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SearchChat Podcast: Gartner Predicts the Death of Personalization

Gartner’s prediction that personalization will be dead by 2025 was an attention grabbing headline. If consumers increasingly expect companies to know them, how can this be?

Steve Zakur breaks down the assertion that the problem is personalization. It might be personal data itself.  As consumers have become “ad blind” to personalized emails and businesses don’t want the responsibility for customer’s personal data management, it seems likely personalization would be abandoned by marketers.

Steve explains that a personalized experience, like SoloSegment’s GuideBox provides, can deliver a personal experience without relying on personal data. 

As personalization as we’ve known it dies (and maybe sooner than 2025) there emerges a new opportunity to create relevant customer experiences that could show customers that you “know” them without knowing their personal information. This can be of particularly high value in the B2B space where the buying cycle is long and many different players participate in the customer journey.

Adapting quickly to changes as discussed in SearchChat Podcast: Marketers Succeed at What They Rehearse – SoloSegment is important in responding to an ever changing environment.  Executing proof of concepts with different layers of the MarTech stack as Gartner suggests, allows marketers to prove out value before making big investments.

0:00 Intro

1:52 Gartner predicts the death of personalization

13:55 Why personalization without personal information matters

16:12 The future of personalization for B2B marketers, creating relevant customer experiences

22:26  Experimentation at different layers of the MarTech stack

25:55 Outro

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Search Chat is SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search AI and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? We’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. If you think we might have the answer to your conversion problems, feel free to connect with us.

Transcript

Tim Peter: Hi, I’m Tim Peter and welcome to SearchChat, SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search, AI, and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? Well, we’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter. You can learn more at solosegment.com. In this episode of SearchChat, SoloSegment CEO Steve Zakur and I talk about Gartner’s prediction that personalization will die by 2025. We also discuss why personalization without personal information matters and what the future of personalization looks like for B2B marketers. All that and more on the latest SoloSegment SearchChat, coming at you now.

Tim Peter: Hey Steve, how are you?

Steve Zakur: I’m well. Happy new year, Tim.

Tim Peter: Happy new year. This is probably going to go live in about a week, so by the time people hear this, it’s two weeks into January. They’re going to be like, “Happy new year? Jeez, wake up.”

Steve Zakur: “Are these guys still wishing people happy new year? What has it been? It’s probably been a month since we’ve done one of these, because between the roll up into the holidays and closing year end business and talking to investors, I’ve been a little busy.

Tim Peter: I’m shocked, Steve, I’m shocked to hear. No, that’s awesome. But welcome back. Thrilled to be talking to you, and I think we’ve got a really cool set of discussions today. I want to start with, there was this thing that came out in early December that talked about Gartner talked about the fact that by 2025 they predict that 80% of marketers will abandon personalization. And I read this and I thought, you know who’s going to have a strong opinion about this? So Steve, what’d you think when you read that?

Steve Zakur: When you read headlines like that, obviously written by a marketer who was very savvy in the ways of content marketing. It is designed to get your attention and it’s certainly got my… It was one of those things that goes by in your feed and it’s like the brake squeal and you go back up-

Tim Peter: Like a record scratch.

Steve Zakur: Absolutely, yes. Like what? What? So yeah, it definitely is one of those attention getting headlines and yeah, what it basically says, the headline clearly says it all, that in the next five years we as marketers are going to say, “Hey, personalization’s not for us.” I got to tell you, I rolled my eye. After the shock wore off, I rolled my eyes before I really got into it. I get what they’re saying, I get why they’re saying it, and I still disagree. Here’s my thoughts. First let’s talk about what are they saying. They really focus on personalization from the context of say, email personalization or making sure your mobile experience is highly personalized and relevant to you, and largely rooted deeply in PII. That, “Hey, this is Tim and Tim has been [crosstalk 00:03:39]”

Tim Peter: Personally identifiable information.

Steve Zakur: Absolutely. As much information, whether it’s first party or third party they can get about an actual human being. I tend to agree with that. By the way, as you well now and I think most of our listeners know, my points of view are largely B2B seen to the B2B lens because those are who our customers are, and that’s been my background, your background, so that’s how we think of this. But when I think about the use and role of personal information in that B2B context, I think of it in, to borrow from a famous writer, personalization is dead, long live personalization, because I do think that there is a large amount of truth to what they’re saying. I do think that the metaphor that’s applicable to what they’re talking about is really the whole ad blindness, that 15, 20 years ago, banner ads and all sorts of advertisements on pages were a thing. People just learn to ignore them, so it almost didn’t matter whether you made them flashing or you know they were in motion or whatever. People ignored them.

