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Personalization at Scale: Stories and Lessons Learned in the Trenches of Retail

Posted January 22, 2019

What can healthcare learn from retail? When it comes to marketing – whether you’re working in kids’ clothing, luggage, surgery or diagnostics – there’s a trend toward personalized, targeted messaging that gets down to the granular level.

What’s happening in retail is definitely affecting the way healthcare providers and related organizations need to communicate with their audiences moving forward, according to Adam Nenning, a seasoned CRM professional who spoke at the 2nd Annual Tea Leaves Health Client Summit in July, and who has found crossover success in both healthcare and retail.

The primary approach for healthcare marketers – already prevalent in retail – should be personalization. But what is personalization? According to Adam, it’s the ability to have a dialogue with the right customer at the right time with the right message. In other words, it’s about being relevant, and Adam’s mission is to answer the following question for his clients: “How do we become more relevant for the healthcare consumer?”

You might think personalization is as easy as finding out as much about the consumer as possible and then inundating them with messaging that hits certain likes or preferences. But Adam cautions against this approach; opting instead for a strategic, nuanced, respectful strategy that creates an appropriate level of consistent, relevant (there’s that word again) contact to maintain consumer interest. While Adam admits personalization and relevancy aren’t a science, he has learned some lessons throughout his career while working in the retail “trenches.”

Lesson 1: Go with the Flow

In other words, if it ain’t broke, you don’t have to fix it … but maybe you should improve it. Adam cited companies like Amazon, Spotify and Starbucks as examples of companies that find approaches that work, and continually tweak and fine-tune within the confines of the overarching strategy.

Lesson 2: Make Friends Early and Often

Adam advocates engaging with those who can “get things done and knock down walls” in order to keep projects and initiatives moving toward your goal. “Surround yourself with diverse opinions and experiences,” Adam said. “Getting different perspectives, asking questions and involving people with diverse backgrounds can be a huge step in developing a successful program.”

Lesson 3: How You Say Things Matters

When Adam tests a campaign, he likes to use a “this or that” approach. “A/B testing is really strong in establishing effective personalization,” he said. “It’s the only way you can optimize without cutting your reach.” Voice is also critical to connect with your target segments, and that goes beyond words – it includes all aspects of the message; from visuals and sounds to price and style.

Lesson 4: Start At The End

Simply put, Adam believes effective personalized marketing efforts begin with the end in mind. It’s important to begin with what the customer wants and expects, and work backward. “By working backward, you can reduce challenges and gaps that might occur along the way,” Adam said.

Lesson 5: Test Small And Fast, Scale Big

There’s no point in throwing good money at bad marketing, right? Adam recommends doing some test marketing to find what works and taking a “walk-before-you-run” approach. “Start small, then expand it strategically,” he said, adding, “Realize that nothing is perfect, and your original vision will likely change by the time you reach the end of the project.”

Lesson 6: Every Test Is An Opportunity

When Adam says, “Every test is an opportunity,” the opportunity goes beyond the dollar. “It’s an opportunity to learn, find out what works, and then shape your program using what you’ve learned.” If you’ve properly planned and tested, Adam says, the results will follow.

Lesson 7: Keep Score

“Measurement is the lifeblood of personalization,” Adam said. “Pick a metric that is meaningful to your overall goals, measure everything, and refine as you go.”

Lesson 8: Technology Is Not A Strategy

Adam emphasizes the power of technology and data, but offers this caveat: “It’s an enabler and an accelerator. It can help you access new channels or make your work easier, but it doesn’t replace strategy. It’s important that you take technology and find out how it’s beneficial to you.”