Getting Even More Personal: The Power of Personalization and Emotional Marketing

For the overwhelming majority of consumers, a spot-on relevant journey equals a positive experience — and in today’s always-on, omni-channel landscape it’s those experiences that, together, make up a brand. And, by now, you’ve probably been exposed to the influx of emotionally-charged campaigns inundating blogs, websites, and popular social platforms, from the decade-long love story wrapped up in a (literal) gum wrapper or, perhaps, a bank’s powerful message told through the eyes of expectant parents. Hands down, personalization and emotional marketing catapulted campaigns to new heights in 2015 … and, in 2016, they’re poised to be even bigger game changers, together_._

And that’s what I’m most interested in — that intersection of personalization and emotional marketing techniques. If emotionally charged content is already striking a chord because it resonates with us in a deep, personal way, could the impact be amplified by integrating a layer of data-driven optimization and personalization? If emotional marketing hinges on our brain’s ability to make compelling, lasting and deep associations, would creating more personalized journeys leading up to and out of those experiences make a difference? And, even more importantly, what would that combo play look like?

Personalizing Her (Emotionally Laden) Journey

From “go” a strong personalization campaign has an emotional factor. Just the simple spark of alignment can ratchet up the associations consumers create in their own minds, ensuring the stimuli is imprinted with even greater clarity and cognition. Layer in the fact that emotionally charged content is more easily processed and, already, you’ve got the potential for serious success — we relate, we record, and we remember, and, when, the time’s right, we act. It’s the basic premise of any personalization campaign — consumers want relevant information, content and recommendations in real time. They want it for the practical reasons — limited time and a desire to streamline their content consumption and purchase processes, for example — but they also want to feel that pang of connection and understanding that comes from engaging with a brand that “gets” them.

It’s a simple and it’s powerful, and hinges on many of the same principals as emotional marketing does. We know that, for example, emotions influences 80 percent of our purchase decisions, versus just 20 percent from the intellectual end. But what’s even more compelling from an engagement and ROI perspective is that both approaches — personalization and emotional marketing — play to some of those same brain triggers. You love the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign because the father/son bonding moment at the baseball game is relatable. You love it even more if you’re taking your kid to his first baseball game. Similac’s Mother ‘Hood video is engaging for anyone, parent or not — but if you are a mom and you are tackling some of these real life challenges, you can’t help but sit up and lean in. Engaging those general viewers is great — but that lean in moment is the stuff of optimization magic. And that should be our goal: not just connecting consumers with a personalized experience or an emotional one but, instead, creating personalized, emotional journeys for those spot-on consumers.

Making the Most of the Emotion

It’s clear there’s a massive value to integrating personalization best practices with emotional marketing content — but, still, it easy to get caught up in the swirl of excitement and enthusiasm for these riveting campaigns. Who didn’tsee Dad making origami swans out of gum wrappers, or moms hugging their gold medal-winning kids?

But despite the buzz and massive organic chatter for these types of campaigns, personalization and optimization best practices shouldn’t go out the window just because you’ve got a tear-jerking video on your hands. These are actually the optimal time to lean on some serious data-driven marketing. Remember, four in five consumers still expect a personalized experience from the brands they frequent. So if that sweet swan gum wrapper moment isn’t going to resonate, you could lose a key customer or segment in a fraction of a second — it might actually be better to steer clear of the emotion if the data says otherwise.

Think of this the same way you think about a special offer or promotion. Sure, a deep discount on those sneakers is great, but if I’m a swimmer and not a runner, it doesn’t do me much good. Better to not share any discount — or any emotional content — than make me feel like I may have stumbled on the wrong site. Are you anti-swimmers? Do you favor runners? Would I be better off in a brand experience geared towards my specific interests? Tapping into the data you’ve got along with ongoing, iterative testing and optimization will help you identify those individuals, personas and segments — and automated personalization will ensure meaningful messages reach their desktops, mobile devices and other go-tos.

