Balancing Personalization & Privacy Through Relevant, Transparent Communication

Published: January 15, 2020

Personalization — to no surprise — continues to be a buzzword in marketing, in both the B2B and B2C industries. Yet B2B organizations are still trailing behind their B2C counterparts in terms of delivering a meaningful personalized experience. However, B2B marketers are beginning to leverage all the new and existing data at their disposal — whether through progressive profiling or intent signals — to be more relevant in their messaging and maintain a healthy balance between personalization and privacy.

“When you look at personalization, I still think B2C companies have a leg up on B2B,” said Jon Russo, Founder & CMO of B2B Fusion, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “If I think about my Amazon experience, it is lightyears ahead of any B2B experience. B2B is catching up with content that they’re starting to serve that is applicable to me. Look at my Netflix experience — it’s just a much easier experience. But it’s also based on the personalization of content that’s relevant to me. YouTube would be a great example of that. I’ve been doing a lot of binge-watching of certain things within YouTube. And now it’s automatically presenting the content based on my interest. With AI, I think you’re going to see a lot of changes here in 2020 and beyond.”

Where B2B organizations have a leg up on B2C is around progressive profiling, according to Fatemeh Khatibloo, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester. Getting relevant data from buyers is crucial in achieving the level of personalization they desire, and progressive profiling allows marketers to glean intelligence by gradually collecting it in a way that won’t turn the buyer off.

“In B2B, there has been more of a focus towards asking the prospect a few questions,” said Khatibloo in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “You’re on this part of my website, you’re looking to download a white paper, maybe I’ll ask you for a couple of pieces of information about yourself, but not everything about you. And then based on what you’ve seen when you downloaded the white paper, I might ask you a couple of more questions, whether that’s via live chat or via an email or whatever that is. So, I’m painting a picture of you as a long tail buyer. And that’s something that historically B2C marketing has not done from a personalization perspective.”

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Delivering Relevancy Based On Intent Signals Becomes A Common Practice

Modern B2B marketers are thinking less about personalization and more about relevancy. Doing personalization for the sake of personalization is no longer cutting it with buyers, who can see right through these initiatives.

Daniel Englebretson, Director of Growth Marketing and Demand Generation at Phononic Inc., for example, said he “favors relevancy in the form of account + role + intent signals + tailored value proposition,” stating that it is “easier to scale, less creepy, and tells a pretty good story. It also doesn’t require PII [personally identifiable information], but if it does, it doesn’t come off creepy.”

It’s a matter of putting yourself in the customer or prospect’s shoes and delivering messages that change based on how you’re talking to them.

“I am strongly opposed to personalization for the sake of personalization,” said Englebretson. “If what I know about the person does not meaningfully change the way I’d interact with them in a material way, then I prefer to not use it. Not only is it awkward, but there is risk that you’ll turn the prospect off.

“Call me an idealist, but in the case of personalization for the individual, ‘healthy balance’ really comes down to empathy — your ability to scale empathetic conversations. Ask yourself, ‘Is this a human interaction?’ and if the answer is no, then don’t do it.”

Similar to Englebreston, marketers are starting to leverage signal and intent data to gain relevant intelligence of the buyer that they can use for deeper personalization.

For example, Kenna Security uses data from Bombora to target people who have been searching for topics relevant to their offering. According to Jeremy Middleton, Head of Marketing Strategy and Operations at Kenna, he and his team also similarly track the same engagement through G2 — all of which indicates the intent of the buyer, allowing the team to better cater their messaging to their needs.

“We have three high-level ways of looking at intent with customers,” said Middleton. “Once we see people who are interested within our segment, we then go in and research our primary personas, make sure those people are in our databases and start doing more personalized and targeted outreach through marketing automation.”

Finding The Sweet Spot Between Personalization & Privacy

A common challenge for B2B marketers is achieving a healthy balance in catering to consumers’ desires for personalization and maintaining their privacy.

But a Forrester report, titled: “The Privacy-Personalization Paradox,” states that privacy and personalization aren’t mutually exclusive. Today’s buyers demand relevance and recognition, yet they are not thrilled with the fact that they don’t have complete control over the data marketers use to deliver that experience.

However, research shows that buyers are willing to share information about themselves in return for relevant content that will help them find solutions to their pain points. So, the key to a healthy balance between personalization and privacy really revolves around relevancy and transparency.

“Privacy is about giving people control of what and how their info is collected and used,” said Leslie Alore, Director of Corporate Strategy at Iron Mountain. “Personalization is about giving people a better experience that’s relevant and valuable to them. If you are transparent and consistent about exposing people to the data you collect and demonstrating you’re using it in a way that brings value to them, then that’s the perfect intersection of these two concepts.”

Personalization in B2B marketing will continue to be an important element in modern go-to-market strategies, and as buyers’ expectations evolve, marketers will need to focus heavily on maintaining authentic relationships through relevant, thoughtful messaging and being transparent with how they’re using buyer data to deliver on these expectations.

“Bringing humanity back into marketing and giving people some control over how their data is used is, is tremendously valuable,” said Forrester’s Khatibloo. “It’s also a really, really great way to protect and defend against any of these upcoming privacy regulations that are going to be hitting us over the next couple of years.”

For those looking to take the next step in their personalization strategies, Russo suggests keeping the end goal in mind and working backward to figure out how personalization could support that goal.

“By doing that, you improve the probability of getting the right strategy to collect the right data, and see if you can even collect that data,” said Russo. “I think the flip side risk is it’s easy to get lost in the trees across the forest here, where everybody is trying to do personalization at scale. But what’s that ultimate endpoint that you’re trying to get to? It’s very easy to get lost in the technical side of things and it’s also very operationally challenging to pull off. So, I think having the end in mind gives you the opportunity to have a dialogue around the data, and then around the resource requirements to execute that personalization.”

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