Why B2B Marketers Must Embrace AI and Personalization

“We’re in challenging times,” everyone says. That’s a fact. But here’s a question: When is that not true for B2B marketers? Sure, things are definitely tougher than usual at the moment. But, who are we kidding? You’re always hustling, in bad times and good, to either outperform the economy or beat your competition. So, let’s take a moment and talk about how you can accomplish both of those goals, in good times and bad: Artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization. And, more importantly, how you can make AI and personalization work together for your customers… and for your company.

The Core of Personalization in Marketing

If youll allow me to grossly oversimplify a complex topic for a moment, every B2B marketing plan in existence can be summed up by a similar set of steps. What every effective B2B marketer must consistently do is:

  • Uncover customer needs
  • Create offerings that address those customer needs
  • Let potential customers know those offerings exist
  • Build trust that your offering actually works
  • Work with your sales team to encourage your prospects to hand over their money in exchange for those offerings
  • Repeat

I know, easy, right? Of course I’m skipping some details; if there ever was a case where you’re allowed to say, “the Devil’s in the details,” this is the one. That’s why it’s called, “grossly oversimplifying.”

But the fact remains that everything you do as a marketer and a manager exists to help your current and potential customers achieve their goals, to create offerings tailored to what they need at the immediate moment. Fundamentally, thats all that personalization is at its core again, as long as you’re willing to grossly oversimplify it.

Why You Struggle to Deliver Personalized Experience

The problems with accomplishing this in practice and at scale blow that gross oversimplification completely out of the water. Forget what I said before. This is where you can say that “the Devil is in the details.” As our Chief Product Officer mentioned the other day, its true that both the future of marketing requires delivering personalization at scale and that a number of significant challenges exist that makes it difficult to do that. These include the following facts:

  1. While digital channels like your website, email list, and social media presence make collecting information easy at least relative to the past its tough to make sense of the sheer volume of data now available
  2. The technology necessary to handle such large volumes of data can be expensive and difficult to implement and maintain
  3. Customers are increasingly uncomfortable with letting you collect and store their personal information and tools like intelligent tracking protection (ITP) and enhanced tracking protection (ETP) exist to make it hard to do so
  4. Regulators, always willing to listen when large numbers of voters, um… people have concerns, increasingly create barriers to collecting and storing customers personal information (think GDPR/CCPA/other alphabet soup regulations)
  5. Companies frequently must create rules to address steps in the customer journey and the content that supports each of those steps
  6. Despite your best efforts, its impossible to know many visitors to your B2B website and other digital channels because you cant get their personal data or because their individual information isn’t relevant to their business purchases
  7. And, the costs associated with addressing these non-trivial challenges makes it tough for you to deliver an impressive ROI for any investments you make in personalization quickly, which is even more important in the current post-COVID environment.

Thats not “a gross oversimplification.” Its just gross.

Fortunately, we’ve put together some ideas for how to deal with these challenges in our new ebook “Six Personalization Realities B2B Marketers Need to Know Right Now.” Check it out when you have a moment.

Fact: Personally-Identifiable Information (PII) Won’t Be Around Forever

Privacy and its implications for data collection are worth diving into in a bit more detail. Privacy regulations as well as customer attitudes about privacy will require marketers to shift focus away from personally-identifiable information (PII) and towards some other source of anonymous, but still useful data. This appears inevitable.

For instance, Samuel Scott argues persuasively that personalization is this years most overhyped marketing practice,. In particular, Scott cites concerns about privacy as the biggest risks for both companies and their customers. Given the downsides of cost and legal risk associated with data breaches, those concerns seem warranted.

And, to be fair, there is a lot of hype around personalization. The European Unions General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and similar legislation didn’t come from nowhere; many jurisdictions clearly take the hype seriously.

You also want to consider how little personal information about B2B buyers is even relevant to your selling process. Does the fact that your buyer is “42 years old, drives a midsize crossover SUV, and has affinity for dining and travel” help you progress them towards a purchase of your products or services? I didn’t think so.

What some forward-thinking marketers are moving towards and I believe must move towards is using anonymous behavioral data instead of PII. Various techniques exist that allow you to offer personalized experiences without PII and still drive improved business results. My expectation and to be 100% honest, a big reason we founded a company that does this is that successful B2B marketers will increasingly seek out options that provide the benefits of personalization without the regulatory or brand risk associated with capturing and storing vast amounts of PII about their customers. But to do that well, you’ve got to add artificial intelligence into the mix.

The Role of AI in Personalization

Knowing how to personalize without PII isn’t easy. It requires a fair bit of data about your customers’ on-site behaviors, about your content, about what makes customers click and connect, and how to tie all that information together in real-time. That’s where your ability to use AI in your personalization efforts matters. As a friend of mine likes to say, “AI makes big data… little.” Artificial intelligence and machine learning must play a key role in helping you make sense of the data you’re gathering so that you can put your oversimplified marketing plan into action. Or, even better, the real-world, results-oriented, complex marketing plan that you actually put together.

