When I sit down to write an article, I have a pretty normal routine. I sketch the story in our Content Optimization System (COS), copy it and paste it into a Google document, find a good photo to go with it, research, write, proofread and transfer it back to our COS. It’s an odd series of steps that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it does for me. They are my very own blogging habits.
These habits aren’t just limited to my writing process. I have morning, evening, and weekend routines as if my whole life has become a set of established patterns. Knowing what these habits are, I learned in Step 4 of the above, is a real gold mine for marketers.
I found this out in a 2012 New York Times article entitled “How Corporations Learn Their Secrets”. Written by Charles Duhigg, it was written largely as a result of a public incident: A disgruntled father marched into a store in Minnesota Target, wanting to know why his teenage daughter was getting coupons for baby products to find out later that she was actually pregnant.
It found the retailer could predict her pregnancy and then personalize the promotions received, thanks in large part to a lot of (completely legal) data collection and analysis. Scary – or great marketing?
We still ask ourselves this question today. Ultimately, however, there seems to be a good balance between knowing your customers too well and doing solid marketing. In fact, in 2018, the Harvard Business Review found that while people want to keep their information safe online, they still value personalized and meaningful marketing experiences.
But how does personalized marketing work and how have other brands put it into practice without looking scary? Here are eight great examples of brands who did it in ways that were more fun than intrusive.
9 examples of personalized marketing
Shutterfly is a website and app that allows you to create canvases, photo books, calendars, and even objects with your own photos. While Shutterfly has gotten creative with personalized emails and subject lines, personalizing item offerings on its app has been a unique thing lately.
When you download the Shutterfly smartphone app, create an account, and give Shutterfly permission to access your photos, photos with faces are automatically identified and placed on items that you can purchase through the app, such as: B. these cups.
Take that away
When selling products that are personalized to begin with, it can be helpful to show your customers what they might look like before they buy them, as well as photos or words related to their life that would look great on the product.
However, when you do this, take great care to ensure that you have explicit permission to search someone’s information in order to retrieve that data. When it came to Shutterfly, Pamela had already given the app permission to access her photos and linked the account to her Facebook account, where she approved a number of other related permissions. If you don’t get the correct permissions and get the proper personalization data, you can turn out to be untrustworthy or downright creepy.
2. Snapchat’s Bitmoji
In 2016, Snapchat launched an app called Bitmoji, which allows users to design cartoon avatars of themselves that can be viewed as a Snapchat profile picture and / or on the Snap Map if allowed.
Since then, Snapchat has also posted an auto-generated daily story called “Bitmoji Stories” on its Discover feed.
When you click inside a Bitmoji story, you’ll see a series of cartoon-like images that tell a story about your own Bitmoji avatar. If you’ve recently spoken to a friend whose app has a Bitmoji attached, you can see your friends on your Daily Story as well.
Below is an example of a Bitmoji story where Pamela Bumps Bitmoji shows her cousin’s Bitmoji a new app:
Take that away
Since Bitmoji stories appear in Discover with all other branded content and ads on Snapchat, the app company found a great way to get people into that particular area of the app – even if they aren’t interested in seeing branded content. While the audiences are on this Discover page, they may find a brand or content that grabbed their attention and continued to interact with the feed.
This is a great example of how an app used personalization creatively to route traffic from one area of their app to another.
To continue the story above, we thought it would be helpful to share more information on how exactly the retailer made the above personal prediction. As Duhigg explains in his article, which is much more detailed than I am here, each target customer is assigned a Guest ID number after their first interaction with the brand.
This ID is used to store the customer’s demographic information, which ranges from ethnicity to professional history, and to track purchasing behavior. This enabled Target’s marketing analysts, especially those with in-store baby registrations, to generate a “pregnancy prediction” score that allowed them to determine which buying patterns indicated that a customer was in the early stages of expectation.
It was a game changer. “Once consumer shopping habits are firmly entrenched,” writes Duhigg, “it is incredibly difficult to change.” That is, until a major life event occurs like finding out that having a baby is one of the ways.
Then the routines have to change. Suddenly there is a deadline and people are starting to buy products they have never considered before, like “cocoa butter lotion” and “a wallet big enough to double as a diaper bag,” the article reads . These are the behaviors that trigger Target’s pregnancy predictive value and lead the customer to receive special offers on baby items.
Take that away
This level of personalized marketing, while fascinating, could backfire. Duhigg summed it up well in his article:
Using data to predict a woman’s pregnancy, Target realized that … could be a public relations disaster. So the question arose: How could they get their advertisements into the hands of expectant mothers without making it appear like they were spying on them? How can you take advantage of someone’s habits without letting them know that you are studying their life? “
That is not to say that marketers should do away with personalization entirely because it is effective when done correctly. For example, personalized emails have a 6.2% higher open rate than those that don’t. But at a time of growing privacy and security concerns, take it easy.
