Getting personal with our B2B Marketing after GDPR

27th May 2018

The long-anticipated GDPR legislation came into effect at the end of last week, and, as it’s been approaching, personalisation in B2B marketing has been getting more and more attention. Since my last post – where I asked if our B2B customers even want personalisation – I’ve been seeing an awful lot on this topic throughout the marketing media. And I have to ask again: are we getting confused about what we’re trying to achieve with our B2B marketing efforts?

Getting personal after GDPRPhoto by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

25th May has now come and gone, and in the run-up to GDPR implementation we’ve all been bombarded with opt-ins/opt-outs and updated privacy policies from every company who might hold our personal data. It all feels more than just a bit frantic.

Yet in our headlong rush to embrace and effectively use all the customer data available to us, many of us seem to have forgotten just what we’re meant to be using this data for.  As Brian Macreadie points out in his latest post on B2B Marketing ‘The ageless truth behind GDPR and opt-ins’ – we should be embracing the legislation. GDPR provides us with an opportunity to rethink how – and if – we are winning the hearts, minds and preferences of our B2B customers.


Relevance and Consistency

I had 2 moments of epiphany this past week. In the first, Chris Bailey from The Marketing Practice commented on my post about personalisation in B2B:

I think most people receiving marketing would take ‘relevant’ above ‘personalised’ any day of the week. A lot of technology focuses on personalising because that’s the data that’s available to use, but that doesn’t make the output relevant and the mismatch is where people are uncomfortable.

The second was when I read a note from Mark Schaefer on Facebook titled ‘Three words that guide all marketing strategy today’. In this note, Mark suggests:

In a world of ever-growing complexity, focusing on these three words may provide effective direction to any marketing strategy.

Those 3 words are: Relevant; Superior; Consistent.

Alongside Chris’s comment, this was a lightbulb moment for me. We’ve all talked about our content in the context of relevance to our customers for some time. But my barrage of opt-in emails has brought home to me just how much content I continually receive that has no relevance to me whatsoever.

Technology has made consistency in our marketing efforts more achievable. But are we merely being consistently irrelevant?


What is personalisation anyways?

All the sources I’ve looked at define personalisation in nearly the same way – the use of data and technology to create and deliver individualised content, so that we can communicate with each of our customers as individuals. The theory is that it’s more effective than mass marketing or targeted marketing – both one-to-many approaches – through one-to-one, individual marketing.

I once received a huge chocolate bar with my name on the wrapper through the post at my place of business from a marketing agency (who was presumably trying to get my attention and thus my business). I saw that same day on Twitter someone (who also received the same thing with their own name on it) remark excitedly that this was a great example of B2B personalisation. Huh? To this day I can’t remember the name of the agency. Just my complete bewilderment.

I simply can’t see that this is the most effective use of our marketing resources. Sure, it’s been shown that personalised emails, for example, have a much higher open rate. But if the content is the same, is it still personalisation? What if I didn’t even like chocolate?

Further, are we actually mistakenly equating the term ‘personalisation’ with ‘relevancy’? Relevance is personal, but not necessarily unique to individuals. Shouldn’t we be more concerned that our marketing activity is relevant – and thus personal instead of personalised – for our audience? It’s about appropriate segmentation and targeting. It’s about understanding the challenges and issues that are important to our customers. Data is incredibly useful in helping us understand our customers, but as Chris also pointed out, we still need to have something useful to say.

Yet we take it as a given that we should be striving for greater personalisation with our marketing activity. I see so many headlines that declare the demand for personalisation is growing. But I think we may be misinterpreting this demand. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the demand is for relevance.


Words matter

I know I tend to go on about words, but words matter. I’ve written before that the words we speak and the language we use impacts how we think and how we behave. This word – personalisation – is being used throughout B2B marketing and I’m not persuaded it’s helping us move towards more productive or effective marketing thinking and activity.

Which leads me to once again question: Do our B2B customers even want personalised marketing? Or are we so enamoured of what we can do with all this lovely data that we’ve lost sight of what our customers actually want? Which I’m increasingly convinced has more to do with relevance than personalisation.


If you don’t have yours yet, check out my book B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement on my book page, and then buy it from Kogan Page publishers or Amazon everywhere.

B2B Marketing Strategy

Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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