Cognitive and Content: The marketer’s path to personalization

Scott Litman May 16, 2017

Allen H. Mogenson was a mid-century American industrial engineer and “father of work simplification.” He’s the guy who coined the famous quote, “Work smarter, not harder.”

It’s a quote we’ve come to love and use it most often when we’re doing yard work or find a new shortcut home from the office.

But when it comes to marketing-message personalization – one of the industry’s most difficult nuts to crack – we sometimes forget how to apply it.

The challenge

Savvy marketers today strive to create more relevancy and personalization in their marketing campaigns. They use data like age, gender, past page visits, subscription or member history, past purchase behavior and more to determine what will resonate for a given audience. This is all a fine place to start. And if you’re already doing this, great. We can yet go further and get to know our audiences better.

Let’s say you’re trying to market to two people. In your research and testing, you find that both are women in their late 20s. Both work full-time and have recently become new mothers. In the context of your business, they might be essentially the same person. So they should receive the same marketing messages, right?

Maybe.

There are so many more layers to your audiences than what is likely being captured in your data today. While those shared traits may be very important to those two individuals, it’s probably where the similarities end. And that’s the true challenge of true 1:1 personalization. The traditional data to which we have the easiest access often just gives us one or two layers of information.

Who is this audience as an individual? What are their interests? How do they like to be communicated to? What is their personality type? Modern marketing is a journey towards personalization. The more we know about an audience, the better we can act on it, the more effective our campaigns will be at driving customer acquisition, growth and retention.

The path to personalization

If the path to relevancy seems difficult, it is. It’s a marathon. And you can’t run a marathon tomorrow if you’ve only taken short walks around the block up until today.

But the good news is that it’s well within your power as a marketer to take steps toward personalization right now. There are three areas that deserve your biggest investment and can have the most significant impact on your marketing success:

The right people

Automated message campaigns, high-level personalization and content development involves a lot of moving parts and you must have people who understand the mechanisms of personalization, the ins-and-outs of content creation, and how to orchestrate both at a high level.

More importantly, you must have people willing to buy-in to the end-goal and put in a lot of work for a payoff that’s nowhere near immediate.

The right processes and technology

Successful marketing automation and buyer-funnel marketing requires a lot of different systems. It requires a strong customer database, a sophisticated lead-scoring strategy, an ability to intelligently collect a whole lot of data and the ability to track ROI.

It requires alignment between several different departments and, depending on the size of your company, dozens of people. Your sales, marketing and tracking tools and processes must account for all these variables. And, while there’s certainly no shortage of marketing technology tools out there, being mindful of what your company needs and investing will pay dividends in the future.

The right content

Though it may seem a little simplistic, personalization doesn’t work without content. Refusing to develop this amount of content would be like training for that marathon for months and deciding not to run it the week before.

A common misconception I see is that automated emails and marketing automation are the same thing. You send a couple of well-timed emails to a couple different segments of your audience and call it marketing automation. While email marketing plays an important role, it takes a lot more to execute marketing automation.

Consider all the touch points in this one, short marketing automation engagement:

That’s 15 pieces of content just for one very simple engagement. When you imagine this engagement is going out in one engagement to one segment of your audience, it becomes very clear why content becomes even more important as you begin to segment your audience.

The most granular data and the most comprehensive portrait of your customer won’t mean much if you can’t create and distribute the messages to match.

Cognitive, marketing automation and content

For those marketers that have the proper marketing automation foundation in place, the new frontier (working smarter) is adding in marketing automation and the power of cognitive computing.

With Cognitive Computing, we can add that next dimension of audience-understanding beyond the basics of geographic, demographic and transactional data. We can understand audiences at a more personal level.

Imagine if you could run a personality insights test like a DISC profile on your most important audiences. What would you learn? It would go beyond the basics to help us understand our audiences at a much deeper level.

One tool that is doing this today is Lucy. She is the cognitive companion to the marketing professional built by Equals 3.

Through Lucy’s cognitive power, she can assess not only what your customers are talking about but also the manner in which they talk and interact with others. On top of that, it can synthesize that information and organize your audience into one of the 12 primary archetypes, giving you a much more comprehensive portrait of exactly who you’re talking to.

Let’s say you’re marketing to two men. Both are the same age and have the same video game console. Both love playing Call of Duty. But, based on what Lucy (or your cognitive companion) has put together about their online conversations, she’s determined that one identifies with the Citizen and one with the Rebel. That means they might enjoy the game for completely different reasons and the marketing messages that inspire them will be completely different.

This allows you to address the person, not just the customer. But it’s also clear to see why content is inextricably linked to proper segmentation. I’ll say it again. You could invest significant time and resources into developing comprehensive and granular portraits of all your customers. But if you aren’t taking the time to invest those same resources to developing content to serve them, you’re sprinting down a dead end.

Make something great

I bring all this up, not to sell you on Lucy, but to illustrate that the path to relevancy isn’t necessarily bigger and better data, but getting a little more creative in how we think about the data already in front of us. The only barriers in the way of true relevancy and personalization is our own ability to serve a well-defined audience with highly relevant content.

Yes, it’s an arduous process. But it’s worth it. We’ve seen a direct correlation between personalization and message efficiency. Adding more levels of personalization has a positive impact on every other marketing metric from open rate all the way to conversion rate. It all simply depends on whether or not you want to get there.


Scott Litman is an entrepreneur in search of new ways technology can advance the mission of chief marketing officers, advertising, and media agencies. Litman and his business partner, Dan Mallin have a broad history of building businesses that help clients, predominantly Fortune 1000 marketers and large ad agencies, take advantage of cutting-edge digital transformation.

Today, Litman is the Co-founder of Equals 3, where he and his team are working closely with IBM to commercialize Watson for marketers by creating Lucy, the cognitive companion to the marketing professional.

Scott Litman May 16, 2017

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