Let your customers know that you understand them without being intrusive. Curious how this works with your HubSpot marketing and sales software? Read more about how personalization tokens work here.
Last week, my colleague, HubSpot Academy Sales Professor Kyle Jepsen, forwarded an email to me with the comment “Take personalization to a whole new level”. The following video followed:
He wasn’t kidding. That particular brand could have just put the name of each recipient on the whiteboard in this video and kept the same script for each. But it didn’t stop there – Cole, the gentleman speaking on the video, not only addressed Kyle by his first name, but also referred to his specific colleagues and the conversations he had with them.
Take that away
Given that the average online reader loses interest after around 15 seconds, personalizing your mixed media content is an interesting, and often effective, approach. “I mean, sure, he made the video just for me,” said Jepson. “It’s an interesting case study.”
While this type of personalization is memorable, it is also extremely time-consuming. If you want to create it, make sure you are targeting the right people. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to produce something very individual only to find out you’ve sent it to someone who doesn’t have the authority to make decisions you need.
5. Coca Cola
Coca Cola launched its famous “Share a Coke” campaign in Australia back in 2011 and brought it to the USA in 2014. It was an attempt to reach millennials where each bottle contained one of the most popular first names of this generation. After all, bottles contained semi-personal labels that went beyond first names, such as “better half”. Today, according to Ad Age, over 800 first names are used.
According to the same source, Coke will soon be adding surnames to bottles like Garcia and Thompson. “Last names give us the ability to invite more people into the campaign,” Coca-Cola’s brand director Evan Holod told Ad Age. “It’s just a great way to increase reach.”
In addition to these efforts, Coca-Cola UK will soon publish the names of famous vacation destinations on bottles such as Hawaii and Miami, according to CNBC. The aim of this initiative is to “remind people of the refreshment and great taste that only an ice cold Coke can bring on a hot summer day,” the official statement said. In addition, these bottles have a chance to win a trip to these locations.
Take that away
It was a successful move to give Coke bottles their first names. In the USA, this led to an increase in sales for the first time in around four years. It’s also a cheap thrill – I know when I actually find a bottle that says “Amanda” I squeal inside.
However, the last name can be slightly different. ShareaCoke.com offers the option to customize your own bottle labels. So you can write anything you want, e.g. B. a custom event hashtag or something like “congratulations”. However, this can be viewed as an exclusion for those with unique or separate bar names.
While my feelings don’t hurt when I know I can’t find a bottle labeled “Zantal-Wiener”, I won’t pay $ 5 for a custom one either. So if you want to personalize a product make sure it is appropriately adjusted to target the right segment of your target audience, but also not in a limiting way.
Amazon’s personalization efforts aren’t exactly new. The product curation and recommendation algorithm has been making headlines and case studies since at least 2013. And yet every time I visit my Amazon homepage, I can scroll down and pull out the recommendations for me. Have a look:
Those who know me are aware of my cross-border obsession with hip hop, which is also the motivation behind much of my online shopping behavior. Apparently Amazon has taken note of this.
And as I scrolled further down, the matching personalization continued. A header said “For a night in” with recommendations on what to stream on Amazon Prime – an activity that made up most of my weekend. The recommendations for dog and kitchen products were also applicable. After all, these are the categories in which I shop the most.
It’s not just me When I asked my colleagues what their Amazon homepages look like, they were equally satisfied. Sophia Bernazzani, a contributor to the marketing blog (and self-proclaimed “mother of three”), had a variety of personalized cat food recommendations, while managing editor Emma Brudner’s prime streaming titles were headed “Bingeable TV” .
“Amazon,” said Brudner, “you know me so well.”
Take that away
Here’s a personalization example that we don’t have many complaints about. As Brudner said, Amazon seems to know us pretty well, although I wonder why the algorithm according to the picture above thought I might like to buy a pair of leg warmers.
The beauty of such personalization is that if done correctly, it can often lead to unplanned purchase decisions.
For example, the purpose of my last visit to Amazon was to review the personalization features for this item. But then I discovered that Rapper’s Delight: The Hip Hop Cookbook was in my featured books. Have I bought something that I don’t need? For sure. But I was also pleased that it was brought to my attention with very little effort.
If you want to personalize curated articles or recommendations for your clients, remember: the best part about it for the user is discovering new things that we like – whether it is a book, tool, or article.
