Bring Personalization Home for the Holidays


Article ImageGreen and red are the traditional colors that signify the celebration of Yuletide and that Americans use to deck their halls for the holidays. But digital marketers who want to see more green and avoid the red on their sales charts, post-Thanksgiving, need to think less about mass appeal and instead stress better brand experiences via one-on-one engagement. In other words, package more emarketing customization to gift-minded shoppers in the form of personalized digital advertising.

A recent survey by Signal indicates that digital advertising has an impact: 43% of respondents said that digital ads on a website or mobile app influenced their holiday shopping, and 27% revealed that the ads provided them with new gift ideas. However, 48% of those polled said digital ads are annoying.

What’s the major takeaway according to the experts? Retailers can and should take advantage of personalized marketing online. “These data points show that the key to breaking through with digital advertising is to personalize ads based on what’s known about the customer—such as prior purchases, location, or loyalty status—and take action as soon as they are in market,” says Kathy Menis, SVP of marketing for Signal.

Personalization is essential during the holiday season, when shoppers are time-crunched and eager to check off all the gifts on their lists. “They expect offers, messages, and experiences that are customized to their interests, needs, and preferences, wherever they are shopping,” adds Menis, who cites a 2015 Retail TouchPoints report, “Closing the Gap Between People’s Expectations and Retail Realities,” which indicates that 81% of consumers want their online shopping experiences to be personalized and relevant rather than generic and one-size-fits-all. “The holiday season is also a time when retailers can make a lasting impression on their customers that can either make or break their long-term success.”

Tim Walters, VP and principal analyst with Digital Clarity Group, agrees that personalization is a preferred holiday marketing tactic. “If done effectively, personalization is especially important during the holiday season simply because that short period accounts for such a large percentage of annual revenue—up to 30% for some retailers,” he says.

Walters adds that the aforementioned Signal survey data reveals a dirty little secret about holiday shoppers. “So many people are pretty awful gift buyers. By Black Friday, and then right up to Christmas, people are increasingly anxious about finding any reasonable gift, let alone the ‘perfect’ one,” says Walters. “In this state, they’re susceptible to and appreciative of any half-useful recommendation.”

Stacy Smollin Schwartz, marketing instructor at Rutgers Business School, concurs. Patrons “are inundated with product choices, and it can be hard to know where to start, particularly when you are shopping for a gift for someone else. In the digital realm, data-assisted personalization shepherds consumers through the process so they can follow a path without becoming overwhelmed,” says Schwartz.

“As holiday shoppers browse and buy on the web, mobile, email, and brick-and-mortar stores, data are created about each of one of those engagements. But that data can be hard to connect across different tools in the marketing stack, leaving brands with a fragmented view of each customer,” says Menis. “A single view of each individual can be created by matching a brand’s first-party data across all of these devices and tying it back to the customer in a privacy-safe way.”

Consider a shopper hunting on her PC and smartphone in early November for print and digital books that would make ideal gifts. When Black Friday arrives, she’s bombarded by countless ads with offers that are irrelevant to her interests. But a single, persistent view of this consumer (aka personalized digital marketing) would allow a retailer to identify her shopping behavior and target her with a customized bargain on one or more of the books she’s considering.

“And the cherry on top of the sundae would be removing friction from the buying experience, showing her that the product is in stock if she would like to pre-purchase online,” says Menis. When it comes to getting customers to your site or app in the first place, using personalization via emails, native advertising on social media, and display ads can be very effective. “For example, a Pottery Barn email tells me about events happening at my local store and features products I may have viewed the last time I visited the site. A Blue Apron ad integrates into my Facebook feed to look like content I’d be interested in, and the header of the ad is personalized to indicate which of my friends Like this advertiser, so I will be more interested in reading their authentic message,” Schwartz says. “And after checking out shoes on, a banner ad featuring those shoes follows me as I jump around from site to site.”

To better position your business to maximize its personalized digital marketing capabilities before and during the holidays, experts recommend several strategies. To begin, perform a thorough data inventory, ensure the quality and usability of that data, and use it to make real-time decisions about content delivery. “That means not only ensuring that your data are not corrupted or out of date—it means matching data to the prospective marketing uses and determining where there are operational gaps,” says Walters. “Next, unify the data. There needs to be some kind of agnostic data layer that can pull together information from numerous different systems and repositories with various programming languages and standards—including records of both online and offline interactions. Lastly, use the inputs from the historical data and real-time actions to draw the best possible picture of what a consumer is trying to achieve in order to provide the most relevant and helpful response.”

Additionally, carefully analyze your current customer segments. “If you understand who your existing customers are today, it will help you create lookalike target audiences later, who may share the same interests and browsing activity,” Schwartz says. “You can then target these new groups with appropriate messaging through native advertising and display ads as you get closer to the holidays.”

Aim to deliver personalization on every channel too. As Menis says, “People consistently shop across desktop, mobile, and in stores as it suits their needs. By continuously recognizing customers across touchpoints throughout their shopping journeys, marketers can cross-sell, upsell, and provide offers and messaging that actually benefit consumers and encourage them to remain loyal to a particular brand.” 

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