The Personalization Debate: Does it Still Matter in Digital Marketing?

January 27, 2020Sparxoo

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Sparxoo Trends Guide 2020Toward the end of 2019, as Sparxoo peered into the near future and contemplated the potential 2020 trends in digital marketing, we chose to make mention of the ongoing evolution in the dynamics of personalization.

We noticed that a Salesforce survey revealed that 59% of customers said “tailored engagement based on past interactions” would be a very important contributing factor in purchasing decisions. The same survey showed 84% of customers said being treated like a person, rather than as a number, was important for winning their business.

Naturally, these results reinforced the notion that personalization is important. What is personalization? It is the development and distribution of custom content to potential buyers based on demographics, demonstrated interests and past behavior.

Well … maybe not so much.

Is Personalization Dying?

Personalization seemed to be a cornerstone tactic for digital marketing agencies, but a debate has arisen about its effectiveness.

According to a new survey by business analyst Gartner, 80% of marketers will abandon personalization efforts by 2025.

This prediction is based on observations by Gartner that the use of personal data has 1) failed to provide meaningful results due to unreliable data collection methods; and 2) has been rejected by consumers, who have learned to ignore waves of promotional emails and mobile phone notifications.

So, what now? If personalization is so ineffective that marketers are poised to abandon it, according to Gartner, how will digital marketers replace personalization as a tactic?

This is where the backlash to Gartner’s doom and gloom comes into play. The most thorough response to Gartner’s prediction we’ve seen is this blog post by artificial intelligence marketing firm Kameleoon: Tactical Personalization is dead. Long live strategic personalization.

Apparently, personalization as a digital marketing tool isn’t dead just yet.

The Demise of Personalization is Exaggerated

In fact, Kameleoon is not alone in its assessment that personalization is not doomed. In December, the Association of National Advertisers selected personalization its Word of the Year, ahead of such heady buzzwords as equality, inclusion, data and in-house.

Not even Kameleoon is ready to proclaim the future of personalization to be bright and rosy. The obstacles are real, and include:

Decline in consumer trust

Increasingly strident regulations

Technological barriers to tracking and to consumer data management

Insufficiently robust technological architecture

The way to overcome those hurdles, Kameleoon concludes, is to test concepts with a pilot campaign; take a strategic approach, rather than a tactical approach; and bring all departments together with shared control of planning and implementation of personalization efforts.

Don’t Give Up on Personalization Yet

There are other factors to consider as digital marketers begin to question the means and methods of personalization.

Where does user-generated content come into this?

How will the expansion of artificial intelligence tools allow marketers to harness data at scale?

How will brands overcome the “privacy paradox,” in which consumers demand a “me first” approach to advertising and sales, but are more conscious than ever about who has access to their personal data – and how that data will be used?

The agencies and brands that discover the answers to these and other related questions will be poised to take advantage of the wealth of connectivity that is sure to define the next decade of digital marketing.

It could come down to whether the digital marketing industry can generate the collective energy, drive, savvy and audaciousness it will take to harness the potential of personalization.

Meanwhile, the debate about personalization as a tool in digital marketing continues.