Steve Zakur: That’s what happened to a large part of that traditional ad market. Now of course the ad market innovated and changed to accommodate that, and I think that’s what’s happening, what’s going to happen here, what’s already happening here honestly, but what’s going to happen here, because I do think that some of the B2B models and certainly all of the B2C models where it is literally you get the email or you get something on your screen that says, “Hey Tim,” like ad retargeting and all these other things that are just like we’ve just learned to ignore them. Mostly because the relevance is low. And if the relevance is low, the ROI is low. The businesses are not going to get a return on that. So I think at the heart of what Gartner is saying, I think they are absolutely right. Those sorts of things that we have become immune to and had therefore yielded very little in benefit for businesses are going to absolutely go away.

Tim Peter: It’s not personalization is going away. It’s personalization for the sake of personalization. It’s not about, hey Tim, hey Steve, it’s about is this relevant and does this actually help me as a user accomplish my goals?

Steve Zakur: Yeah, absolutely. I think relevance is the right word. It’s a word we use a lot when we talk about more effective customer experiences, is how do you increase that relevance? I think that is tremendously important. And before we go into that too far though, I do want to come back to the other thing they talked about. So they talked about ROI being low and absolutely get that. But the other thing is the thing that we don’t talk about a lot and it really is about customer data management, and do I want to have on my servers all this information about all these people? Because I’m just one hack away from a lot of that information escaping into somewhere else and then I’m in trouble. Yeah, the regulatory environment and all that stuff’s going to change too.

Tim Peter: Well, it’s, it’s funny, you know this obviously, I think our listeners probably know this to some degree, I do some teaching at Rutgers Business School and I teach a course on personalization. One of the things I talk about on the customer data management side is that there are essentially two types of companies in the world, which is those that have had a data breach and those that will. I’m obviously being pithy. I’m obviously being provocative and the like. But the only people where that won’t be true is if you’re not on the bad guy’s radar, or ideally you’re investing so heavily in it that you’re actually doing what’s necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen to you. But you’re still going to have to deal with the attempt. So sure, there’s very much a risk factor and a cost factor associated with that that I think tends to be overlooked for people. So yeah, you make a great point there on the customer data management side.

Steve Zakur: Yeah. And again, that’s only going to get worse as regulators continue to do what they do. And of course, as I’ve said in the past, regulators don’t do what they do because they like to regulate. They do what they do because there’s political pressure coming from the humans to say, “Hey, I as a consumer don’t trust you.” That’s where that regulatory pressure comes from. I do think that customer data management is going to be increasingly one of the things that makes that traditional personalization less appealing, and I definitely hear that from when I talked to companies outside the US, especially when you talk to a European company you certainly hear that. And when you talk to the more, I don’t know what the right word is, savvy?

Tim Peter: Folks who are further along the curve.

Steve Zakur: Yeah. It’s funny, it’s interesting, I was going to say sophisticated, but there are some very sophisticated people who roll their eyes at this whole customer data management data privacy thing. We have one-

Tim Peter: And there are some who are sophisticated and they roll their eyes because they’ve put the right things in place 10 years ago. I’m a consultant by trade, so I always think in terms of a two by two matrix. It’s how knowledgeable are you about it and how concerned are you about it. Then the folks who are knowledgeable about it and not concerned probably are not concerned cause they’ve done the work, and we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re not morons.

Steve Zakur: Yeah, absolutely. We have one customer who I remember when I was doing the master services agreement with them, and the thing was like 70 pages long, but one of the reasons was like half of it, maybe more than half of it, it had the GDPR stuff in it, it had the CCPA stuff in it, it had the Argentinian… It had all the stuff in there. So here was a very sophisticated company that, as you suggest, way ahead of the curve and they took it very seriously. I was talking to another tech company, not a customer, would love them to be a customer, but it was interesting, kind of a moment of candor. They kind of rolled their eyes and said, “Oh yeah, it’s that European thing. We love personalization.”

