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The Future of Personalization Requires Direct Engagement with Consumers

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The future of personalized digital advertising continues to vex marketers amid all of the changes underway with how personal data is collected on the web. From ATT to cookie deprecation, traditional methods that brands have long relied on to reach consumers are slowly becoming harder to implement. As a result, many are turning to strategies within first-party, second-party, and third-party data sets to fill those gaps. 

While this focus on data reveals an increasing appetite for understanding the human consumer behind the screen, we’re seeing that brands often get personalization wrong by making assumptions based on old or incomplete datasets. The pandemic really brought this point home when things were evolving too quickly for many behavioral datasets to stay relevant. Behaviors changed drastically in a short period of time, and datasets that are refreshed every 30 days — sometimes even longer — just don’t cut it anymore.

We can probably all agree that to attempt personalization and get it wrong is worse than not doing it at all. No one wants to invest significant money into data collection to not see the ROI, and consumers don’t want to see irrelevant messaging from brands. So, how can marketers effectively personalize their communications and understand the human they are trying to reach behind the screen? 

The answer is creating a direct relationship to gain a deeper, richer understanding of the consumer.

The value of a direct, permission-based relationship 

With a direct relationship, brands can understand their customer base by asking the consumer for information rather than relying on piecemeal second- or third-party data that only tells a fraction of the story. Once the brand initiates the relationship, they can leverage permission-based learning, where the consumer agrees to engage with the company over time, to learn about their unique behaviors, attitudes, and motivations. This process minimizes privacy issues, since you know consumers gave consent to speak and share information, and huge gaps in data, since you are asking for exactly what you need. 

We’ve seen the positive results of brands fostering a direct relationship with consumers in a different way: the rise of direct-to-consumer brands. 

These brands are known for superior customer experience and expert consumer data collection. By providing a great service and fostering a relationship with their consumers, they are able to get access to consumer information and shopping preferences so they can tailor interactions and offers to the unique needs of each customer. We all need to learn from them that direct relationships are the way of the future.

Now that we’ve established that this is the best way to gain consumer insight, the question remains on how to execute on it. 

Catering to the mobile-first consumer

To develop this relationship, marketers need to engage consumers through the channels they themselves use to communicate with friends and family. Yes, that means mobile. 

App Annie found that we spent 5 hours a day on our mobile devices in 2021. That shouldn’t be surprising because mobile messaging platforms have become the number one way people of all ages communicate, and therefore it’s typically the channel where they reveal their deepest thoughts and personal opinions. 

Mobile consumer research techniques have gained steam over the last few years, led by marketers’ desire to capture real-time feedback. In this environment, brands can continuously engage with consumers to learn about and maintain an accurate understanding of attitudes, opinions and preferences. And, they can do this in-the-moment when behaviors are actually happening. 

Customer relationships are a two-way street

Of course, with any valuable relationship, it needs to be a two-way street. The brand-consumer relationship is no exception. It’s great that consumers are comfortable sharing information with brands in conversational formats, but the brand needs to reciprocate: be supportive, offer deals, ask for feedback, and implement those changes in response. 

Many brands are creating mobile-based consumer communities to facilitate these relationships, with consumers providing feedback and brands sharing back what they are learning, which in turn encourages further sharing. This iterative conversational approach to understanding consumers drives immediate engagement and lets the consumer be their natural, authentic self. 

In a fragmented world that’s constantly evolving, the future of personalization requires direct personal engagement.

Matt Kleinschmit is CEO and founder of Reach3 Insights.