In 2015, Adam Pasick wrote a story for Quartz explaining the “magic” behind Spotify’s “Discover Weekly”: a curated playlist of songs he believes a particular user will enjoy. Like many other personalization and recommendation platforms, it is largely done using an algorithm that determines a user’s “taste profile” based on listening habits and the most popular playlists of the entire Spotify audience.
The technology behind it comes from Echo Nest, a “music intelligence company” that was acquired by Spotify in 2014, according to Pasick. Here is a great diagram from the article that visually illustrates the process:
As much as I use Spotify – which is almost every day – I’ve never bothered to listen to my Discover Weekly playlist. After a colleague pointed this out to me, I decided to give it a try.
The results were hit or miss. There were a few new songs that I really wanted to discover and hear again. But for the most part, my experience was similar to Pasick’s, who described many of the songs on his personalized playlist as “meh”.
However, those behind Discover Weekly acknowledge that personalization is not a perfect science. They also have suggestions on how to improve it, such as: B. Adding the Discover Weekly songs you like to your library or skipping the ones you don’t – “When users fast-forward within the first 30 seconds of a song”
Matthew Ogle, Product Director of Spotify and Edward Newett, Engineering Manager, told Pasick, “The Discover Weekly algorithm interprets this as a ‘thumbs down’ for this particular song and artist.”
Take that away
Most personalization initiatives won’t be perfect. Even with a great algorithm, they are, at best, very educated guesses about what will apply to your customers. Because of this, it may be best to treat your recommendations conservatively, especially in the earliest stages of your personalization efforts.
This is an area where small batch testing can be helpful. If you want to try a personalization project or algorithm, identify your most active users and invite them to test the technology. Listen to their feedback carefully – good and bad – and see what you can do to make it better.
8. Iberia Airlines
During the 2016 holiday season, Iberia Airlines customers received emails asking: If you could visit a vacation destination, which one would it be and who would you go with? To answer, customers were directed to a microsite where they filled in the answers and the email address of the person they wanted to travel with.
Not long after, the friend received an email with a holiday greeting about the dream vacation. Just to view the map, that person had to click a link to view it in their browser.
It was that final step, explained Skift writer Brian Sumers, where “Iberia … used cookies to fund its advertising budget [with the user’s permission] So the traveler’s friend saw banners on the Internet that suggested the perfect Christmas present. “This gift was of course the dream vacation.
For example, let’s say I sent one of these cards to a friend. She might later see multiple ads while browsing the web saying things like, “It’s never too late to fulfill Amanda’s dream. Take a trip to Mykonos.”
Take that away
As per the video above, the user was clearly asked to allow cookies and that is important. Even the most customized marketing becomes less personal and definitely less desirable when done without the user’s consent.
To personalize marketing, it is important to have enough data. However, it is equally important to know what to look for and how to use them. That made a huge difference to Twiddy, a vacation rental company based in the Outer Banks.
“If we can’t look at the data well,” said Marketing Director Ross Twiddy to Inc., “how can we make good decisions?”
One of the key pieces of information Twiddy looked at was how rental volumes and demand shifted from week to week. Identifying these trends enabled the company to provide homeowners with “recommended prices” “based on market conditions, seasonal trends, and the size and location of a home,” according to Inc.
The week after Independence Day was a week that the team particularly noticed, as rents fell sharply during that time.
With Twiddy watching this trend (among other things), owners of its managed properties were able to experiment with pricing for that particular week as early as January.
Not only did this benefit the customer – setting more realistic prices for periods of lower demand actually increased the bookings made for them – but it was just one way Twiddy was providing helpful, actionable information to its customers. It paid off too. Since the brand has used this data to help homeowners make decisions like pricing, their portfolio has grown by over 10%.
Take that away
There is a famous saying, “Help me help you.” Data can be a huge asset to brands in general. And it doesn’t have to be about your customers ‘behavior – it can be their customers’ habits, like the vacationers who rented from Twiddy’s homeowner customers.
As long as it’s something that can be shared ethically – like objective buying or seasonal trends – share the data and insights with your customers to make them more successful. These are the kind of things that make a brand noticeable and can benefit your business as well.
A fundamental purpose of any personalization is to let your customers know that you are paying them attention. However, striking a balance between “We think you may find this helpful” and “We are watching you” is not an easy process. So, do some careful research, planning, and testing before embarking on a big process. Scaling customization initiatives.
Remember that while you are a marketer, you are also a consumer. When it comes to experiments like this, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask, “Is that lovely? Or is it just scary? “If it is prone to the latter, find out what gives it that vibe and try something different.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and updated in November 2019 for completeness.