How to Build a Personalization Strategy Embedded in Creativity

Personalization allows brands to target people with content that’s relevant to them. But when you’re making content that’s so infinitely flexible, how do you make sure it’s still distinctive, idea-driven and true to the brand?

Speaking to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about the balance between personalized content and exciting creative concepts are experts from M&C Saatchi London, Havas Media Group UK, Five by Five Global, Wunderman Thompson, Laundry Service and Media.Monks about exactly that.

Here’s what they had to say.

Josette James

Customer engagement director at M&C Saatchi London

Personalization is about relevance. The more relevant the message, the more likely the response. However, we are fed thousands of pieces of personalized content online, from Facebook to Amazon to my Sweaty Betty VIP program, and we don’t pay attention, let alone click on the vast majority of it.

Relevance is necessary but it’s not enough to stand out in a saturated digital world. Elevating relevance into compulsion requires the power of creativity to steal attention. Personalization is a great way to steal someone’s attention when data and creativity come together to form an uncanny alchemy. Historically the schools of data and creativity have been strangers in the world of marketing, speaking different languages ​​and reveling in ignorance of one another. Yet still, there is a huge difference between data-informed creative strategies from brands like Nike or Spotify, which create thought-provoking creative with implicit personalisation, versus the more obvious automated, devoid-of-emotion online content of the Amazon personalized app experience .

Brands that value creativity highly pair creativity with the insightful use of data and media to create customer-centric experiences that drive engagement as much as conversion. Operating models are mid-evolution to create modern data-driven, content hubs. The correct thinking is a longer-term, creative-driven-interactions approach to engagement, not a campaign mentality – ways of working need to be highly adaptable, pacey and transparent. Client-agency teams should operate as one empathetic unit.

With so much to re-learn, has the promised alchemy of data and creativity been achieved? I suspect rather like a JRR Tolkien story, we will see a connected body of tales, fictional histories, invented languages ​​and literary essays about a future world called ‘Creative Personalization’. But who will be the main characters, what battles will be fought, and will the ending be a victorious one? Who knows, but I will be tuning in for the ride. Are you coming?

Jack Few

Founder and managing partner at additive+, part of Havas Media Group UK

In paid media, it’s generally accepted that at least 50% of the effectiveness of advertising is based on creative execution, and according to Google studies, it’s closer to 70%. We also know that creative relevance drives engagement, whether that’s in terms of the imagery, copy, audio or other elements. There are many examples where intuitively, this makes sense, for example showing someone a holiday destination that appeals to them specifically, or a car model that suits that individual’s lifestyle and requirements.

When personalizing content, there is a sweet spot, and there is also a line that brands must not cross, to avoid being too personal. Our job is to establish where that sweet spot is, and it varies for every brand we work with. So, we have developed a litmus test which we apply to all campaigns to ensure we arrive at a strategy that delivers the appropriate level of personalization and the most meaningful media experience. Ultimately, our job is not to detract from the big idea, but to build on it in a way that maximizes relevance and effectiveness.

Amelia Markham

Senior planner at Five by Five Global

Personalization presents a big opportunity for brands wanting to create content that’s relevant to their target audience. But, all too often, personalization is seen as a silver bullet. There’s a suggestion that, if content is personalized according to people’s needs or preferences, then there’s no need for a bigger idea or insight.

Part of the problem is that personalization is data-driven and digital. It’s left-brain thinking, as System1’s Orlando Wood would say. It’s a logical and reasoned way of approaching advertising, and, he argues, the output is ‘flatter’ and ‘more focused’.

But data doesn’t have to be the enemy of creativity. Data should inform and inspire the creative process rather than restrict it. Practically, this means looking past the numbers. It means trying to understand what the data is telling us, and thinking about how we can use those insights to produce something meaningful and memorable. As marketers, we should aim to create content that’s emotional and entertaining enough to engage our audience, rather than simply serving the right message at the right time.

A simple way to start is to remember that people are receiving and responding to our ads. So we should talk about them as people, not segments. That way, we’re already shifting from left-brain thinking to the much more expansive, empathetic right-brain thinking.

It’s also important to keep the bigger brand idea at the core of communications. After all, relevance is just one part of the picture. Advertising also needs to be easy to recognize and recall if it’s going to work.

Alex Steer

Global chief data officer at Wunderman Thompson

One of the wonders of modern marketing is that you can talk to people as individuals based on a detailed knowledge of them, and still say nothing of interest.

Personalization is, of course, a tactic not an objective. Nor should we be satisfied merely with the promise of ‘relevance’: if your marketing isn’t relevant, you’re doing it wrong. Personalization promises that it should let us find ways to be more inspiring: positively motivating people to act, in our favor, because we know something about them that we can use.

