If we think about offline buyer/brand relationships, customer loyalty results (in part) when a brand can form a relationship with the buyer through acts of thoughtful remembrance. For example, knowing their preferences, or making product or service recommendations according to their likes and dislikes.

One of the big challenges businesses face today is creating this same experience for buyers online. In essence, the act of doing so is what we call personalization or personalized marketing. But we’ll get to that …

Each buyer’s journey is unique because buyers are dynamic individuals with their own wants, needs and concerns; their own motivations and goals — the likes of which change constantly. This has given rise to demand generation. Unlike lead generation, which only aims to collect as many leads as possible, demand generation is concerned with creating valuable touchpoints with each buyer throughout their journey, and catering to their wants and needs over time.

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Demand generation is about respecting the customer, not rushing them toward a desired action. It treats every interaction with care and consideration to bring value to the buyer’s journey and to help buyers reach their goals.

Consider this: The average consumer goes through at least five touchpoints before converting. That means the buyer’s journey is longer than ever before (especially for B2B). And buyers are entering the sales cycle at a much later stage, already armed with information about a brand and its offering.

In response, brands race to be a part of the buyer’s early education. But this has created another challenge: Consumers are so inundated with content, creating and distributing it is no longer enough to win conversions. It’s become much harder to connect with buyers.

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Personalized Marketing to the Rescue

Personalized marketing is an extreme form of target marketing. It aims to reach audiences with the exact solution for which they are searching, and to speak more directly to each individual buyer, creating a one-to-one experience. To address audiences with such accuracy and detail, personalized marketing requires big data about a particular customer or group. This data must then be converted into marketing action. Because there is so much information, converting data to action is exceedingly more complex, requiring different marketing technologies.

Which brings us to the topic of the day — personalization trends that are reinventing the buyer’s journey. These trends are changing the entire experience for buyers. Coincidentally, they’re also raising a lot of questions, not only about how they impact the shopping experience, but also how they flirt with privacy and security. Let’s dig in!

1) Programmatic Marketing

Paid advertising is the most powerful way to reach customers in today’s noisy, saturated marketplace. The problem is, marketers struggle to convert all the data they’ve collected into an ad that serves the right person at the right time in the right place.

Programmatic marketing is a platform that connects marketers to the world’s media supply, and uses software and technology to automate and optimize the buying and placement of ads in real time. In other words, programmatic marketing takes all the information it can collect about a buyer and converts that information into action — the purchase and display of the right ad at the right time in the right place. Marketers can set specific parameters to guide the process, and integrate CRM data to deliver an even greater level of personalization.

Impact: Being bombarded with irrelevant ads online is extremely irritating for the busy consumer. Using programmatics, buyers are served ads based on their wants, needs, preferences and more. What does this mean for the overall buyer’s journey? It becomes more relevant and, therefore, more valuable at each touchpoint.

2) Retargeting

Retargeting is a type of programmatic marketing that uses cookie-based technology to follow buyers as they move from resource to resource. For example, when a buyer visits your website, a small cookie is placed on their browser. These cookies store data about their visit, like which pages they reviewed and how long they stayed. When they leave to visit another site, the cookie triggers programmatic software, and the consumer is retargeted with an ad relevant to the information with which they interacted on your site.

As you can imagine, this tactic can get creepy … real fast. The key to successful retargeting is to do it respectfully. The only way to achieve respectful retargeting is to know as much about your target individual as possible.

Impact: When done correctly, retargeting takes personalization a step further, serving buyers with ads that not only pertain to their wants and needs, but also their behavior and intent according to the exact stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in. It keeps potential solutions in front of the buyer, acting as helpful reminders while they investigate other options.

3) Proximity Marketing

Proximity marketing involves using smart beacon technology to serve customers on their mobile devices with ads based on where they are geographically. In other words, it’s local advertising at its finest.

Proximity marketing can be executed in several ways: an RFID chip can be placed on a product and when near-field communications (NFC) is enabled on a smartphone, the product chip will communicate directly with nearby devices. Brands can also establish geofencing, which will serve mobile devices with ads when they enter into a specific “zone.” Content also can be pushed through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connectivity and mobile browsers.

Impact: Proximity marketing lets marketers target buyers based on where they visit offline. This allows for a deeper understanding of the buyer’s wants, needs and patterns of behavior away from the computer. This level of understanding enhances the buyer’s shopping experience by serving them with information about products or services at exactly the moment they need it, or serving them coupons for products or services in their immediate reach.

