Personalization: How to Be Human in 2021

Recently, when presenting as part of a panel on pivoting sales and marketing in response to the pandemic, I was asked what kind of data businesses should start collecting to prepare for 2021.

“Start by collecting contact information for your existing customer base,” I responded. “We talk so much about ‘big data,’ but so many of those personalization tools just won’t be accessible for most small to medium businesses – and you can still be successful without that access. Start by investing more in the people who already love you.”

All the panelists agreed: the key to sales and marketing, and continuing to grow a business, during a pandemic is on some level the same as always – relationships. Real, individual relationships, between humans, in everyday language.

What does this look like, sound like and feel like in 2021? How can you reach your audiences with personalized messages if you don’t have access to Watson, Azure or Tableau?

Personalization Criteria in 2021

The collective trauma of COVID-19 accelerated and intensified an already growing trend: Consumers are hungry for meaningful, authentic connection. When everything suddenly seems less stable and less certain, we become more selective about where we spend our time and money and what those choices say about us.

Four core ways to make these kinds of connections with consumers in 2021:

  1. Be relatable. There’s a time and a place for highly designed content – and it’s not right for every brand or every moment. Now that everything – work, family, socialization, shopping, vacation – happen in the same space and on the same screen, the already-blurring lines compartmentalizing our lives have nearly disappeared. People use the same Zoom background for everything, and they want to use the same, casual language in all aspects of their lives – from the office to social media.
  2. Align your actions with your identity. Consumers want to buy from and invest in companies that share their values, including sustainability, social equity and inclusion… And not only share those values, but truly live them. They are much less forgiving of bandwagon messaging. If you run an ad campaign touting women’s achievements, you’d better have women (plural) in leadership and on your board.
  3. Avoid “creepy” targeting. Don’t run targeted search ads that somehow (creepily) respond directly to your target audiences’ browsing history and the last conversation they had in their kitchen. Just don’t. If it triggers that feeling of being tracked, viewers know it’s a machine and not an actual person – and they will be less likely to click or buy.
  4. Be helpful and entertaining. Rather than focusing on building your brand, look outward. Ask relevant questions, answer what you can, and be a resource. What do you want your community to get from you? That should guide your communication. (And speaking of data, be selective in tracking and interpreting the metrics that really tell whether you are fulfilling your purpose.)

There’s no algorithm for humanity.

Brands are made of people. Look at the people who do the work for your company. Look at your customers. What do those relationships look, feel and sound like when they happen in person? Our favorite brands in 2021 and beyond will increasingly be the ones that know who they are, and know the people who power them. This transactional transparency doesn’t mean pretending we are having one-on-one conversations with buyers about their individual buying habits. Personalization means creating an intentional personality, choosing what is really important to us and speaking clearly and plainly about what real value we offer. Our best potential clients and customers will want to choose us because they know who we are, and they like it.

Like this post? You might also enjoy I, Human. You, Robot.

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