Now the flipside — what if the content does resonate with the consumer? While it could seem like a powerful, undisputed win, there’s more to building a relationship than simply triggering a few tears. Again, consumers see brands as a collections of experiences. If those young moms are overwhelmingly engaged with, converting from and socializing your mom-centric Olympic video content you’re staring down an incredible opportunity to build loyalty and long-term affinity — but you aren’t there yet. All too often brands take the win and walk away — but optimizationally mature organizations know that you’ve got to leverage DDM and personalization best practices to keep the journey going tomorrow, next week and next month. How can you leverage her emotional response and the powerful associations you’ve created in her mind to build a long-term, high-value relationship that grows with her — and, in this case, her kids?

That’s not to say you need to keep her in an endless loop of “moms rock” videos — but you do need to ensure a consistent, cohesive experience from those powerful moments into your conversion funnel. It starts with some solid foundational pieces, specifically cultivating actionable analytics and insights. You have to understand why she’s responding to it and what, specifically, she’s responding to to ensure you can weave those relevant touch points into her brand experiences after she’s consumed this particular content. You got her here and now she needs to know she’s in the right place — with a brand that meets the expectations you’ve set forth through your emotional marketing. That means emails that support her lifestage and likely purchase intentions, a digital experience that pushes her to content and products that matter to her right now and a personalized journey that follows her, her experiences and her family through it all, with spot-on touch points that meet and exceed her expectations.

The Creepy Factor: When Emotional Marketing Goes Too Far

Done right, personalization and emotional marketing can be an unparalleled one-two punch — but taken too far and they could seriously disrupt and even creepy out your customers. Like any personalization campaign, emotional marketing moments need to have value and, while they can certainly ruffle feathers, it shouldn’t feel so uncomfortable or unsettling that the message is lost. That’s just creepy — and creepy is never relevant.

Some recent examples? First there was the Super Bowl commercial that focused on preventing childhood accidents. The game day message started off with an emotionally engaging draw, but took a seriously dark turn when it’s revealed (spoiler alert!) that the young child in the commercial couldn’t achieve any of the milestones mentioned…because he drowned in the bath tub_._ Yikes. Critics immediately jumped into action, criticizing the emotionally charged commercial for missing the mark from a right message/right time/right audience perspective — basically, the hallmarks of delivering relevance at scale. Granted, the commercial made you do a double take—it’s disturbing, no doubt. But if it creeps up out too much to act, is that effective emotional marketing?

Soon after there was AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign which offered an extremely personal, powerful look at the impact of texting while driving. While general consensus called it a win, CNET called it “stomach-turning” and many media insiders, bloggers and general consumers felt it was too exaggerated or, simply, too upsetting to resonate in a meaningful way. Personally, I think AT&T communicated a much needed message at the exact right moment in time — but if I didn’t? What if it was so upsetting, so stomach-turning and so alienating that I felt creeped out — and what if that changed my perception and future dealings with the brand? Would there have been triggers that marked me as a “miss” from a campaign content perspective — and was there a way to connect me with a different AT&T experience, in this case? Or is all of that completely irrelevant? Should the goal of emotional marketing be to get us to sit up and lean in, regardless of whether or not it’s a relevant experience for us?

It’s an interesting debate and one that’s only going to get amped up as brands continue to push out compelling emotional content and, even, leverage DDM and personalization techniques to ensure those messages fall on the right ears at the right time. Alone personalization and emotional marketing have the power to compel consumers towards meaningful, measurable action and, even, long-term relationships and advocacy. But keep those experiences going, weaving in the best of both to drive maximum consideration and conversion and you’ve got a powerhouse campaign on your hands. Whether it’s drawing them in with personalized touch points and delivering emotionally charged content based on the data you’ve got or if it’s the reverse — pulling in consumers with riveting content then personalizing the journey that follows — these two critical tactics, in tandem, can catapult any brand and experience to the next level. And that’s exactly where I expect to see countless marketers in 2016.