Fun fact: Fifty-three percent of buyers are willing to share their geo-information to receive relevant ads and 72 percent of buyers will answer a call-to-action if they receive it while in range of the retailer.

4) Consumer-owned Content Marketing

A relatively new approach being discussed today is using consumer-owned content for personalized marketing. In other words, serving a buyer content that includes one of their own Instagram photos, or references a Facebook or Twitter post they made. On one hand, seeing content so distinctive and in-line with the buyer’s personal brand is attention-grabbing. On the other hand, this raises the question, when is personalization too personal?

Impact: The verdict is still out on whether this is an acceptable marketing practice, but what it could mean for the buyer’s journey is an experience that feels familiar and personally branded. Content and ads could be created just for the buyer based on things they said, saw, liked and displayed on their own social channels. Another way of looking at it: The buyer helps create their own advertisements.

5) Personalized Websites

Personalized websites use content optimization systems to deliver dynamic content to visitors. Content is uniquely generated in real time based on specific information about a visitor, such as where their IP address is registered (geographically), whether they’re a first-time visitor, or what their browsing behavior reveals. Marketers build rules to determine what content is served, and when these rules are matched, the visitor receives a unique display, just for them.

Impact: Personalized websites shorten the buyer’s journey by more directly catering to where the buyer is in the sales cycle. It also creates an inimitable experience for the buyer based on specifics about their wants and needs. With tapered messaging, the buyer gains more value from the visit without wasting time.

Fun fact: Calls to action on personalized websites perform 42 percent better than on generic websites.

6) Wearable/Fitness Tracker Data

Not only do wearables tie into proximity marketing by providing location information, but the information derived through wearables helps marketers further flesh out buyer personas with incredibly intimate information, including movement, stress levels, preferred mode of activity, diet, heart rate, age, gender … the list goes on.

Impact: Who doesn’t love an instant coupon (based on proximity) for a product or service within immediate reach? How about automatic rebates, or ads that align with your unique, real-time activities?

What if you purchased a bike from Trek, and after you rode 100 miles on the bike, Trek applied a 15 percent rebate? We’re talking about a level of engagement and intimacy between buyer and brand that’s revolutionary to the marketing game. And at its most basic level, a helpful enhancement to the buyer’s experience. But again, the issue of privacy and information security is a major concern for consumers.

Fun fact: Wearable activity trackers are expected to soar to a $5.8 billion industry by 2019, which means an increasing number of buyers will be reached in this way.

7) Product Recommendation Engines

Amazon, Netflix, Facebook (and its “people you may know” feature) — they all use product recommendation engines to help recommend products (or people) they believe a specific visitor will find useful or interesting. Product recommendation engines work in several ways. Collaborative filtering methods collect and analyze wide sets of information about a prospect’s behaviors, activities or preferences to predict products or services they’ll like. Content-based filtering uses keywords about a prospect’s past purchases to recommend similar products. Hybrid filtering combines both collaborative and content-based methods and (naturally) tends to perform best.

Impact: Product recommendation engines change the buyer’s journey by helping buyers realize products or services they are likely to love, but perhaps didn’t know existed. By showing buyers products they may be interested in, or new products relevant to their preferences, the relationship between customer and brand can be extended beyond a single purchase, and brands can better serve customers as an adviser to new interests.

8) Behavioral Trigger Emails

Behavioral trigger emails involve using specialized software that allows you to build individual profiles for each subscriber. Depending on the actions an individual takes (or doesn’t take) with your business, he or she will be served with a personalized email. The information used to determine these triggers includes: age, location, site visit history, or specific interactions with a product or service.

Fun fact: On average, behavioral trigger emails get a 152 percent greater open rate than traditional emails.

Impact: Whether it’s to confirm that an action registers with a brand, educate or delight, behavioral trigger emails deliver relevant information exactly when the buyer needs it. And because behavioral trigger emails are contextual, they are more valuable to the buyer than a generic email blast.

These personalization trends are helping to shape the future of marketing, but there’s one thing marketers must remember: Nearly all consumers are concerned with how we utilize their data for personalization. What we give buyers in exchange for providing more and more information has to have a significant benefit to the individual who sees it. So rather than giving them what you want them to see, give buyers what they want to see—and you’ll be rewarded for it.

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