AI-powered personalization tools can help you make sense of the continual streams of data the torrent of data that you collect. A well-designed AI-powered personalization platform can be run as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to minimize implementation costs and complexity. And, if done really well, personalization driven by artificial intelligence would use customer behaviors not increasingly regulated, increasingly unavailable personally-identifiable information to connect customers with the content they need. Hmm… I wonder who could possibly have made an AI-powered, behavior-based personalization tool that works that way…

Fact: AI in Personalization is Coming

All kidding aside, we’re not the only ones who think this way. Recent data from Adobe shows that 9 out of 10 companies show a positive ROI from their personalization efforts, with more than 40% seeing greater than a 6:1 return. But few organizations only about 4 in 10 feel that they have the personalization capabilities they need. This is the gap that B2B marketing executives your competitors are working with their IT colleagues to close. Why? Because there is also significant data showing that customers prefer personalized experiences.

For starters, take note of the potential returns already mentioned. Also, B2B buyers have said in study after study after study that they expect personalized experiences and will find a better option if you don’t meet those expectations.

Oh… one more reason it’s important for you to think about how to provide these experiences? CMO tenure has reached its lowest point in a decade. Not many marketing executives can afford to miss out on these kinds of opportunities… or at least not for long.

Conclusion: Why B2B Marketers Must Embrace AI in Personalization

We live in challenging times. Whether those challenges come from the difficulties of coping with large amounts of data, customer privacy concerns, regulatory changes, IT integration efforts, costs, global pandemics or all of these at the same time your job as a B2B marketer is hard. There’s no way to grossly oversimplify that fact. Adding to the complexity, it’s clear your buyers expect personalized experiences that help them achieve their objectives or they won’t be your buyers. And pressure to deliver from the C-Suite isn’t making this any easier.

Your competitors increasingly use artificial intelligence to interpret and understand the sheer volume of data they’re gathering. Remember, AI makes big data little. But also remember that personal information is going away. And it may not even matter in B2B in the first place. Instead, effective, forward-thinking AI-powered personalization platforms use anonymous data to determine not only where customers are in their journey, but also the right messages and offers to present customers from existing content.

So, yes, “we’re in challenging times.” Again. And this probably won’t be the last time. But you’re going to be fine. Artificial intelligence and personalization can help put those challenges to rest. And that’s a fact you can happily embrace… even when times are tough.

Curious how we can help you connect AI and personalization for your customers, for your company, and for your future? Give us a call at 862-234-0365 or drop us a line. We’re here to help. And, if you want to learn more about how to put personalization to work for your business, check out the “Six Personalization Realities B2B Marketers Need to Know Right Now” ebook today.

MatchBox

PAINLESS AND ACCURATE TAXONOMIES

Automated taxonomies and tagging with MatchBox

Categorizing your content allows you to get the right content in front of prospects and customers. More engagement. More leads.

Accurate Taxonomies, Easier

Building and maintaining content categories is costly and time consuming. MatchBox uses the power of AI to eliminate expensive human coding while providing higher accuracy and quicker time to value.

WHY MATCHBOX?

Most large websites have the same problem. You want to tag your pages with topics and industries, but your authors don’t do it. Or they don’t do it well. It’s not the authors’ fault. Tagging content accurately is not easy and humans aren’t particularly good at it.

Machines, on the other hand, can be tweaked, tuned, and adjusted so they become more and more accurate over time.

With MatchBox, you can finally identify the industry audience your content is targeted at, as well as the topic of your content. Accurately tagging your web content with industry and topic labels can unlock the value that you always hoped your taxonomy and your manual tagging would provide, but never did.

WHAT IT DOES

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Driven by Your Own Content

MatchBox helps you identify your taxonomy categories for topics and industries by examining your own website and grouping similar pages. No more guessing at what the right categories are—let the content tell you what it’s about.

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Eliminate Costly and Ineffective Human Tagging

Most B2B companies are paying their human authors to tag content--or they are foregoing the benefits of tagging content at all. The problem is that human tagging isn't just time-consuming and expensive--often it's flat-out wrong. For complex tasks, with more than a few categories, different humans often disagree with each other on what the right category is for a web page or other document. One study shows that, not only do different authors diverge on the right tag, but 35% of the time the same authors disagree with themselves when given the same document to tag within a few days. MatchBox keeps improving so that your tags are both consistent and accurate.

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Update Your Taxonomy When You Need To

If you are like most B2B companies, your taxonomy hasn’t been updated in a while. That’s because updating it kicks off the wrenching process of humans having to re-tag all of your documents by hand. Most companies can’t afford it, so they plod on year after year with the same outdated taxonomy, even as the world that it describes changes. MatchBox allows you to re-run your analysis at any time, so whenever you think that the subjects you discuss have significantly changed, you can run the process all over again.

