Marketers Can’t Deliver Personalization at Scale—Yet

David Ogilvy, the Father of Advertising said in 1963,  “What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.”

Programmatic advertising has brought incredible accuracy and efficiency to the marketing industry—brands can now tailor messages to the right person, at the right moment, in the right context and deliver that message in milliseconds.

Today, one hundred billion ad impressions reach customer every single day. Today’s marketers leverage behavioral, contextual, and algorithmic data to reach the right customer at the right time—but are they sending the right message?

There’s a growing frustration among marketers caused by the imperfect union of human creativity and data. The marketing tools available to manage data are far from sufficient. We’re still struggling to crack the code to organize and apply data to reach the level of performance digital marketing is capable of. These combined factors have made creative messaging at scale the number one issue facing marketers today.

According to a joint Digiday and Celtra study, nearly all marketers, 92 percent, believe creative messaging is more important than ever, yet 66 percent of marketers named lack of creative resources as their biggest obstacle to scaling personalized creative. It’s widely recognized that scaled personalization can only occur if human creativity can match the split-second precision of programmatic advertising. So how do we get there?

There are two solutions available to marketers to help with the creative gap: Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) and programmatic creative.

DCO automatically optimizes ad creative based on multivariate testing. DCO takes hundreds of slight variations of an ad—changing product images, calls-to-action, call-to-action placement, etc, and experiments with each of those variants. Eventually, the ad unit begins to show more of the changes that correlate with higher performance and phase out underperforming elements.

DCO can be great if you have the money to spend, and you’re running a large campaign for an extended period of time, but that’s rarely the case in today’s marketing world. The time it takes for each of these variations, sometimes hundreds or thousands of them, to gain statistical significance is too long for many marketing initiatives. To be honest, you’re not going to achieve the programmatic version of Mad Men’s carousel moment using DCO; that requires more human creativity.

Programmatic creative is more human, less machine. It is designed to streamline the creative process by automating routine tasks—applying templates and design patterns to inform what will likely perform best. It’s great at creating ads with similar creative for different sizes and contexts, and for generating local ad campaigns. These are tedious processes that can let designers focus on the creative part of their work, and less on logistics and applying data-driven insights to design.

To execute programmatic creative well, you need a robust team that can create variations of ads to address nuances of your market both before and during your campaign. Even with a robust team this is nearly impossible with today’s creative workflows. 70% of marketers say that it is difficult to customize ads once they’re in-market. The problem isn’t the technology–it’s the process.

Marketer’s are on the cusp of being able to send the right message at the right time to the right customer at scale. The technology has come a long way, however the model in which we use these tools is outdated. What’s needed for effective personalization at scale is an overhaul of the marketing process. The disconnected tools, talent, and people must be brought together into a streamlined system of project execution to deliver significant increases in the productivity, efficiency, and performance of marketing.   

DCO and programmatic are the proverbial ‘canaries in the coal mine’, signaling a much larger shift in how marketing get’s done. It’s time for the industry to do what it does best—get creative. There has been too much dependence on data-powered distribution. It has caused a huge gap between what technology is capable of, and what human intelligence, creativity, and strategy is contributing. We can’t send the right message to everyone just yet, but we’re on the right track.  

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