The Four Pillars of Personalization that Lead to Success


The advertising industry has spent the better part of a decade getting its arms around programmatic media buying and the massive efficiencies — and dramatically different processes — that come with it. And with more than 85 percent of digital display ad dollars being spent programmatically by 2020, as eMarketer projects, it's clear that comfort with and adoption of programmatic media buying have reached near ubiquity.

Now things are going to get fun. Enter programmatic creative, the next logical frontier for the programmatic advertiser. Programmatic creative — in which technology automates the production of dynamic creative assets tailored to the individual — represents the true culmination of the advertiser's long-sought dream of "right person, right ad, right place, right time." Programmatic media buying and its intense focus on finding the right audience has delivered "the right person." Programmatic creative moves advertisers forward in terms of finding that right ad, right place, and right time.

That said, programmatic creative and programmatic buying, while building upon the same fundamental advances in automation and machine learning, are quite different in nature. While programmatic buying is about machines talking to machines, programmatic creative is about brands talking to people. Therein lies a key shift in mindset that advertisers must make when moving into the realm of programmatic creative.

Thankfully the incorporation of programmatic creative into a brand's strategic arsenal is not as hard as many advertisers fear, given the groundwork already laid through programmatic media buying. The main challenge to be overcome is in ensuring that the resulting creative actually speaks to human beings. In this regard, it's imperative marketers take a personalized approach to their brand messaging.

Personalization is by no means a new concept. Advertisers have been talking about one-to-one marketing for years. But, as brand and agency marketers are quick to confess, their personalization efforts to date have largely been focused on audience segments, not individuals.

Programmatic creative can go that final mile, but it's only going to be effective if advertisers are properly planning their campaigns around the following four pillars.


1. Audience Segment

Audience segment represents an area of comfort for most marketers, as this is where the vast majority of focus has been placed during the move to programmatic media buying. Quite simply, this pillar speaks to the "who." Who does the advertiser want to target through a given campaign? What do these people look like, both from a demographic and online behavioral standpoint?

Make no mistake: Determining the "who" in a campaign is a vital and not always simple endeavor. But it's one where the advertising industry has laid a great deal of groundwork for the sake of programmatic media buying. When it comes to programmatic creative, a good ad personalization strategy goes well beyond the "who" to also understand context, circumstance, and time as mechanisms for relating to and connecting with that consumer and creating relevance in the moment.


2. Context

When it comes to programmatic creative, context deals with the online experience that an individual is having when encountering an ad, both in terms of publisher and device. In other words, among what content does the ad live? Is it a sports site? A news site? Also, is the individual on a phone, tablet, or computer? Clearly this context has strong implications for the type of advertising that will resonate best.

Take travel as an example. Say Amtrak is looking to promote some quick weekend getaways. The context in which a person is viewing an ad should dictate the type of messaging that person sees. If a person is on a sports site, Amtrak might want to promote sporting events happening in neighboring cities that weekend. In the context of lifestyle and culinary sites, the company would be better served messaging around popular entertainment and food destinations in nearby cities with rail service. Such context can be a powerful thing.


3. Circumstance

Compared to context, which is all about a user's online environment, circumstance refers to a person's physical environment at the time an ad is displayed. This can encompass a variety of variables. In what city or neighborhood is the individual? Is the person at home or work? Are they in a car or at a store? What's the weather like? The person's physical surrounding influences the type of ad that should be served.

For a travel brand, geography is everything. If a person is in the New York market, Amtrak, to continue the example, is going to want to promote weekend getaways to Boston or Washington, D.C. But circumstance goes deeper than that. Weather, for example, might influence the type of city attractions that Amtrak promotes through its ads.


4. Time

Time, in the context of the pillars of personalization, carries several connotations. Time of week and day, for example, is going to influence whether a person is active at work or relaxing on the weekend and, so, should be factored into messaging. But perhaps more importantly, proper ad personalization should be considered over time as well. This is where brands need to consider their sequencing and storytelling strategies to ensure that subsequent ads served to an individual are tailored not only for context and circumstance, but also according to where that person is within her or his storytelling journey with the brand.

Time is a key factor in building a messaging strategy that spans across channels.

In the Amtrak example, time of week — and even time of day — should influence the messaging used to promote a weekend getaway. The storyline for the trip should build over time, boosting urgency and "last chance" language as the weekend draws closer.


Overcoming Organizational Obstacles

Delving into a programmatic creative strategy can seem daunting, but when marketers guide their development by the pillars of personalization, the process becomes relatively straightforward.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in implementing programmatic creative is the need to first implement an operating process to align the efforts of client, tech, media agency, and creative development. There are frameworks for brands to use, but they should generally follow these five steps:

  1. Empower the creative team.

  2. Establish "message audiences" with media and creative.

  3. Reinvent the creative brief.

  4. Plan a messaging architecture.

  5. Streamline the creative production framework.

For brand marketing organizations, acquiring new skills takes some effort, but re-aligning on a process and establishing new ways of working is often the bigger challenge. In this regard, the advertiser must take the lead in establishing the processes that will work for all parties.

By using the above pillars and process as a guiding template, the path forward becomes much simpler and clearer, and is likely to lead to success.

by John Nardone, CEO

Originally published by the ANA