Steve Zakur: It’s like, come on. But again, generally you find that the EU countries, companies based in those countries, certainly take this very, very seriously. I think, again, over time, we’re going to see American companies and companies based in other countries that don’t have stringent privacy regulations, we’re going to see them get on board just because again, coming all the way back, it’s the humans who are going to demand this. We’re all tired of having our data stolen, or we’re all tired of being marketed into ways that do cause us to become blind to things. Who wants to live in that world?

Tim Peter: Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. So given that, if we acknowledge that this is going to be a reality, in five years personalization as we know it may not be a thing, and that’s the way I would look at it. It’s not necessarily that personalization goes away, but it evolves in some meaningful way. Talk about where you think that is and where we’re going.

Steve Zakur: Yeah. It’s interesting that for the hyperbolic headline, the Gartner press release had some good information and the report itself had some good information really about that, about what should marketers be doing with regards to how they think about personalization. Let’s start with the Gartner report and then we’ll generalize to some of the ways we look at it from a B2B context. Clearly understanding the value. What is the value of the thing you’re trying to achieve? Because that’s the problem with say, email personalization. It doesn’t really actually make emails any better or more effective, even though we like to think they do. So understanding what that value prop is and what the value is you’re going to get out of whatever the personalization thing is.

Steve Zakur: The way we often start with companies is some sort of proof of concept, some sort of pilot. Okay, well now let’s bring that technology in or bring that capability in and see if it can demonstrate the value that it has, and really get down to is this thing actually progressing the discussion? Is the content relevant, so relevant that it’s causing action to be taken? Are we getting a better yield out of this personalized experience than we might otherwise? When we do proof of concepts with companies initially, that’s actually the entire thing. We AB test personalization off, personalization on. We do that cause we’re very confident, we’ve seen the numbers. It kind of feels a little bit like sleeves off our vest, but we want them to see the data. We want them to see, oh yeah, when GuideBox is doing the content recommendation, when GuideBox is doing whatever it does on their website, however it delivers the recommendations, that it actually is delivering an experience that has more value, has more relevance and is, more importantly, prompting actions, journey progression, engagement in ways that a non-personalized experience doesn’t.

Steve Zakur: So I think that’s clearly desirable. Again, proof of concept I think is an important element in the marketer’s arsenal to test whether technology is actually delivering the value that it says it will.

Tim Peter: Right. And without getting into our secret sauce and the like, obviously we talk a lot about personalization without personal information, but just to give people a sense of when we talk about how you do that and why we think that’s the right way to go. We’ve said this lots of times. The more people who do this in the marketplace, the better it is for us, because it’s just a validation that we’ve got the right approach and all. But what kinds of things or what are we looking at that, that defines this in a way that we can talk about without opening the kimono to everybody?

Steve Zakur: Yeah, no. When you come back to relevance, that’s where you start, how do you deliver more relevant experiences? And what’s interesting, what we found out in our journey, because our journey started with the notion of findability, how do you make this relevant content more easily accessible? And what we’ve discovered is a lot of the information is data that companies could gather. By the way, we gather for them. We gather that data and we use it. It’s things like do you understand the intent of a visitor based upon their behaviors? Behaviors are really key to this. Do you understand where they are in the journey by looking at behaviors? Do you understand what tasks they’re going to accomplish by looking at behaviors? Do you understand what they’re interested by looking at content, and looking at what is it about the content that is giving them some indication that it’s for them?

Steve Zakur: I won’t go into too much of that, because there’s some secret sauce there. But it really is looking at that data that’s relatively available to you. Many companies have this data locked somewhere in their combination of their CMS, their analytic system, and maybe their CRM system. We actually capture that data ourselves. We capture it via primary source, via our JavaScript. But this is data that doesn’t require you to know anything about the person visiting, just to look at their behaviors, to look at their intent, to look at the content, to look at the couple of other things that then that data you can use to build models which predicts what they should see next, what the most relevant content is.

Tim Peter: Right, right. No, that makes sense. So I want to come at this from a different angle, and this was something you and I were talking about before the show. But obviously we talk a lot about personalization without personal information. I know I just asked this a second ago, but I’m going to ask the same question in a different way, which is in a B2B context. Obviously personalization without personal information, when you talk B2C, people can get behind that and get their head around it really easily. When you talk about it in a B2B context, does that matter? How does that come into play? Or how does that matter? Why does that matter in a B2B context?

