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The path to personalized advertising post-cookies

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Identity and the changing measurement landscape

In the not-too-distant future, most of the signals we get from third-party cookies and devices will be all but gone. And while identity players are already in-market to fill the void, much of the focus is on overall audience addressability. While addressability is paramount, marketers are also looking for ways they can create personalized experiences without cookies. 

As digital marketers, we know that insight is the key to personalization. In lieu of browser and device data, forward-thinking marketers are testing other insight-rich sources to build audience profiles that don’t rely on traditional bread crumb trails. I caught up with a few marketers to see what tools and techniques they are implementing to stay ahead of the game. 

CDPs and identity solutions 

CDPs and identity graphs build a single view of a user, including explicit and implicit interests and preferences. This singular identity stitches together a host of signals to deliver a 360-degree view to power personalization without third-party cookies.

Working with an established CDP or identity platform keeps all the identifiers related to a customer in one place, including personally identifiable information (PII) like usernames and phone numbers, as well as non-PIIs signals like first-party cookies and publisher IDs. Marketers can leverage these CDPs or identity graph databases to build omnichannel views for customers and prospects, enabling them to create personalized ads and messaging across various touchpoints.

Marketers who work with CDPs or identity platforms can capture data from over a hundred touchpoints, and build a unified view across their entire CRM to drive personalized messaging. Using advanced analytics and modeling, marketers can create a variety of personalization scenarios based on different channels, intent signals, and propensity scores for each user. And connecting the ad identifiers using a virtual ID allows for not only converged addressability but also helps to drive cross-channel personalization.

Second-party data 

Another way to get around the loss of third-party cookies is to start building second-party data. This type of incremental audience data is created when a marketer combines their data with another brand or publisher data set to yield new insights and audiences beyond what is available in their own CRM or subscriber database.

The advantages of building substantial second-party audiences allow a marketer to expand their consumer data pool and, more importantly, provide access to more relevant consumer data than marketers would get with third-party cookies or data. Because second-party data involves combining similar yet disparate data sets, the yield is high on actionable insights. It will almost always perform better than a marketer who pays for aggregated third-party data.

This strategy is most useful for more prominent brands or marketers who have built an extensive database of customers. Finding a willing partner might not be easy for small businesses or newer companies that haven’t had the chance to build up their own first-party data. To make this strategy work, you must find a partner to share data with you and then disclose the relationship on your website if you share your customers’ data with another company. Building these second-party audiences has become a cornerstone service for data clean rooms or cloud service providers, including Infosum and Snowflake.

Read next: Why we care about data clean rooms

Contextual advertising

For years, we’ve seen contextual targeting touted as an alternative to cookies. This approach focuses on the content consumed — the context of the blog post, video, or other content the person is engaging with — rather than personal information.

As a result, there’s little to no risk around data privacy. Yet, digital marketers can still offer highly personalized content and ads.

While contextual advertising is nothing new to marketers, what has changed is that AI is now used by more advanced providers that can get granular with contextual targeting. Marketers have a continuum of targets they can build personalization around, including metadata, titles, related keywords, comments, and more. By mining this information and looking for signals, marketers gain in-depth insights into their customers that are used for cross-channel personalization and messaging.

This ever-evolving world of contextual advertising and personalization may require marketers to brush up on their skill sets and learn more about how it works today and how it can be leveraged not only for addressability but as a tool for personalization. And, unlike older contextual marketing models that relied heavily on keywords, new contextual targeting tools rely on natural language processing and image recognition.

These more recent algorithms can also grasp the sentiment of pages and apps with unprecedented speed and reliability. Altogether, this enables marketers to display personalized ads in an environment that is both highly relevant for their potential customers and safe for their brands. 


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Location and interest-based targeting 

Remembering that high-quality intent data for personalization can be captured offline is more important than ever. Where your customers and prospects go or hang out regularly can be equally crucial for insights and personalization opportunities. 

Location data companies like Safegraph, Simple.fi and Factual create rich audience profiles based on pre-determined points of interest and stitch them to their ID, or into cookie-free IDs like UID, for cross-channel and personalized targeting. These companies often have thousands of locations mapped, including quick-serve restaurants, airports, retail stores and golf courses, to name a few. 

Real-world insights from location data can drive personalization using explicit information, including the type of store or location visited, to inferred demographic, affluence and other information to allow for an additional lever to use when developing personalization models.  

In much the same way location-based data provides a slightly more “meta” approach to personalization, interest-based advertising bundles website visitors into broad content topics based on a visitor’s behavior. The most talked about of these interest-based targeting and personalization platforms is Google’s most recently proposed concept, Topics, which replaces its initial strategy, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The idea behind Topics is that the browser learns about users’ interests as they surf the web and shares their top interests with participating websites for advertising purposes. All this happens behind their walled garden by categorizing the websites a user visits into a limited set of around 350 broad topics, such as gym-goers or sports car enthusiasts. 

When a user visits a website that supports the Topics API, the browser will choose up to three topics on their device from their most frequent topics in the last three weeks and share them with this website. The website and its advertising partners can then use these topics to determine which type of personalized ad to display. 

While the jury is still out on Topics, Google claims that Topics is more private and offers greater transparency and user control than FLoC and cookie-based targeting. Still, many specifics of the concept are yet to be released. 

Better first-party data for personalization

If you want to truly deliver personalized experiences, you need to know who your users are, and an email address is a great first step to building out their profile.

Amp up your user registration. Utilize all the touchpoints site where exchanging information for newsletter sign-ups, cart check-out, discount codes or loyalty programs. ‍

Build more robust customer profiles. Start small but capture as much information as you can about your customers. Integrate additional data collection touchpoints. Follow up with new email subscribers with quick buttons to capture preference data to better target content and products.‍

Engage with email and SMS marketing. Make the most out of email and text message to drive up customer engagement. Send personalized offers and content to users based on their behavior on your site and follow up personalized SMS for special sales, promotions, and discounts.

All in all, the demise of the third-party cookies and the constraints on device-level data doesn’t mean an end to ad personalization; marketers will be utilizing a host of alternate data and IDs to drive cross-channel personalization. Combined, these new tools and tactics will allow marketers to continue having personalized conversations with their customers and prospects. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

A leader in the data-driven AdTech space that spans 20 years across both the US and the EU. Ken Zachmann’s worked on the ground floor of a data start-up that yielded an eight-figure exit and served as VP and SVP for two leading digital data firms and saw them through to acquisition in 2017.
In 2018 Ken launched his first consulting firm focused on identity-based solutions and helping companies navigate a cookie-less future. Ken’s background in data and identity resolution, paired with his experience of living and working in both the US and Germany, has afforded him a unique understanding of the complexities of sourcing and building data, identity and measurement solutions.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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