Personalization is prediction. Knowing a lot about someone is not the same as knowing which information to use to increase our odds of inspiring them. The idea that one type of data is the key to personalization is of course absurd. If I want to sell you a sofa it helps to predict (or know for a fact) what other furniture you might own. If I want to help you improve your health, I want to predict what you value in life and what motivates you. If I want to sell you a cold drink, it matters less that you’re a left-handed introvert and more that you’re in a park on a hot day.

Personalization is a creative act. Our industry too often talks about it as if it’s a form of engineering. You need technology to enable it in most cases, but having technology does not make you good at being personally inspiring, any more than having hands makes me good at conducting an orchestra. A successful approach to personalization brings together creative thinking, predictive data analysis and technology design as early as possible. That means creating teams where people with very different skills (and backgrounds, experiences, personality types, etc) are supported to come together as peers. The first question those teams need to answer together is: what would improve the odds that someone is inspired to act in favor of this brand? Knowing what needs to be true is a good first step in working out what needs to be done: how to find the signals of opportunity in data; how to get into the right moments and contexts with technology; and how to make the most impact when we get there.

Personalization involves learning. If you can know, upfront, all the ways to be as inspiring as possible, you’re much better at marketing than me. Marketing effectiveness is a balance of prior knowledge and experimentation. That’s the other reason to have personalization as a way of thinking within the main development of marketing activity, not as a bolt-on or afterthought. By engaging everyone in the question of what needs to be true to be more inspiring, you benefit from more prior knowledge, and you find more interesting hypotheses to test through experimentation.

Lastly, personalization should leap not creep. When the data and technology side is kept at a distance from the creative side, you end up using all your analytical firepower to test tiny variations and improvements. It’s little surprise, then, that the differences between best and worst performing approaches end up marginal. Throw creativity into the optimization process: balance many small changes with a few big ones. Analysts call this ‘overcoming local maxima in optimization’; creatives call it ‘trying something new to see if it’s better’.

It should be obvious that the secret to success is no secret. It’s the right combination of creative, data and technology skills – together, from the start, as equals. It takes leadership, discipline and patience to create effective cultures that can do this kind of work. It’s a team sport in a long game.

Brad Jones

Group creative director at Laundry Service

Most Americans are exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every day. As creatives and strategists, we’re constantly reinventing our playbook for how we connect with people and focus their attention. To stand out, we must stay relevant. Case in point: 81% of Americans text regularly. Why? It’s considered more personal than dropping into somebody’s DMs and less formal than an email.

As Laundry Service is the social AOR for Amazon Prime Video’s Action, Horror and Thriller genre team, we were tasked to launch season two of The Wilds. The show follows a group of diverse teenagers who get stranded on a remote island and soon realize that they’re the subject of a grand social experiment. In one of the final episodes in season one, a mysterious phone number shows up on a hoodie washed up on the beach. We knew we had to do something with that. We wanted to blur the lines between the plot and how our fans interact in real life.

We partnered with technology platform, Community, to activate the phone number, inviting fans to text directly with one of the characters from the show: the experiment’s mastermind, Dr. Gretchen Klein. Our creatives and social media managers collaborated with our partners at Amazon Prime Video and the show’s EPs to engage directly with fans throughout the launch with exclusive content and personalized messages written in the voice of Dr. Klein in real-time – making them feel like they were part of the story as it unfolded. During a time when content is required to be infinitely flexible, personalization is a powerful tool to connect with new audiences – but never at the expense of the big idea.

Jon Biggs & Nimo Awil

Executive creative director and creative director at Media.Monks

Jon> As we’re constantly being told – people’s interests have changed from products to experiences. Momentology shared that more than 79% of US consumers expect personalized experiences from brands. And personalization is a powerful feature of a great customer experience. But, as an industry we’ve turned personalization into targeting and even worse – retargeting. And no one wants to be a ‘target’. After you’ve been chased all over the internet by those sneakers you looked at once – you can see why people install ad-blockers.

How do we make it work? We’ve become a little transfixed by the technology itself, and we’ve forgotten that the success of communication still lies in the basics of attention, communication, and persuasion. If we apply our craft skills to create personalized ads that are interesting, then we can make content that feels less throw-away and more of an effective part of the great customer experience we’re aiming for.

Nimo> Let’s also not forget that we need to remind ourselves where the term ‘personalisation’ even came from – a person. Every person has a story, a life and a past that we as advertisers can never truly know from data, so we hold that in our minds. As creatives and storytellers, we can help brands find a place within personalization that makes sense, without treating their consumers as data points.

Stories and oratory history have always been about communicating with intent and authenticity. It’s a challenge to show up in original and authentic ways nowadays for obvious reasons. I guess the wake-up call is humility and action is empathy baked into the creative process.


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