There’s a deluge of data presented to marketers about marketing on a daily basis. It’s emailed, embedded in infographics, tweeted and blogged about on Linkedin. This is no surprise. Marketers are known for being vocal, for sharing and – more than anything – wondering what their contemporaries are focused on when it comes to the industry’s cutting-edge practices. But with any data set, the numbers aren’t what’s important, it’s the information that comes from analysis that’s pure gold.

Where the Line Blurs with Personalization

It takes time to turn data into information, but the investment is worth it. For example, recent data on personalization is a prime example of an area where we, as marketers, have to go a bit deeper. The statistics vary and from report-to-report, and the data seems to often contradict itself. Take these the following charts from eMarketer for example:

Looking at the chart on the left from last September it would be easy to assume that marketers everywhere are using personalization, many of them personalize across multiple channels. You might consider personalization as a practice that’s already well embedded in organizations and is just a part of daily marketing activity. Based on this representation, if you’re not yet using personalization, you’re behind.

Now look at the stats to the right released just one month earlier. I think it’s safe to say that the 67% of marketers in this chart citing personalization as being at least a medium-level priority didn’t all convert to personalizing across their digital ecosystems in one month’s time. So where does the conflict come from? What is driving the difference in the data? As a marketer I have to wonder about the context of the questionnaire, the specifics of the question itself and the sample size. In this specific case, though, I don’t believe research methodology bias is at play.

The discrepancy is rooted in a simple fact: marketers don’t have a standard definition for personalization.

This is the “information”–the gold nugget– that we’ve distilled by digging through data on the topic from multiple surveys and research reports, rather than by taking a single data point or survey as gospel. The source of the conflation of terms is rooted in the key differences found in personalization technologies themselves.

Definition #1: Personalization as a First Name

Many technologies provide the ability to <INSERT NAME> and bring in geographical data. One could argue that this is personalization, after all, we’re talking about names here. But with the capabilities that marketers have available to them today, this approach is not true personalization as there is nothing individualized outside of a mail merge field. So let’s call it what it really is: a basic marketing tactic.

Definition #2: Legacy Tech Personalization

The next level of personalization–the way legacy players think about personalization–is more advanced customer engagement, popularized by technologies based on relational database structures. These legacy solutions allow brands to leverage behavioral data to improve the likelihood that content and products served to users are more relevant than curated, heat-based or even random recommendations. The output looks like this: if user is male and geo is New York and clicked on sports-related content, serve additional sports content and content related to New York teams. This is certainly more advanced than the basic approach of adding in a user’s name, but if you’re a New Yorker you know that you’re either a Giants fan or Jets fan, you’re not both, and you may not be a hockey fan, so a mere mention of the Rangers is enough to lull you into disengagement. The limitation here is found in the database structure and the rules that go along with relying on columns and rows to store customer data. The simple truth is that you cannot set up rules for every single user, it’s just not scalable. Again, let’s call a spade a spade. This is segmentation, not personalization.

Definition #3: True, 1:1 Personalization (The Marigold Engage by Sailthru Way)

Personalization in the true sense of the word is about individual users; their behaviors, interests, needs, wants, desires and engagement patterns. What’s possible today is far more than a mix of basic marketing tactics and segmentation strategies. True personalization goes beyond just being a marketing tactic or traditional technique and instead is a strategy that considers a myriad of data points about behaviors, use and situations (read more on the BUS model). Today’s most advanced technologies enable marketers to get down to the segment of one and automate dynamic, algorithmic-based personalized recommendations specifically tailored to the individual, not the segment they’re categorized in. By using millions of data points attributed to each individual customer from all channels, this form of personalization ensures that every single one of your customers experiences your brand uniquely regardless of when, where and how they choose to engage.

The approach is game changing, so the way we talk about personalization needs to change as well. The time has come to recategorize the old and adopt the new.

–Jason Grunberg, Director of Content Marketing & PR at Sailthru