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Use Your Taxonomy to Drive Real Value

Yes, you can import your automated tags into your Content Management System (CMS), but you can also see what kind of coverage you have on each topic so that you identify content gaps. You can also use your taxonomy categories as facets to drill down in site search results and as added information to drive personalized content recommendations. Because your content has been tagged consistently and accurately, using an up-to-date taxonomy, you’ll finally drive the value that taxonomies should have been driving all along.

HOW IT WORKS

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Develop Your Taxonomy in One Day

It sounds impossible, but MatchBox allows you to create an up-to-date taxonomy in a single day in most cases. Our consultants work with you to show you what MatchBox has discovered on your site, and you give feedback to eliminate, combine, or change the categories into something that makes sense to you and to your customers. Your subject matter experts can interpret what MatchBox found to make it understandable to humans. By the end of the day, you’ve got an up-to-date taxonomy.

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Topics Based on Your Content

MatchBox examines a sizable and representative sample of your content, using AI techniques such as Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to create clusters of documents that seem to be about the same subject. You won’t spend time arguing about what themes you cover on your website because MatchBox shows them to you. Your subject matter experts decide which clusters to combine, eliminate, or alter—MatchBox takes this feedback and re-runs its analysis to show you the next attempt, which gets more of your feedback. Usually it takes just two or three tries before you have a taxonomy you are pleased with. Your experts can name the topics anything they want, so you can use the names that your customers expect. Once you’ve decided your taxonomy, MatchBox automatically labels your content with the right topics, and it can re-label any new or changed content going forward.

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Industries Based On Standards

Topics by necessity must be customized for each website, but industries can be more standardized. Standards exist, such as the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) that defines just about every industry that your content could be talking to. Our consultants work with you to identify the NAICS industries for your audiences, and to rename them so the industry labels make sense to your audience. Once you’ve settled on your industry taxonomy, MatchBox can label all your content with industries and can keep those labels up to date as the content changes over time.

software features

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Works Automatically

MatchBox automatically labels new and changed content with accurate topics and industries. MatchBox can crawl your website automatically to discover updates to your web pages, or it can be integrated with your CMS to be alerted for changes.

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Integrated with Your MarTech Stack

MatchBox can update topic and industry labels in your CMS for every document. It can also update your site search engine so that these labels can be employed as facts in search drilldowns. Other integrations can also be explored if necessary.

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Works with Any Content

MatchBox not only handles HTML pages, but can process PDF files, Microsoft Office formats, and many other file formats that might be embedded on your website. If it has enough text, MatchBox can label it.

Simple Implementation

Our consultants use MatchBox to help you decide your taxonomy in a single day, and then MatchBox goes to work labeling your web pages every time they change.

Get the Right Content in Front of Customers

Start accurately tagging your web content with MatchBox today.

Forget AI expertise. You need domain expertise to succeed.

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Outrun Your Competitors With AI

There’s an old joke about two guys walking through the woods. All of a sudden they see a bear, and the bear starts moving towards them. The first guy sits down, pulls a pair of running shoes out of his backpack and slides them on. The second guy says, “What are you doing? You’re not going to outrun that bear.” And the first guy says, “I don’t have to outrun that bear. I just have to outrun you.” 

Is AI All Hype Right Now?

Recently on our podcast we talked about a conversation Tim Peter had with a colleague.  The discussion revolved around AI. Tim was asked an intriguing question.

“Come on. All this AI stuff, when we talk about marketing and all that, that’s all just hype, right?” 

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In high stakes competitive chess, there’s a gaming style called “Freestyle” which is just as “ditch-the-rulebook” as it sounds. The best players are called “centaurs” and although these particular centaurs aren’t half-human/half-horse, their makeup runs along the same logic. 

Four things that prevent marketing teams from getting the most from AI

Why is it that with all the marketing technology vendors claiming their products are fortified with AI pixie dust, business results aren’t better? The same goes for internal IT projects. Everyone wants their process to be better–and artificial intelligence, machine learning, and text analytics can provide that something special. And yet, it doesn’t feel like something special is occurring. At least not in the way that lots of consumer products are getting smarter and better.

AI is the wrong name but the right idea

Many people have only recently become acquainted with the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI), but the term was first coined 55 years ago this month at the Dartmouth conference. The name AI has never sat well with me, partly because calling computers “artificial” seems strange. (I haven’t heard Google referred to as “artificial search” to contrast it with the good old-fashioned searching that human beings do when poring over books in the library.) 

What’s Inside Behavioral Data?

Personas have been used for a number of years by B2B digital marketers to craft content that aligns with a visitor’s context. But we all know that personas are also so… 2015. The rise in personalization has revealed both the limits and challenges of persona-based content creation — creating and maintaining content for every persona is a lot of work and getting that content in front of the visitor at the right time is tricky.