The 4 Pillars of Personalization: Audience, Context, Circumstance and Time

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After a decade of programmatic adoption, efficient buying is standard. Almost all brands use smart tools to reach specific audiences at scale, with 65% of worldwide digital media traded programmatically. But although most brands now strive for the advertising ideal of ‘right person, right place, right ad, and right time’ — they remain too narrowly focused on targeting just the right person.

Programmatic creative – building and serving dynamically creative ads – is the next rational step towards achieving the ideal. This progression is not just good for business, driving up to five-fold increases in return on spend, but also meets rising consumer demand for better creative tailoring.

The key to programmatic creative success is based on these four elements of effective personalization.

Going past the ‘who’: audience

Combining programmatic and personalization isn’t a new idea. Using data-driven delivery to make one-to-one connections en masse is another long-held dream for brands. But so far, targeting has stayed relatively broad; with buys focused on audience segments, instead of individuals. In other words, advertising is stuck on the basics of the ‘who’ factor.

Increasing personal relevance means building up from this initial foundation. Brands need to gain a deep understanding of the consumers they want to engage — interests, demographic traits, and cross-channel behavior — and use it to power their programmatic creative. For starters, each ad should be instantly aligned with particular needs and tastes. Then, brands must aim to maximize personal impact by tailoring ads to individual activity and locality.

Environmental impact: context

The environment an ad appears in makes a big difference to the way it’s perceived. Not only is it vital for brands to avoid negative associations, but they must also ensure ad creative ties in with the kind of experience an individual is having, including device and content type. At a simple level, ad formats should suit viewing screens, such as mobile, tablet or computer. And when it comes to content, matching ads to contextual subject matter is crucial.

For instance, say a luxury brand wants to promote designer travel luggage. The ads delivered to consumers visiting sports sites must be different from those seen alongside lifestyle articles if they want to optimize in-the-moment resonance, and drive a positive response. So, in practical terms that might mean dynamically selecting creative featuring tennis racket cases for sports fans or hardwearing yet stylish cases for those interested in yachting.

The here and now: circumstance

Similarly, the location of a consumer when they see an ad can vastly increase or reduce how meaningful messages are; as well as their inclination to take action. As a result, brands must align ads with multiple geographical variables, such as region or town and local weather, and whether an individual is working, driving, at home or shopping. A music events company, for example, will have a better chance of encouraging an individual to buy tickets if it serves creative promoting concerts in neighboring cities; similarly, an entertainment firm is more likely to drive sales with ads for nearby waterparks in hot weather. 

Not forgetting the ‘when’: time

Timing considerations are twofold for personalization. Firstly, there is determining the best situational fit; adjusting ads to time of day or week. At 10am on a Monday, a consumer may be writing an urgent report and irritated by desktop ads, whereas 11am on a Saturday could provide an ideal opportunity to reach them with a tailored mobile ad.

Secondly, timing is paramount in building audience engagement and brand awareness across channels, in addition to guiding consumers along the marketing funnel. This opportunity is why brands need to align omni-channel campaign sequencing and stories with individual schedules, and position in the path to purchase. For example, an ad series for new customers highlighting summer getaway offers may begin in April, on Friday evening via PC; with subsequent messages including a countdown to June, and delivered across mobile and tablet.

Breaking programmatic creative implementation down into these four elements can help to simplify the process of delivering truly personalized, effective digital ads. Of course, this transition will bring challenges, such as the need to establish a new operating procedure for keeping tech, media agencies, and creative development in order. But with the right talent, audience insight, messaging framework and production approach, brands will finally have the means to fulfill the personalization vision, with ads that are always well-targeted, placed, and timed.

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