When Neil Feinstein discusses relevancy and targeting with his marketing class at New York University, he makes sure to stress the difference between a campaign featuring name personalization and being personalized. Targeted, personal efforts, he explains, "require strategy and judgment calls paired with the ability of the creative [professional] to bring the idea to life."
As director, brand and creative strategy at direct marketing agency True North, Feinstein has worked on his share of both types of campaigns. But it's the fully targeted marketing that really makes an impact. "If you're scanning a letter and see your name in the copy, your eye goes there. But consumers now know this can be done in marketing. If you touch people on a deeper level ... it goes to the core of who they are and the decisions they've made about themselves. And that stuff starts to come over the line from being personalized to personalization."
Yet another dimension of consumer expectation is at play here. Josh Herman, multichannel marketing innovation leader at Acxiom, a provider of marketing technology and information-based services, recalls the days when companies pretty much could divide break the population into three main buckets of direct mail responsiveness: 1) people who will always respond; 2) people who will never respond; and 3) the mass middle. Simple segmentation schemes like this one meant a marketer could get away with not developing versioned creative. "When you fast-forward to a multichannel marketing world," Herman explains, "the creative plays a far more important role because the consumers' attention is fragmented so dramatically across all the different [media]. ... That's why creative versioning as the last step in the execution becomes so critical, because you have less time for the consumer to recognize himself or herself in that marketing piece."
Let's look at the key factors involved in building relevancy into the creative development process.
The Data Framework
Market insight equals data. With this information coming across multiple channels, the first fundamental hurdle that companies have to resolve is setting up a consistent data framework. "One of the big dangers we have seen over the course of history ... is companies will create a brand new silo dedicated" to each new channel that emerges, Herman says.
But to really optimize creative, you need to avoid creating what he calls "multiple towers of Babel." Marketers need consistent recognition of customers and even prospects across channels.
From the creative professional's perspective, Feinstein agrees, noting that today's creative team needs to be able to translate data into a highly meaningful messaging platform that can spread across all channels. And that, he says, takes good analytics to pull out the insights.
For the time being, there's no lack of data available for marketers to plug into analytics software and spreadsheets. Of course, not all of it is going to be useful in every segmentation scheme or marketing challenge. But both Feinstein and Herman caution against bringing any preconceived notions to the analytics process. "The principle driver is you just never know what the predictive variable, or variables, is going to be. By instinct, never want to rule out any data," Herman explains. He takes it a step further, pointing out that a creative professional might see something in a list of descriptive elements for an audience that sparks the focus of the creative execution, and that idea might never have come to the statistician running the analytics process.
While the emphasis of most marketing challenges is on the predictive power of data, Herman adds that the efficacy of creative versioning comes down to the descriptive qualities of the data to build an accurate, meaningful picture for the creative group to capture. "That's the real balancing act," he states.
This connection between the analytics and creative processes can take different shapes; Feinstein points to the creative brief as the repository for the data insights and Herman referred to segment snapshots developed from syndicated segmentation schemes. Regardless of the presentation, both agreed that behavioral data weighs heavily in the mix.
"If you know that someone's had an experience, then you can refer to that experience and make decisions off of it," says Feinstein. "A perfect example would be the travel industry; if I know you've been to Paris and I know that you like to travel to Europe, I can then serve up pictures of Paris, Rome, Florence ... and what's wonderful about experiential things is they touch your target deeply."
The Big Decision
For a creative professional, the ability go deeper into the audience's head and design a more appealing message is exciting, says Feinstein. "On the other hand," he notes, "it's more work and so it's more expensive for the marketer as more creative is developed. But it all goes back to getting better response for more targeted creative."
That brings up another element that influences how a marketer approaches creative versioning: cost. At some point, what drives how deep the segmentation process and creative execution goes is the financials. Marketers need to calculate at what point does it stop making sense for them to segment, Feinstein says.
Along with the march of media proliferation, however, has come the analytical capabilities to determine where this drop-off occurs and manage for it. "That's the beauty of direct marketing," Herman reminds.