Building personal ties with customers and prospects has become a major goal for businesses of all sizes. “Personalization is not only important—it’s imperative,” says Kevin Kelly, co-president of New York City-based digital ad agency BigBuzz Marketing Group. “It’s a big motivator for customers to be loyal.”
While personalization comes naturally to low-volume artisan businesses (think of the handwritten notes often added by craftspeople at Etsy.com), it’s a more complex task for SMBs, says Nicholas Daniel-Richards, co-founder of Garnerville, New York, inventory and fulfillment software provider ShipHero. “The Etsy approach is really personal, and it really connects you to that artist,” he says. “The challenge to business is how you do that at scale.”
Here’s how technology can help:
1. Personalized email
This tactic has to go beyond salutations, says Kelly. “It’s not about saying, ‘Hi, Kevin’ and then giving me a message that doesn’t apply to me,” he says. “You’ve got to personalize your message.” For example, Kelly cites a parking garage client that sends one email newsletter to monthly contract customers and another to daily parkers. Examples of affordable tools that can provide varying levels of personalization include Springbot, for e-commerce firms, and Zoho for any type of business.
2. Ad personalization
This serves up relevant advertisements to shoppers and browsers. Ad selections may be based, for instance, on the parts of a website where a browser spent most of his or her time. “If they looked at the mortgage part of a website, you don’t want to send them information on checking accounts,” Kelly notes. Cost-effective ad personalization solutions include Facebook’s Custom Audiences, which lets businesses present custom ads on Facebook to people who visit their website, and AdRoll, which helps online businesses target audiences with custom ads.
3. Personalized chat
Businesses can personalize website visits by chatting with visitors to help them navigate the site or answer questions. Live humans can run live chats or, more cost effectively, businesses can employ automated chatbots. E-commerce platform Shopify offers a free chatbot, while BotBot is a no-cost chatbot creator for any business that communicates with customers through Facebook Messenger.
4. Physical personalization
The addition of personalized items to product packages can leave customers feeling thoroughly understood and appreciated. For example, first-time customers could get a discount coupon for an accessory or a sample of a product related to their purchase. “Target things that you would consider that person more likely to buy,” Daniel-Richards says.
The future of marketing is creating one-to-one experiences that create loyalty
E-commerce firms ShipHero and ShipStation, among others, use automation rules to guide this kind of personalization. Brick-and-mortar businesses, professional services providers and others can automate personalization with services like Handwrytten and Bond to create printed notes that appear hand-written.
Personalization isn’t risk-free. When guesses based on customer data turn out to be off base, the result may be creepy rather than comforting. “It can be quite offensive to consumers if you’re wrong,” Kelly warns. “Keep it tight and keep it relevant.” Businesses should also use their own internal data, such as purchase records, instead of data acquired from third parties.
Despite these challenges, business owners should be thinking about ways to personalize customer interactions. “The future of marketing,” Kelly says, “is creating these one-to-one experiences that create loyalty.”
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