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B2B DIRECT MARKETING
The days of mom-and-pop shops offering an individualized customer experience have mostly become a thing of the past, but the growth of Big Data may be bringing customization back.
Increasingly sophisticated data gathering and analysis now enable marketers to identify online prospects and speak directly to their personal needs. Companies such as Amazon, with its product recommendation system, have done that for years, but b2b personalization may finally be catching up.
Today, b2b marketers are using personalization both for in- and outbound marketing efforts, in desktop, and to a lesser degree, mobile environments (see sidebar). But modern marketing personalization can stir up controversy, sparking questions about if it works and how to handle privacy concerns.
“A lot of people are buying [retargeting and Web personalization] services, but they haven't spent a lot of time answering [questions about] if it works,” said David Bailey, president of DecisionLinks Inc., a provider of predictive lead intelligence systems.
Personalization is quickly moving beyond traditional banner-based remarketing to inbound marketing for both the Web and multichannel environments, said Rob Brosnan, principal analyst at Forrester Research.
Tailored inbound marketing can, for example, include serving up unique Web content based on a visitor's profile or making specific product offers to returning customers. The market for these services—provided by companies such as Adobe, Causata, IBM, Maxymiser and Oracle—is growing by 40% a year and will keep growing, Brosnan said.
“The interesting thing is that most b2b companies already have the content to bring personalization,” said Mike Telem, VP-business development and co-founder of Insightera, a provider of marketing personalization software that enables companies to serve tailored content to website visitors. “The problem is that they don't have ways to present that information.”
While inbound marketing personalization is relatively new, outbound marketing personalization—also known as retargeting or remarketing—has a longer history by Internet standards. In its simplest form, retargeting involves dropping a cookie into a prospect's browser after they engage with a marketer's brand in some capacity, then serving up banner ads specific to that user no matter where they go on the Internet (provided that they visit sites that are available to the ad network the marketer is using). That remarketing is possible with almost any Web-based interaction, whether it's partly filling out a Web form, putting a product in a cart, visiting a website, opening an email, visiting a Facebook page or responding to direct mail.
But despite its rapid proliferation, there are still questions surrounding remarketing. As Bailey at DecisionLinks found out, it can be hard to get reliable numbers on its effectiveness.
“Transparency has been hard to find,” Bailey said. “A lot of agencies tweak their numbers or structure a campaign so it looks like it works, but it's hard to tell [if that's so]. If the question is "Will they click back?' The answer is yes. But will they end up buying in the end? From our early data, it certainly seems like it will be worth our investment, but that's primarily because we're targeting lower-funnel prospects. They're ready to buy. If they were higher up in the buying funnel, it would be harder to justify.”
Retargeting campaigns may also be vulnerable to mistakes. Kerry Morris, senior VP-online solutions at Epsilon, said marketers often miss an opportunity to expand the tactic across other touch points. “Don't just retarget website visitors, he said. “You should also retarget email openers, direct mail responders and consumers who make a purchase in a physical store.”
A second mistake is related to how marketers attribute success, Morris said. “If a marketer is using a last-touch attribution approach, then the last contact to occur before the purchase will receive all of the credit for the conversion,” he said. “Since retargeting is by definition triggered from another interaction, it typically occurs later in the purchase process, so it will receive a disproportionate amount of the credit.”
Marketers also need to design engagement programs that will increase the frequency of customer website visits, Forrester's Brosnan said. Otherwise, cookies used to identify customers essentially expire, he said.
Ilana Bercovitz, marketing manager at ReTargeter, advises putting frequency caps in place on the number of times an ad can be served up and stopping a campaign when the prospect takes whatever action you're trying to encourage.
Following best practices can make retargeting useful in multiple ways, she said. “Retargeting is definitely effective for branding,” Bercovitz said. “[But] people don't realize how effective retargeting can be in lead generation or lead nurturing, and moving leads further down the funnel.”
Aside from the question of whether it works, the issue of privacy is constantly hovering around the issue of digital personalization—whether it's dropping cookies into people's browsers and following them across the Internet or assembling a digital profile of a website visitor in real time and serving up adaptive content.
But, Bercovitz said, it's important to note that display ad retargeting does not store any personal identifying information. “It's an increasingly complex space, and privacy is a concern; but we're not infringing on anyone's privacy,” she said.