To personalise or not? No question: for almost all one-to-one communication, you should personalise. But there are differences in degree. Imagine the resources involved in reaching these levels of personalisation:
Turning Dear Sir into Dear Mr Smith.
Starting a letter to Robert with Hi, Bob!
Using the headline Oil hits $67.31 in a landing page.
Using a price chart to decide between Hedge for the downswing! or Lock in your future contracts! as your subhead.
Using financial results from annual reports to generate content like You're 5% ahead on margins but 4th in growth in your sector - personalised to each individual's company.
The first takes little effort - indeed, it's been done for decades. But the last takes big data, expert knowledge and a critical eye. That's the first clue to deciding your approach: balance expected ROI with the resources you have to deliver it.
Mass customisation: plenty of personalisation for little effort
Mass customisation - the first level - is deaf and blind. Knowing a customer's name and title tells you nothing about their hopes, fears and dreams. But other things being equal, Dear Mr Smith works better than Dear Marketing Manager. (It's what built a global business for direct marketing pioneer American Express.) It's cheap, it's accurate and it helps. Use mass customisation if your audience is broad, if you're selling products and services with mass appeal, or if your profit-per-sale is low.
Extreme personalisation: taking it up a notch
Today we can take it up a level to extreme personalisation, where what you say depends on the recipient's detailed buyer persona. For instance, if you've got ten industry sectors to engage with, you might substitute a case study in your content with a choice of different ones. Which one your reader sees depends on the company's SIC code. It makes your content feel closer to home, meaning readership increases. Small touches like these increase response rates at the cost of a moderate increase in resource. (You'll have to create 3-8 times as much content, but it can turn one piece of core content into 100.) Use extreme personalisation if you're marketing a high-value product or service to a relatively small and targeted audience.
Dynamic content: getting inside your audience's heads
The highest level of personalisation (like the last two bullets on our list above) might be termed dynamic content. It's where content isn't just merged in, but is created according to outside criteria chosen for ultimate engagement potential - such as news events pertinent to the reader's business. Truly dynamic content is complex to plan and hard to orchestrate (imagine making any ten paragraphs from a set of a hundred fit together smoothly and readably)! Only expert marketers can do it. If you're selling a high-value product to a limited audience - say, your sales plan needs 20 sales a year and there are only 200 companies in your universe - it's worth the extra resource.
Go for extreme personalisation for the biggest bang-per-buck
Most marketers should choose extreme personalisation to provide the customer experience. You create a single piece of content, but the "pointy bits" - case studies, facts and figures, heads and subheads - are personalised for each buyer persona from a small set of content choices.
Mass customisation adds basic personalisation at low cost.
Extreme personalisation replaces some sections of the core content with content specific to the reader's sector or situation.
Dynamic content makes every communication deeply individual, but takes a lot of resource.
- Most marketers should go for extreme personalisation for the best bang-per-buck.