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Humanize. Not Personalize.

This past decade has been one of exciting possibility and unprecedented opportunity when it comes to demand generation and business growth. Social networking and always-on Internet culture have allowed us to rapidly reach, track, and learn from a global market. Artificial intelligence and automation tools have allowed us to evaluate this data and scale programs far beyond what we could do with human effort alone. 

But, the cracks in these mechanisms are beginning to show. Tools that were brilliant in moderation have proved to be robotic at scale. Communications that are meant to pull people closer are pushing them away. In Europe and California, the sense of violation is so strong, they’ve enacted privacy regulations to give consumers more control over the messages and content they receive. More regulations are sure to follow.

Marketing has overstepped, and it’s time to make a correction. We need to remember the humans on the other side of our digital communications and create marketing for them. It’s time to humanize our marketing. It’s that focus—a focus on the individual—that creates good marketing and fosters growth. Here are three ways to start.

Personas are great. But personas aren’t people.

A persona is a fictional representative of your target customer, based on research and customer data. It’s much easier to think about meeting the needs of a single person than an abstract group. Done well, personas combine the most common goals, objectives, perspectives and treatment preferences of your target customer into a single “character.”

Personas are meant to provide a foundation and help with alignment, not take the place of individualized understanding of a prospect or customer. But people are more than that. For instance, personas don’t include these details:

  • The person’s history with your company, or their current interaction with it. You’d communicate differently with someone who was a previous customer, you’ve met before or have a past relationship (e.g. former boss or direct report), but personas don’t provide that context.
  • Personal motivations. Is the person looking to make a big splash in a new role?
  • Personal interests and what’s happening in their personal life. The CMO who is also planning a wedding may be less inclined to take a risk on a new technology solution.
  • The most up-to-date snapshot. Have you updated your personas to reflect the pressures on these roles due to COVID-19?

There’s nothing wrong with personas. The problem comes when we start thinking that personas are all there are to a person. 

What to do: Don’t ditch personas entirely, but remember to go beyond them when you are creating marketing campaigns. One of the biggest benefits of going through a marketing and sales alignment process, and keeping an open channel of communication between your teams, is being able to ask the question, “does this communication/content/campaign speak to the needs of our real customers? If not, how can we change it?”

Technology is both an enabler and a barrier. 

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a targeted marketing program that got its target wrong. For me, recently, this was a small net fishing program from an analytics vendor. Over the span of three weeks I received a barrage of emails, both branded and text-only “from the rep,” display ads from the company greeted me as I visited websites, and nearly a dozen voice mails were left on my phone. The kicker—we’re already using it—we were already a customer.

These errors may not cause direct harm; I’m not going to stop using this solution, but I’m not that impressed with the company. And, mistargeted or sloppily “personalized” communications contribute to the massive amount of data and content we are all inundated with, and this oversaturation is not good for anyone. Fatigue and overwhelm get in the way of us hearing most of the messages, so your communications need to be extraordinary, rather than simply relevant, just to break through the noise. 

The interruption of “business as normal” by COVID-19 has exposed a lot of weak points in our automated communications. Emails written for drip campaigns months ago are landing in inboxes with a solid thud – their context they were written in has now changed. New messages about how companies are coping with COVID-19 and how these companies provide continuous support are being sent far and wide (I’ve received over 50 of these and my LinkedIn and Twitter feed is inundated with them too). Why I needed to be alerted that a company I did business with three years ago is initiating bleach wiping and work from home is beyond me. – I hit SPAM on each and every one. These problems are especially apparent right now, but they were always there, quietly alienating a percentage of our audience that, approached differently, could have become our biggest fans. 

What to do: Think of your campaigns as technology-enabled rather than technology-led. Resist the impulse to adopt new technology simply because everyone else is using it. Instead, start with the human connection you want to make, then see how technology can help you do it bigger and better. Now is a great time to take stock of your automated communications to determine if they are relevant, timely, and work in conjunction with the other messages coming from your company.

Not all reports are useful. Some are downright harmful.

A/B testing, tracked links, click maps, and the like allow marketers to get amazing levels of feedback on what is working and what isn’t in their campaigns. However,  it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that data equals facts. In order to get truly meaningful results, we need to measure the right things, not just what’s easy to measure.

A classic example of this solely measuring tactic effectiveness by the number of leads generated, rather than using a metric related to lead quality. It’s easy to see how this happens. More leads means more potential opportunities, right? Not necessarily. If half those leads don’t fit your ideal customer profile (ICP), you’re wasting time marketing to them. And while doubling the number of emails you send may not cost you much in dollars or time, an inflated database often leads to unrealistic projections—not to mention waste your BDRs’ time calling prospects who would never actually buy your solution. 

When marketers are incentivized on problematic metrics, measurement actually becomes an instigator for bad marketing, rather than a mechanism for growth. 

What to do: Start by asking, “In a perfect world, what would success look like?” Then ask what you can measure to help you get closer to it. (If this sounds basic, remember: Most organizations start with the question, “What can we measure?”) Be prepared for the reality that it’s not always possible to measure the things that we want to measure. We’re still beholden to the information we can get (partner programs are particularly susceptible to this problem), but that’s not a rationale for putting resources into metrics for the sake of metrics. Finally, the best information always comes from talking to your customers. While this may not be something you can do at scale, it’s an essential ingredient for authentic, relevant campaigns that truly resonate with your customers.

The Iron Horse insight.

Creating human connections is a foundation of good marketing. We’ve gone a bit astray in the last decade, tempted by our love affair with automation. We don’t need to throw away the tools and processes that have allowed us to scale, but we do need to bring focus back to the humans that make up our customers, coworkers and communities. We need to treat them as people, not personas.