The Push for Personalization: Where to Start

By Molly Hjelm
Director, Omnichannel Media

The digital advertising ecosystem continues to grow more complex as it pursues the vision that brought it into being – the ability for marketers to deliver the right message at the right time to the right consumer. That vision that can be summarized in one word: personalization.

Unfortunately, as many a frustrated marketer has realized, digital advertising repeatedly falls short of its promise, as it continues to be one of the lowest ROI-generating vehicles compared to TV, trade and even email. For the consumer packaged goods industry in particular, digital has been bogged down in opaque media buys, highly modeled data and lack of accountability to the metrics that matter offline. While IRI has shown that the right approach to personalization, powered by precision, can lead to a 70 percent improvement in performance, the lack of transparency in the industry has led to many companies regressing. The result has been a default to cheaper, high-reach execution instead of precision.

On the consumer side, the inability of marketers to deliver ads that are personally and contextually relevant has resulted in a backlash of ad blocking and opt-outs that may signal the end of our industry.

Our industry is at a crossroads, and the next move we make may determine our fate. We can choose to spam shoppers with broad reach messaging until every last one blocks our ads from view or we can take responsibility for the clutter, roll up our sleeves and find a way to build more meaningful connection in digital channels.

Where should marketers start?  

Step 1: Better Understand Consumers – For companies that are still doing the majority of their sales in brick and mortar, the key to understanding consumers lies in bringing together online and offline behavior to get a holistic picture of them.  

Start by identifying how consumers are engaging with your category and brands, and how they are switching spend between brands. Key cohorts of consumers begin to form as buying dynamics become clear. For example, a brand may have loyal consumers, those who only buy on promotion, lapsers and increasers. These consumer cohorts are the perfect starting point for further exploration.

From there, bring in contextual information. What are the demographics, lifestyles and motivations of these buying cohorts? Use existing qualitative metrics, as well as feedback from social media. If consumers are buying, why? If they aren’t, why not?

It’s important to know how consumers are engaging with websites and content online, and the content they are gravitating toward. Owned media platforms are powerhouses for data on loyal consumers, and they are often overlooked. To better understand what interests loyals, look at the brands and content they browse on sites or the emails they tend to open.

This helps marketers understand the key consumer cohorts to address, their motivations/behaviors and the type of message that might resonate. From there, the goal is to move the needle with certain types of consumers. This brings us to the next stage – creating the campaign objectives.

Step 2: Have a Focused Objective for Your Marketing Campaign – “Growsales of the product.” “Drive trial.” “Drive the buy rate.” Statements this generic would never be allowed as individual performance objectives but are alarmingly common as objectives when it comes to marketing campaigns. The best objectives are specific and measurable. When applying that framework to a media campaign, “grow sales” might transform into “Re-engage lapsed buyers with a strong incentive,” and “Drive the buy rate” might become “Drive the buy rate among our loyal buyers by advertising our full portfolio.”

So why aren’t we already doing this with campaigns? The truth is that marketers are still gun-shy about stating a specific objective because they have been burned in the past on two fronts: they haven’t been confident that they can connect directly with the right consumer, and they haven’t been able to measure the impact at a granular level. Capabilities now exist to connect marketers directly through all digital channels to their desired consumer and close the loop to sales on the back end.

Step 3: Use the Right Data for Targeting – Theability to connect to an exact purchase-based consumer target at scale has eluded the industry until recently, as the necessary depth and breadth of purchase behavior to create pure audiences was not available in one location. Additionally, without a gold standard to define “purchase-based” audiences, purveyors in the industry can peddle extensively modeled audiences as purchase-based without revealing the ratio of modeling to known records – so marketers pay higher CPMs for extremely diluted audiences.

In contrast, IRI Verified Audiences are built from the data of 250 million loyalty cards spanning 100 million households, so advertisers can purchase 100 percent verified (non-modeled) purchase-based audiences. This means advertisers can serve media to only the households that have exhibited the desired purchase behavior.

Furthermore, to increase consumer relevance and enable marketers to deliver at the right time, IRI can provide audiences based on where consumers are in their purchase cycle. One example is excluding those who have purchased in the past week, so that messages only reach households who have a need for the product.

Step 4: Version the Message – The execution stage is where the magic happens and where digital begins to resemble its initial promise. In this stage, you bring together everything you know about consumer cohorts and what might resonate with them. Pairing that knowledge with purchase-based targeting enables you to reach the right consumer. The key is to reach them with the right message.
Often overlooked, versioning creative to each audience uniquely based on what you have discerned from their buying behavior and motivations (Step 1) is the key to unlocking the power of personalization. Incentivize a lapsed buyer differently from a known buyer. If someone is leaving the category, invite them back.

Step 5: Close the Loop, and Optimize Throughout  Personalization is not a one-time activity. Partner with a measurement provider who can help assess the creative and targeting impact of campaigns in order to refine and iterate to achieve your objective. IRI Lift™ provides closed-loop media measurement based on multi-outlet retailer loyalty card data as early as weeks into a campaign. IRI’s highly granular reads, fueled by our scale and depth, provide uplift by brand, creative, targeting cell, publisher, ad type, frequency, consumer profile and more during the campaign to maximize media impact. The benefit of optimization translates directly to your bottom line: Clients who measure and optimize mid-flight have been able to achieve a 70 percent improvement in performance compared to non-optimized campaigns.

Marketers still struggle to maximize digital’s potential to connect with consumers in a meaningful way, personalizing their experience. A decision not to push toward relevance is a decision to put the industry at risk of banishment behind ad blockers. By starting with consumer insights, setting campaign objectives and pairing versioned content with closed-loop targeting and measurement solutions, marketers can begin to unlock the promise of digital marketing. The result will be happier customers and better business results.

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