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Common Mistakes in Personalized Marketing and How to Know You’re Making Them

Personalization is the foundation on which successful products and marketing campaigns are built today. From Instagram’s spot-on content recommendations to Spotify’s ‘Made For You’ music playlists, companies that effectively use personalization see real benefits like increased sales and stronger customer relationships.

Personalization in marketing is becoming increasingly harder to get right.

In today's fast-paced digital landscape, the average attention span is a mere 8 seconds and decreasing every year, making it a challenge for marketers to capture and retain consumers' focus. A study showed that while 85% of businesses believe they offer personalized experiences, only a fraction genuinely deliver on that promise. There's a gap between where many marketers believe they are and where they truly stand in offering personalized content at scale. 

The first step to fill in the gap and rectify the mistakes is to be able to identify them. 

From mistakes in agile marketing to data collection methods, we have consolidated a list of some of the most common mistakes experienced marketers have been making in personalization, and strategies to identify and avoid them.

Not Segmenting Enough  

Mistake #1: You’re not segmenting your audience by behavior. Or, at all.

Audience segmentation is the process of categorizing a diverse consumer base into smaller, more defined groups based on demographic, geographic, behavior, and psychographic traits. According to Mailchimp, segmented marketing campaigns experience a 101% higher engagement rate compared to non-segmented campaigns.

However, only 4% of marketers use multiple types of data for segmentation, while 42% of them don’t segment at all. 

And, 75% of marketers typically target only 3 segments - demographic, geographic, and psychographic traits. Segmenting users based on their buyer journeys and behaviors is surprisingly the most overlooked. 

While demographic and psychographic based segmentation is a great starting point, it can lack depth and nuance, and can lead to overgeneralized and stereotyped marketing messages. Behavioral segmentation provides a more comprehensive view of the customer and has resulted in some of the most successful personalisation campaigns.

Case in point

Consider the case of Netflix, the popular streaming service and its success with behavioral segmentation. Netflix does not just sort users by the type of shows they like and based on their demographic traits, but by specific patterns in their viewing. 

Netflix was one of the first products to segment its audiences according to a behavioral group that they termed ‘Taste Clusters’. Rather than segmenting users into broad categories, Netflix used Taste Clusters to group users based on parameters like similar viewing habits and device usage. 

Today, Netflix has more than 2000 Taste Clusters which helps the product suggest shows that are just right for every user. Their dedication to understanding different user groups is not just an integral part of their product strategy but also reflects across their marketing campaigns. 

🧠 How do you know you’re not segmenting users accurately? 

For more information about segmentation strategies, check out Profiling Beyond Demographics and The Guide to User Research.

Bad Data

  1. Mistake #2: You’re trusting data volume over quality.

Relying heavily on the volume of data rather than assessing it for quality, integrity and accuracy is a shockingly common mistake in personalization. It leads to companies wasting resources on irrelevant targets, and potentially alienating or misreading the intended audience. 

Quality data collection means combining both quantitative metrics and qualitative insights to provide a holistic view of the customer journey. It lets you make more accurate and targeted decisions, optimizing resource allocation and maximizing ROI. 

Case in point

In 2018, Facebook made significant changes to its algorithm to show users more from family and friends and less from brands after re-assessing their qualitative user data. 

While Facebook’s News Feed product demonstrated increased engagement from users in terms of numbers, more research revealed a general user dissatisfaction for their Feed. Once Facebook focused on the qualitative insights, not just the quantitative metrics, of its user engagement, the product showed an improvement in its NPS score and user satisfaction.

 🧠 How do you know you’re trusting data volume over quality?

Software like Zesty.io that shows Trending Analytics for Content 

For a deeper understanding about deriving actionable insights from holistic data, read Data Science and the Art of Persuasion and Risks of Quantitative Studies.

Not Optimizing Enough

  1. Mistake #3: You’re not optimizing your personalization efforts.

Unoptimised marketing processes can result in personalization campaigns that are not in sync with current market dynamics and trends. Developing a personalization campaign is a lot of work; it involves multiple steps, omni-channel delivery and cross-functional collaboration. Personalization also requires constantly monitoring insights and shorter feedback loops. 

Optimized marketing processes ensure campaigns remain agile, and constantly incorporate insights from users and the market, remaining effective in an ever-evolving business landscape. There are several frameworks and tools that can help you optimize your marketing campaigns like Agile Marketing.


Case in point 

Toyota, a brand known for its 'Lean' manufacturing, applied similar agility and optimization principles to its marketing processes. 

Toyota found its feedback loops were too time-consuming; meaning that by the time feedback on a campaign was received and acted upon, the market dynamics could have shifted. Their marketing campaigns often had to pass through multiple layers of approval, causing delays. By applying Lean process optimization techniques, Toyota streamlined its approval processes and reduced the number of unnecessary meetings.

This led to faster campaign turnarounds and more agile response to market changes. The successful application of Lean in Toyota’s marketing department is discussed in-depth in this Harvard Business Review article.

🧠How do you know you’re not optimizing your marketing processes?

Use this comprehensive CMS Buying Guide to figure out the best CMS for your needs.

Bonus Knowledge!

🧠How did we optimize the campaign that brought you here? 

To drive you to this article we made up 5 different ad creates to link boost this article, if you’re here, you likely clicked one of these ads.

You're Being Creepy

  1. Mistake #4: You’re ignoring your users’ data privacy.

This one’s a pretty common slippery slope for businesses. Ignoring data privacy in personalized marketing campaigns can be a grave mistake because it can erode the one thing which is arguably impossible to recover once lost - users’ trust. 

In an age where marketers have access to a wealth of digital behavioral data, personalized campaigns tread a fine line of delivering a tailored experience for consumers or spooking them out by showcasing details they possibly never knew they were sharing.

Case in point

Even Spotify, hailed across industries for its excellent personalization campaigns, took a minute to get it right. 

In 2017, Spotify launched a marketing campaign where they highlighted users’ listening habits from the past year, creating funny and quirky advertisements with statements such as "Dear person who played 'Sorry' 42 times on Valentine's Day, what did you do?”. While many found the campaign amusing and in good humor, some users felt it was a tad invasive, realizing how much their streaming habits were being monitored. 

After the mixed feedback, Spotify continued to run similar year-end campaigns but adjusted their approach to be less specific, ensuring that the personalized touch felt relatable but not invasive. 

🧠 How do you know you’re ignoring data privacy concerns? 

To learn more details about collecting and using the right data, read Ethics in Data Handling and The Privacy-Personalization Paradox.

In the grand scheme of digital experiences, personalization is more than just a buzzword—it's the direction in which modern marketing is headed. By understanding and avoiding common pitfalls and choosing the right tools, marketers can stay at the forefront of this evolving landscape.

By Samriddhi Simlai

Samriddhi is a Seattle-based marketing professional who loves to be curious and find stories in data. Samriddhi enjoys chats about product, growth and coffee. Say hi at sam@zesty.io.

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