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Spotify’s daily playlists. Netflix’s recommendations. Google’s personalized ads. It’s 2020, and consumers live in a personalized world. Their data has been mined and parsed and analyzed by their favorite products and services, so that their every experience can be tailored to their specific desires. More than half of all marketers say that personalization is one of their top priorities because it can double the efficacy of your calls to action, increase email opens, and boost revenue. So naturally, marketing teams are shifting their focus to the data—mining it for customer trends and optimizing. But what makes personalized content effective isn’t just found in the numbers. It’s about the human touch: personable content marketing. 

Putting the personal in personalized content

These days, consumers are inundated with content, all of it is competing for their attention in the same channels. The trick is understanding that grabbing someone’s attention isn’t the same as engaging them on a deeper level.

When it comes to interactions, people tend to focus on what matters. According to a study from the New York Times, 68% of people share content with others to give them a better sense of who they are and what they care about, while 94% consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient. In other words, people engage with content that they identify with—it’s an expression of their values and character—in order to build relationships with others.  

That means that marketers need to create content that’s genuinely relevant—it needs to make sense and fit into people’s real lives. In other words, content shouldn’t have mass appeal. It should target specific individuals. But personalized marketing isn’t just about catering your message for your target audience—it’s about shifting your efforts away from the message entirely to focus on the person. It’s not a content game, it’s a context game, so you need to make sure you’re getting to the right people at the right time.

How to do personalization the right way

Now that personalized messaging is getting so effective—72% of consumers engage with it exclusively—it’s reached a point where focusing on any other kind of content may not be worth your time. That might sound extreme, but there’s evidence to show non-personalized content can produce negative reactions. Seventy-four percent of customers feel frustrated when websites aren’t personalized. This is a trend that is particularly visible in millennials and younger users, 70% of whom feel frustrated when brands send them irrelevant emails. 

So, there’s some risk to not investing in personalization—but there’s also risk in getting personalization wrong. And marketers are worried about both. Over a quarter of marketers think that there are issues with their personalization efforts, including problems with data collection and protection processes. 

What’s to be done? Well, let’s start with lower expectations. Yes, personalization is effective, but it’s not the perfect solution to every problem, especially if you don’t have the resources to invest in it right. It is a tool just like any other: It’s best used in tandem with other tactics, for the ultimate goal of gaining customers’ loyalty through personable, genuine interactions.

The more you think about personalization as a tactic, rather than as a content marketing strategy in and of itself, the easier it becomes to use that tactic in a smart way. Data is only useful when it’s used to treat customers less like statistics, and more like actual people.

Here’s how to give your personalization tactics the human touch:

  1. Base your personas in data: Rather than simply making your user personas based on, well, marketing profiles, why not just look at the data? Start building potential customer bases from the actual customers you already have. This will help you get more granular and specific about audience behavior. Plus, they’re easily updated.
  2. Start with email: Your email marketing strategy is the easiest place to start personalizing and testing—you can separate your email database by persona, which makes it easier to tailor your content to a specific audience. Here’s a tip: Have an actual person attach their name to the email. If your newsletter appears to be sent by a specific person on your team, it makes the experience feel more personal—a human-to-human interaction.
  3. Keep your social channels human: You can automate a lot of processes—chatbots, apps, emails, landing pages—but whatever you do, keep your social channels human. You can A/B test posts, but make sure that you’re still responding to each customer service query with the warmth that only a real person can deliver. 
  4. Don’t be creepy: There’s a difference between letting a customer or client know that you know them—and then teetering over into surveillance. The thing is, “being creepy” isn’t so much an issue of data collection as it is of message. Make sure your content is written in a way that’s authentic and inviting, rather than suggesting that you’re watching your customers every move. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re hitting the right note, you can always test your work before you launch anything.

There’s no such thing as too personal

Indeed, there’s no limit to the amount of personalization you can achieve in your content. 73% of consumers say a business has never communicated with them in a way that felt too personalized. So, the sky’s the limit in terms of experimentation. But personalization will only get you so far. The human touch has to be the foundation of any successful content marketing strategy—especially as automation becomes trendier and easier for businesses to implement. 

According to 84% of customers, the most important aspect of winning their business is to treat them like a person, not a number. And personalization can help you do that—when it’s approached as a part of a strategy that emphasizes authentic experiences and communication. As long as you remember that the data reflects actual human behavior, that will help you to keep your messages personable, genuine, and more successful in the long run.