Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Custom vs. Personal Communication

Is there a difference between the two?

In several marketing disciplines we talk about personalization - email and direct mail uses it to demonstrate relevance in order to improve response rate.  In others we talk about customized experiences and paths to purchase, particularly to drive conversion in e-commerce. 

One distinction common in web design is that personalization is inferred, e.g. product recommendations, while customization is explicit, e.g. product configurations. 

But in database marketing it is clear that "Dear FirstName" is definitely meant to be personal and it is hopefully not inferred.   So, we're still left answering the original question or concluding it is simply semantics.  Here's my take on the difference between the two types of elements in a communication piece:
  • Personal:  those that a recipient will clearly relate to as individual to them.
  • Custom: those that the marketer deems appropriate for the recipient.  
Think: "That's me alright." vs. "I think you should get this."

Personal content is driven by what we know about a customer - usually sourced from transaction and contact history.  Custom content is driven by the application of business rules, budgets and priorities to segments of consumers thru a variety of marketing tools such as media, offers and messaging.  For example in a simple Thank You campaign, High Value customers might get one message in a letter while Strugglers another in an email; Loyal customers could get more stories while First Timers get offers for accessories. 

So, consider the construction and mapping of a communication to a pet owner who visits a clinic regularly.   We need the ability to allocate both types of elements to various sections of real estate on a variety of form factors - letter, email, postcard, Facebook page and landing page. 
  • Personal Elements: name, picture of pet's breed (if not the pet), usual clinic location and hours.
  • Custom Elements: treatment plans, partner offers, coupons
To achieve that type of coordination requires the ability to link templates and content across channels that leverage the same assets and business rules.  Hopefully, the result would be consistent communication regardless of how the consumer reads it.

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