Expert Insight: The Challenge of Delivering a Personalized Customer Experience

marketing, digital marketingPersonalization is a content marketing tactic that can help reel in customers and prospects, but how many marketers are actually utilizing this method? According to the “2018 Connectivity Report” from Widen, 28 percent of marketers claim that personalizing the customer experience is what their organization is most focused on this year.

For more insight into why more marketers haven’t adopted this tactic just yet and an in-depth look at the report, we spoke to Nina Brakel-Schutt, brand strategist and creative team lead for Widen’s marketing team.

About one-quarter of the respondents claimed that personalizing the customer experience is their organization’s focus in 2018 – do you see this increasing in the coming year? Why or why not?

digital marketing, content marketing

“I do believe this will continue to be a priority for organizations in the coming year, as capturing the attention of our audiences becomes more and more challenging for marketers. Our marketing department at Widen faces this, too. With voice and artificial intelligence capabilities on the rise, consumers will have even higher expectations from tailored experiences that meet them in their moment.

“The concept of personalization is not new, but the way we serve it up will change. We’ll need to be more anticipatory in our actions as marketers and almost surgical in the way we engage with customers one-on-one. Loyalty will eventually be measured in segments of one.”

Nearly 72 percent of respondents claimed that the use of data and analytics is helping with smarter targeting. What else can marketers be doing to make it easier to reach out to their target audience?

“By creating helpful content and delivering relevant experiences for our audience to live in. Of course, both of these first require a true understanding of your target audience. That’s why several of our interview participants emphasized the importance of talking to people in your target market to stay on top of their wants and needs and to ensure you understand their problems.

“If you create content that helps your audience solve their problems, they’ll keep coming back to you for more – whether that’s more content, more products, or more services. Talking with your audience also uncovers ways of reaching them that you may not have considered before – maybe new channels, niche venues, or regional associations.”

Approximately 66 percent of marketers said they would like to have a team dedicated to reaching their personalization goals. How important do you think it is for marketers to have at least one person focused on content personalization?

content marketing, digital marketing

“It will be more important as the individual demands of consumers increase, especially with AI gaining traction. AI will open up many new possibilities in message and content delivery, but it will also stir up a ton of additional data.

Someone will need to sift through the key data points to understand what efforts are moving the needle most in terms of meeting people in their moment. This includes device preference, content consumption preference, and also brand resonance. I’m not sure what the job description looks like for that person, but a good part of their time would be dedicated to measuring and adjusting content personalization strategies – what’s been successful, why, and how does that need to be adjusted to continue meeting consumers in their moment time after time?”

About 93% of professionals surveyed feel personalization at scale is attainable, but 58% are unsure of how to achieve it at scale in their marketing and creative work. What do you think marketers can do to overcome these hurdles?

“This is a great question. Our VP Marketing and I find there’s a gap in the way the media promotes “trends of importance” and the information out there that shows you how to be an active part of a trend. How to actually start doing something. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but talking to peers, customers, or partners is a great way to get actionable advice about achieving something when you’re struggling. Attend conferences focused on personalization or customer experience, follow industry leaders or organizations who innovate in these areas (I get Think with Google newsletter and always learn new things I can do), and just try something even if it fails at first.

It’s important to act and experiment, even if you start small. It’s okay to pace yourself. Some of the gap between thinking personalization at scale is attainable and making it happen is a theory versus practice thing. If marketers feel personalization is possible in theory, but a huge initiative that they’re not resourced for in practice, then they may not pursue the exploration because they don’t know how to take on something big. In truth, you can start small by simply personalizing subject lines in an email blast. But as I said earlier, once AI tools become more commonplace and gain traction, the scale part will get easier.”

What was the most interesting finding/statistic to you in the report?

“Our team was really surprised by the number of people who still don’t know how to define artificial intelligence. We asked our interview participants point blank what the term artificial intelligence means to them and over 50 percent said it either reminded them of futuristic movies and robots or that they didn’t know.

“So maybe personalization at scale is a pipe dream without technology that segments customers automatically. Because artificial intelligence has been talked about so much in the media in previous years, we assumed marketers and creatives would be further along in adoption. This shows us there’s a tremendous opportunity to take a stance ourselves about what AI is and educate our audience about the realities of AI tools. We shared some great AI examples from Domino’s, Autodesk, and Ticketmaster in our Connectivity webinar last month.

“The statistic about consumer usage of AI tools versus professional usage was also rather eye opening. 86 percent of respondents told us that they’re not using AI in marketing and creative work yet. For comparison, Gallup finds that almost 85 percent of consumers already use AI tools in their personal lives, whether they realize it or not. These tools we so readily use in our everyday life aren’t translating easily into our work life, which makes it seem like marketers are falling behind.”


Nina is the Brand Strategist and Creative Team Lead for Widen’s marketing team. She drives creative strategy, oversees the Widen brand, and guides thought leadership around digital connectivity. Before coming to Widen six years ago, she spent over 20 years on the agency side in Chicago helping large and small companies to strengthen and articulate their brands. Nina blogs regularly about brand strategy and speaks publicly about branding, content management, and marketing.

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