The Personalization Paradox:

Is there a cost to personalization in higher ed?

A lot has been made of marketing ‘personalization’ both inside our industry and outside. And while it might be easy to remain steadfast on either side of the aisle, the use — and nuance — of the word has lead it to become more of a principle than an absolute business practice. Similarly, because we believe the consumer wants personalized communications and we can deliver, we should seek to expand the practice throughout the funnel.

Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

In higher ed, it’s easy to advocate for personalization. We operate in a high-involvement category, enjoy long customer journeys and market one of our customers biggest life decision. For some of us, we have years of data to turn the interests of our smallest segments into comprehensive comms plans.

Is there a cost to championing personalization at every turn?

What’s the cost of taking the perceived success of personalization in one channel and applying it to other comms?

It’s easy to take personalization success in one channel and apply it in other places. It happens when there isn’t a clear understanding of the term and its effectiveness. For example, we need to separate advertising activities from marketing actives because too often the success of personalized email campaigns lead to the personalization of digital advertising campaigns.

“66% of adult Americans said they do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. And when the researchers explained how adtech can target ads to them, the percentage saying they don’t want targeting went up — as high as 80%.”

We know there is little evidence to suggest personalized advertising works. There’s a real debate on whether hyper targeting — via contextual and behavioral data — is worth the investment. Similarly, we believe the consumer wants personalize ad, yet we ignore the well-documented “creep factor.”

Does personalization actually hinder decision-making?

From email to dynamic web pages, we can easily take our audience from category decision to major-related decision. I have seen this attempt as a secret shopper and have read articles making this a marketing goal.

For example, when a prospective student shows an interest in business, we can personalized her web banners, the student stories, email content, etc . But what if interests change?

When we send the consumer on a very linear information-seeking journey — one where we have used past behavior to predict future decisions — are we limiting the potential of future comms?

In the case of the business student, by limiting the scope of information are we giving her more reasons to say “no” and less reasons to say “yes?”

Is personalization lost when context changes?

Research would indicate that personalization is effective when it is perceived to be personalized and is helpful during difficult tasks. Similarly, personalization is seen to be more effective when consumers have an established repertoire with the brand. In both circumstances, there is an expectation that a brand should have personal data and it should be used to make brand-related tasks easier or to offer personalize promotions.

For example, when I log into my banking app, I expect that my experienced is personalized. The same could be said for an admissions portal. However, do consumers truly expect personalization to the extent that we seek to deliver it? If the environment lessens the expectation of personalization, is the effect we hope to produce lost?

None of this is to say personalization doesn’t have a place. I think there needs to be a better understanding of what we mean by the term and an effort to scrutinize the assumption that personalization truly drives marketing outcomes.

I would argue that what we truly mean by “personalization” is really “relevant.” It’s something that has been understood by marketers for decades. Relevancy and recency work, we just need to take the time to uncover a better understanding of our consumer.

Personally, I’ve never wanted to feel targeted-just understood.

Strategy @Up&Up