Steve Zakur: Well, I think it matters a whole lot less. Let’s start with why you want to know this information. Everybody would love to know that, hey, this is Tim coming to the website, he’s been here five times before. He looked at these three things, and by the way, those are three of the four triggers that go into our system that qualify this as a lead. Being we want to qualify him and pass that information to the sales force. That is, in a large sense, B2B companies adopting B2C models. Because that’s the models they have to follow. It’s the way the industry kind of started out. It started out with the Amazon’s of the world and all the other consumer marketing folks creating these models. When I talk to B2B executives, marketing executives, that is what they talk about. They talk about these B2C models.

Steve Zakur: I think the behaviors of B2B buyers are very different. First of all, they’re largely anonymous. They’re anonymous no matter how good your information is or, or your technology is, because the buying cycle’s nine months long. You might get a chance to cookie them four times, but it’s going to be four times over six or seven months. By the way, there’s going to be five other people on the deal team. Three of them are going to be working at home. One of them is going to be working in India. Connecting them all together and saying, “Gee, this is a view of this buying experience,” is tremendously difficult. Now possible? Maybe. But what we’ve discovered is totally unnecessary. That B2C model is not the right model. As I was saying before, your cookies are going to expire, your information is going to be imperfect.

Steve Zakur: Again, coming back to this relevance notion, what you’re really trying to do is say, given this visitor that I have in front of me today, which I probably know nothing about because their cookie expired and I can’t retarget them with stuff they’ve seen before or whatever, how do I engage with them in a way that does give them that high relevance? Again, look at the data that you have, the data you have about every other visitor who might have behaved like this. So there’s some lookalike modeling that can go into this. Look at the content they’re looking at and what does that tell you about where they are in the process, what their intent is, what their topical and their industry interest is, and can you use all that data in the moment to increase the relevance? I think what we’re seeing as what Gartner says plays out plays out, and as B2B marketers make a leap over the B2C technology to something different, they’re going to discover that those B2C models really aren’t the most recent things.

Steve Zakur: If you look at how cell phones, were adopted in India, or how the telephone was adopted in India, 15 years ago, they didn’t all of a sudden say, “Hey, let’s run more copper wire to every home in India.” They said, “Hey, let’s put up these cell phone towers. That’s a whole hell of a lot easier.” I think in the same way, we’re going to see this transformation in especially B2B personalization, but probably in personalization alone, that companies who haven’t done the traditional personalization are going to make a leap. Honestly, as I thought through this Gartner article, it was, this may actually happen sooner than 2025. We might see this traditional personalization die very, very quickly, especially in the context of B2B, because other technologies, technologies like ours, become available and allow B2B marketers to connect with prospects and customers in ways that are highly relevant that help progress those journeys that help improve the outcomes and therefore the ROIs without having to know, “Hey Tim, welcome back.”

Tim Peter: Yeah, yeah, no, it makes total sense. It’s funny, I agree with you on the timing. I often talk about things happening five years from now because my take on it is, there’s an old quote, I always think of it being attributed to Bill Gates, but I’m sure he got it from somewhere else, not because I’m knocking Bill Gates, but because I think he acknowledged it came from someplace else. But this idea that we always overestimate the change we’ll see in the next two years and we underestimate the change we’ll see in the next ten. So I always just pick five years as the mid point between those. It probably won’t be two. It sure as hell not going to be 10. So yeah, five or fewer seems to make a lot of sense. So that makes a lot of sense.

Steve Zakur: Change is going to come, and like you said, it will happen in unexpected ways, but all these predictions are wrong, and it’ll be interesting to see how they play out.

Tim Peter: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Well Steve, we’re coming up on time. Obviously you’ve talked a lot about how to make more relevant customer experiences. You’ve talked a lot about why personal information doesn’t matter. You’ve talked a lot about the fact that yeah, personalization as we know it is likely to be dead within the next five years or give or take. But anything else you want to that you want to chime in with before we wrap up?

