How To Get Personalized Offline

By Paul Costello – President, Agency 180
As seen in
All About ROI: Retail Online Integration

In an age when consumers have come to expect the ability to design their own shoes on and choose from more than 50,000 apps to customize their iPhones, it’s become all too clear that personalized interactions drive brand engagement and long-term relationships. While the digital world quickly migrated from the one-way street of Web 1.0 to the interactivity of Web 2.0, there’s a common misconception that the offline world has lagged behind.

While this may be true for some brands, many marketers are harnessing the power of personalized offline marketing to differentiate themselves during this period of marketing clutter and mounting customer sophistication.

“Consumers know the loyalty program game. They’ve entrusted you with their information, so demonstrate relevance to maintain a good relationship.”

Direct mail has come a long way from the early days of the Sears Roebuck catalog, where consumers were expected to weed through content to find the most relevant brand offering. Since then, brands have attempted to maintain a level of intimacy with their customers through marketing personalization as a form of scalable familiarity. In many ways, it was the evolution of offline database marketing that laid the foundation for the customized e-marketing wave to follow.

However, if marketers are honest with themselves, many have withered on the vine of personalized marketing with half-hearted attempts, such as the personalized greeting that prioritizes perceived novelty over sound strategy.

Your Spot on the Personalization Spectrum?

As marketers and consumers ourselves, we’re confronted on a daily basis with the fact that all marketing personalization isn’t created equal. In fact, the majority of marketing today still lingers on the basic “left end” of the spectrum: Who is the customer? It doesn’t take an overly complex marketing engine to version communications by customers’ names, where they live or what demographic buckets they fall into.

Likewise, these communications typically generate moderate response. As Forrester Research recently noted, “The effectiveness of traditional advertising and direct marketing tactics is declining because consumers are sick and tired of the volume and irrelevance of ads…mass advertising encourages churn, not loyalty.”

The middle of the personalization spectrum includes those who incorporate the key element of customer behavior: What has the customer done? Even the most basic attempt in this area can yield tremendous results, as the dialogue with the customer has reached an entirely new level of relevance and brand intimacy. Loyalty program marketing is the implied exchange of data where customers anticipate relevance in exchange for tracking their shopping behaviors.

Lastly, marketers who lead the pack are those who venture to ask this: “What could/should this customer do?” Much like a good quarterback, the most sophisticated marketing engines/strategies lead customers to where they’re likely to go and, not surprisingly, where the relationships will be most profitable. For this reason, predictive modeling that manifests itself in pinpoint product recommendations, real-time conditional messaging (e.g., pollen count will be high tomorrow in your area, antihistamine offer attached) and other tactics will continue to be where the smart marketing dollars are invested—and long-term returns are achieved.

“Much like a good quarterback, the most sophisticated marketing strategies lead customers to where they’re likely to go.”

Moving Across the Spectrum

As marketers venture to move from left to right on this personalization spectrum, let these rules guide your actions:


— Move beyond the “who.” “Sam Sample” is tired of being treated as such. Marketing messages that stand out are those that treat the consumer as an individual rather than just a name.

— Be smart (or be ignored). Conduct marketing research and pilot personalized campaigns prior to launch or risk damaging/losing the relationships you sought to cultivate. Be aware of “big brother” perception as compelling messaging/offers typically rely on more intimate data. How you position it can make or break your campaign.

— Give something to get something. Consumers know the loyalty program game. They’ve entrusted you with their information, so demonstrate understanding and relevance to maintain a good relationship and drive value for both parties.


— Let the tactic dominate the strategy. Overpersonalization at a granular level just because you can is a classic campaign killer. For example, specific product recommendations/offers risk missing the incremental sales that a more basic category-level offer might capture.

— Go it alone. Personalized campaigns require integration of all key parties—creative, data management, production, etc. As a rule, the earlier you involve the cross-capability and cross-channel team in planning, the more productive and creative the application and subsequent results.

— Forget that small expense often yields big returns. Will it cost more? Maybe. Will it generate more lift? Yes. Focus on lifetime value rather than up-front cost.

The more you know about a customer, the better the dialogue and the more profitable the relationship. Moving past the introductory stage to craft the most relevant, individual message should be the goal of all marketers. How direct mailers use their unique resources to scale familiarity and reach this goal determines the importance of their roles in multichannel personalization.

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