms of market share and revenue growth. And it’s not by small margins, either—creative companies are 50 percent more likely to have market leadership over competitors, and are 3.5 times more likely to achieve revenue growth of 10 percent or more.
But it’s not all graceful brush strokes, emotion, creative exploration and guaranteed campaign success. Have you ever stood in front of a painting, wondering what, exactly, the artist was trying to convey? Maybe it’s abstract expressionism or a more conceptual, interpretive piece. No consumer should ever be caught standing back, confused, unable to relate to or interpret a marketer’s intentions and causing them pause. The only impression we as marketers should deliver is a meaningful one—that is, a relevant one; no consumer wants his or her time wasted, and no marketer wants to waste a valuable interaction by delivering something that won’t compel a potential customer to take action. It’s essential you paint a very clear picture—one that has an impact—the right impact—on a personal level. Now most marketers don’t have the opportunity to customize or curate each customer experience. We try to envision or storyboard experiences that our consumers will relate to, but how can we possibly deliver them at the scale and pace our digital audience requires? What do we have on our palette that can help us be relevant to everyone—all the time?
This is where data comes in. As we’ve already established, Picasso was capable of producing only so many masterpieces, and let’s face it—not everyone is going to appreciate a Pollock. As marketers we have our own preferences and priorities that can bias the direction our marketing takes. We often make decisions that result in risky choices that miss the mark completely for key audiences. Or worse, we engage in ‘lowest common denominator marketing’ that doesn’t move anyone in any way. Data enables us to do better. Think of data as paint on your palette. Each color brings a something new to your creation. Mix your colors and come up with something entirely new. Try different brush strokes and layering techniques to give your creation texture. Exactly what the artist produces as a result of her effort is informed completely by inspiration—some artists talk about how they have no control over the creative process. It just happens. Inspiration alone won’t take the marketer as far.
Today’s marketer understands the need to create relevant experiences for his customer. It’s no longer news to anyone that there’s a strong correlation between relevant content and the likelihood an online shopper will make a purchase. The marketer believes this, and knows intuitively that data has something to do with accomplishing this. Some marketers get this more than others. The ones that really get this are the ones that are starting to embrace automated, machine-learning based approaches to personalization.
We call this automated personalization. Automated personalization enables brands to capture and make sense of all available and appropriate variables representing a consumer’s digital behaviors. And it can do so much more efficiently and reliably than can the human brain, due simply to the sheer volume of data we’re talking about—data, for example, representing the traffic experienced by a typical website. With the help of automated personalization marketers can literally make real-time decisions based on the myriad combination of inputs represented by anonymous visitors. It’s an approach that ensures relevance at scale; in fact, automated personalization loves traffic—the more the better. Utilizing a variety of statistical models or algorithms, automated personalization can determine the right content, offers or combinations thereof in a way that is frankly impossible for a human being, even with the aid of business rules. The beauty of automated personalization is its nature to deliver a highly creative yet mathematically-computed experience—one designed to help the marketer achieve his or her business goals. In fact, automation on average helps marketers take conversions, on average from 2.6 percent to 3.6 percent.
And why would automated personalization matter where your customer is concerned? At one point perhaps you, the marketer/artist, could create perfect consumer-by-consumer moments, relying solely on intuition, maybe some basic segmentation and of course your expertise. But now your business has grown and, when it comes to delivering those same spot-on relevant journeys to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of singular audiences, in real-time, with past, present, and changing customer preferences, there’s simply no way you can be successful on your own. Think about it: a student will have different goals and interests than a single professional, young family, or a customer nearing retirement; it’s all about differing demographics, life stages, location and countless other consideration points. It’s a consumer mosaic—just like this:
California artist Paige McClurg created this mosaic, Act of Kind-of Randomness?, to bring this very notion of personalization as an art—and a science—to life. It represents all the things that represent us: our passions, purchases, preferences; life events; and all the randomness that motivates and inspires us. Together these come together to form a clear picture of who we are in the moment. Looking at it from a marketer perspective, your job is clear. Take a step back and it’s the bigger picture—your organization’s bigger picture, perhaps—made up of individual personas, personalities and experiences. Get up close and those smaller parts have more meaning, more depth and more detail. It’s exactly how organizations should view personalization. But, again, without taking advantage of automated personalization, how can you even begin to effectively, efficiently address these diverse and unique needs? How would you even begin, looking at just the 100 individual faces, stories and journeys on Paige’s mosaic? Multiply that times thousands or even millions—that’s what you’re up against.
None of this is fundamentally new. Marketing has always been part art, part science. But digital gives us so much more to work with. It provides an opportunity for unlimited creativity. And why is that? Data. Data provides that generous palette, but its abundance can also be overwhelming. Marketers now have a power powerful and very essential tool to help them put that palette to work: automated personalization. It’s the next, possibly most necessary, step in your artistic execution as a marketer—and today is the day to dive in. Grab your brush, your paint and your canvas and have at it—the consumer experiences you’ll create as a result will be nothing less than true masterpieces.
Author: Kevin Lindsay, Director of Optimization and Personalization Solutions, Adobe. He is an expert on conversion optimization and personalization, and speaks frequently at industry events around the globe. Lindsay was with Omniture prior to its acquisition by Adobe, and previously held product and strategic marketing positions at search software companies Mercado and Verity. Lindsay is a Canadian expat who enjoys life with his family in the hills above Silicon Valley. You can follow Kevin on Twitter: @kevlindsay, Linkedin, and Google+.
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