Steve Zakur: One final thought is that I’ve been doing a proposal today for one of our clients and they’re looking at their marketing technology stack and basically what they’ve asked us to do, and it’s a little bit outside our swim lane, but they’re a really great client, so we’re going to do a special project to engage with them in this way, but it’s looking at their technology stack and really beginning to think about, this thing has evolved over the past five to 10 years and how should it be evolving over the next five to 10 years, or even closer on our horizons? But it’s management framework and taxonomy and a lot of other things that helps them think about. But one of the things that’s interesting about the thought process is, and they haven’t explicitly said it, but it’s clearly implied in how they’re beginning to think about it, is this notion of experimentation.

Steve Zakur: How do we stay abreast of what’s that next thing out there? How do I kind of cut through the marketing hype and the sales reps posturing to get at what is the thing that really is going to help me transform my business? It also ties back to one of those recommendations in the Gartner report, which is this whole notion of proof of concepts, and are you experimenting at different layers in the stack, whether it’s your backend support systems, it’s those customer facing things, or all the magic in the middle that helps connect those two things. But are you doing those proof of concepts to try to discern where is the opportunity? And again, as I was sitting in the room just before the holiday with the client in a workshop talking this through, that really was the subtext to the discussion, was “We’d like to be able to think about our marketing technology portfolio more operationally, not as a strategic exercise, but as a operational exercise.”

Steve Zakur: Part of that would be this experimentation and proof of concepts. We’ve certainly found when we talk to companies, I’d love to close big deals, but I love to close big deals when I’ve demonstrated I have value. So can I do proof of concepts to show these companies that it works? Anyway, it was just interesting to hear a client kind of come at it. Gartner said it, I’ve heard some other folks come at it as well, is that this notion of proof of concept before you write the big check, write a smaller check and really demonstrate that this is something that’s going to have value. You may find that it doesn’t. Okay, great. You took a low risk swing at the ball and it didn’t go well, but you also might find that it’s not a home run, but boy it really works for this piece of the business, this use case.

Steve Zakur: That’s part of what this client of ours was beginning to get at ,is there are a certain components in the [inaudible 00:25:19] stack that might be right for one line of business, but another line of business has to go another way, and you won’t know that until you’re able to run the experiment, and they wanted a framework that allows them to do that. Again, it was just kind of an interesting notion that was a bit of an aside to our relationship with them, but I think an important one and you know something I’ve tucked away as I now think about talking to our clients, certainly talking to our audience, is how do proof of concepts, how does experimentation, how does discovery happen within your marketing technology stack, within your marketing processes, and how do you create a framework that allows you to do that?

Tim Peter: Yeah, that makes total sense. We talked about this on a past episode, and I know we got to wrap up timing wise, but we talked about this on a past episode about you get good at what you rehearse, and it’s this idea of if you can’t predict the future, which a lot of times, let’s be fair, you can’t, what you do have to be good at is adapting quickly. That fits a lot. That makes a ton of sense.

Steve Zakur: Look at that. I tied it all together.

Tim Peter: As ever. That’s fantastic. We agree that personalization is going to be dead by 2025, at least in the way that we know it. We agree that we’ve got to think about how do we do personalization without personal information and how fundamentally you have to get good at moving fast to provide relevant customer experiences. Steve, that’s a I think a great place to wrap. Any last words before I let you go?

Steve Zakur: I’m good to go. I got to get working on those proposals.

Tim Peter: Fantastic. All right. Make some money. Great talking to you. Catch up with you next time.

Steve Zakur: Take care of Tim.

Tim Peter: All right. Bye now.

Tim Peter: SearchChat is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction, and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment. Make your search smarter, and learn more at solosegment.com. If you like what you’ve heard today, click on the subscribe links you can find at solosegment.com/podcast, on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, or wherever fine podcasts can be found. You can also find us on LinkedIn, at LinkedIn.com/company/solosegment, on Facebook at Facebook.com/solosegment, on Twitter using the Twitter handle @SoloSegment, or you can drop us an email at info@solosegment.com. Again, that’s info@solosegment.com. For SearchChat. I’m Tim Peter. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Thanks so much for joining us and, we look forward to chatting with you next time here on SearchChat. Until then, take care everybody.

Author

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    Tim Peter is the Senior Advisor at SoloSegment. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. SoloSegment uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

  • Steve Zakur

    Stephen Zakur is CEO of SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies. Prior to joining SoloSegment, Steve held a variety of executive positions at IBM focused on marketing, technology, and sales. Steve holds an MBA from the Stern School at New York University.