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Why marketing personalization has yet to pay off

Forrester analyst discusses why personalization investments aren't paying off, what marketers can expect in 2022 in technology -- and in the job market.

In the year ahead, marketers will change focus from new customer acquisition to existing customers. Chief marketing officers will take a bigger stake in partner experience. Three quarters of marketing personalization investments will not yield expected returns on investment. As organizations try -- and fail -- to assign pipeline leads to marketing efforts, new metrics will replace the status quo.

On top of all this, the Great Resignation will give rise to the fractional marketing practitioner -- independent marketers who work for several companies, none full-time. These are the B2B marketing predictions Forrester Research analyst Lori Wizdo and 15 of her colleagues made for 2022. In this Q&A, we discuss these in more detail.

In your and your fellow analysts' 2022 predictions, there's a discussion about how B2B marketing personalization investment isn't paying off.

Lori Wizdo: I won't say that it's not paying off at all. It's just it's underperforming to its potential. And I think the reason is that the things that are being personalized are pretty basic right now. We're personalizing largely to company and industry, pretty readily accessible data.

Lori Wizdo, Forrester analystLori Wizdo

The goal of the marketing engagement process is to help the buyer through the buying journey. That's how we should be designing our engagement strategies. In order to do that, we need to really understand a lot more about what journey that person is on. The fact that that person is from ABC company doesn't tell me much about the journey that person is on. That a person is interested in XYZ product doesn't tell me much about what journey that person's on. I really need to understand more about what they're trying to accomplish, what their needs are.

Once I do understand that, I have to understand their journeys: They're going through the content, they're going to need to answer the questions they have at various stages -- that level of understanding our buyer's needs. A journey map analysis to come up with your content and your engagement strategy -- that's just not widely deployed by most B2B marketers.

Journey mapping is simple for consumer marketers -- one company to one customer. In B2B, when you have buying teams reaching out, selling teams reaching out to buying teams, it's much more complicated.

Wizdo: Two dimensions make it more complicated. One is the complexity of the buying scenarios: If I'm a consumer buying most products, you can pretty much figure out what I'm trying to accomplish. I mean, sure, if I'm trying to buy a sofa, I might be furnishing a new house or I might be designing the ultimate entertainment space and those are slightly different motives, but they require a different kind of engagement communication.

Two, we have buying teams that are operating with different buying motions. Sometimes they want a high degree of personalized engagement. Sometimes they want a frictionless transaction, and so their function is different. The journey we're trying to personalize is much more complex.

Are most companies up to the task of wrangling the data to make this work? Can technology address this spiraling complexity of B2B transactions?

Wizdo: I think before [technology can fix anything], there is some strategic thinking required. We really need to understand which buyers, which buying groups and which buying motives are we going to design for. A person can sell anything to anybody who has a budget, and marketing needs to develop content and engagement strategies, but we can't do that for every potential buying scenario. There's a portfolio management responsibility that marketers have -- thinking that through and then designing strategy that also has to be operationalized.

Can B2B companies get to a place where their marketing personalization works as well as B2C?

Wizdo: I wouldn't say B2C technology vendors have it down yet. As a consumer, I get a lot of things that are like, 'Are you kidding me?' It will never be perfect.

But engagement technologies generate more and more data, and more and more data signals. The third-party data that we have access to as B2B marketers is so much superior to the data that we had 10 or even five even years ago, as well as the systems to manage that data. I think as you see customer data platforms coming full force to market, managing data is not like a set of haphazard tests. It really requires a comprehensive, holistic system. B2B marketers are waking up to the fact that data is not being managed. I would never go so far as to say that we'll be able to be [perfect personalization], but it will get a lot better because of better data management, better data and better analytics.

Talk about why your team is so bullish on companies hiring fractional marketing practitioners.

Wizdo: The fractional executive is an idea that really has demonstrated success in the marketplace in terms of having a [chief marketing officer], CFO or even a CIO come in for the journey to the next transition in a company and lead through this next tough patch. Of course, we've had freelancers and consultants in marketing forever as well.

But what we're seeing in our client base is that it's getting harder and harder in the Great Resignation to keep people, because employees are less willing to give up anything. An example of what we're seeing is a company in the Midwest that had worked over the last several years to build up an internal agency. They built that competency internally because they felt that their communications and their creative execution was really the core competency that they wanted to own. And then all of a sudden, these people can make 50% more working remotely for other agencies.

There's more demand, there's more opportunity for people to forge their own way, and people are willing to take more risks. Every industry sees this as a result of some of the changes we all experienced, living through the COVID-19 pandemic. That's awesome. There's going to be more talent available to get better things done. But it does mean that you are going to need to learn how to manage that talent better.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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