Media personalisation is increasingly talked about as a silver bullet for a lot of issues that digital media faces today, delivering measurable rather than attributed performance and overcoming the markets’ current problems with attribution models which favour high-volume, low-value media buying.

The promise of media and creative personalisation is better advertising, which should also reduce the adoption of ad blocking.

Targeting individuals

Many recent acquisitions demonstrate large global businesses reaching out for this new market, including Verizon buying AOL and Dentsu Aegis group‘s acquisition of Merkle. The first is an example of a telco building its ability to target customers across its devices, the second – of a media business obtaining the ability to create a single customer view, essential to retain a personalised profile over time.

Both deals allow the companies involved to target individual consumers rather than the devices they own – a market trend currently called ‘person-first’ media or CRM360. Conversant has been running personalised media like this for several years.  

This brings us to the main issue, which is that currently very few businesses are capable of delivering true 1:1 personalisation at scale and so instead they call anything even remotely targeted or customised a personalisation.

Key elements

To explain this; if you and I visited the same product page on a website, we would both see a non-personalised but dynamic and segmented product-led creative, with no difference in frequency, or with a high recurrence of ad delivery.

Truly personalised media would show us a completely different sets of ads, in a different order and frequency, perhaps not even referencing the product – depending on our online and offline engagement with the brand, media habits and consumption.

As personalisation is a key market that businesses are moving into, it’s important to be able to differentiate between aspiration and fact. True 1:1 marketing is impossible without the coordination of three key elements, but once properly aligned, they can deliver measurable incremental growth to the topline of global businesses.

The three key elements are:

Brands must understand and speak to consumers as individuals. Not as cookies, devices or segments.

Recognition is the key first step in being able to deliver person-first media. This is the ability to identify an individual and all the devices assigned to them. It requires multiple inputs that may leverage, but are not limited to, cookies. Accurate person-first media require a vendor to have access to deterministic data. In increasing order of relevance, deterministic joins include second party email, publisher login data, consumer login data (CRM) and finally data keyed on commerce, such as credit cards.

The closer to a real person the better the join. An email address generated by a competition is not as accurate as a join matched from a customer’s credit card, for example, where a user may have many low-use email addresses but only one credit card.

Brands need to have real, ongoing conversations with consumers.

Data persistence is rarely raised by vendors of personalised marketing opportunities in discussions about the market, but it is absolutely vital to have an ongoing dialogue with a customer.

Personalisation can’t occur if due to cookie decay a brand can only remember the last 30 days of a conversation or can only recognise the consumer on one of their devices. The alternative is a very peculiar stop-start brand relationship, and this is how most media campaigns are run currently. It’s like completely forgetting old friends you’ve spoken to regularly every 30 days, and then insistently greeting them every day of the next 30 as if you’ve not met them previously.

The solution to this is for brands to leverage their own CRM data to have a chance of creating personalised experiences, but few brands have enough data to make personalisation worthwhile. Vendors are necessary to show advertisers what customers are doing when they aren’t engaged with the their website, or can enrich their CRM-based insights with deterministic data of their own.

The success of a personalised media campaign should be measured against incremental return over time, because attributed conversions within a window are irrelevant to the lifetime brand engagement of a customer or prospect.

Up until now, digital display media’s dependence on the cookie has led to prioritising direct response (DR) retargeting messaging, focusing on the last click or linear attribution models. This results in high volumes of low quality, product-led DR creatives being pushed out and delivered in short windows to maximise attributed return when a customer makes a purchase. There is widespread discussion in market on whether this leads to a negative brand effect for the advertiser and the growth of ad blocking.

In this instance attribution is not equal to the task of understanding the value being created, as it can be built up over many months. I’m unaware of any attribution model that is capable of also deduping existing brand value. Truly personalised media should be tracked through AB testing and incremental measurement over time, which can only happen if profiles are persistent to keep control groups clean.

This model of measurement, however, will provide an exact figure for incremental return on investment over time. It will also offer a true measurement of the effect of personalisation that any marketer can feel comfortable putting in front of a senior leader.  

Once measurement is focused on incremental return; the frequency of advertising can be controlled at the level of the individual, and a creative mix including brand and loyalty as well as DR can be delivered to improve a customer’s experience of engaging with a brand.

The net result of proper personalisation is better brand engagement, happier consumers and a better return for advertisers over time.