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Making a Meal Out of Personalization

Making a Meal Out of Personalization Article Featured Image

Understand and enable personalization in your business via cooking.

Personalization is a topic that can strike fear in marketers. The amount of coordination needed among databases, technology systems, and marketing stakeholders can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Breaking down the key components of personalization and developing a common framework for understanding and enabling this valuable marketing capability can feel strikingly similar to the common task of preparing a meal.

 As a home cook, my mission is to use ingredients smartly to make great meals. That journey starts with going to a grocery store or two to gather the raw ingredients. Then I organize and curate the ingredients so they are ready for cooking. For example, to make a garden salad, I need to rinse and chop cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce leaves into the right-sized pieces before I can mix them together in my salad bowl.

When I move on to the main course, meal prep becomes all about mastering the order (sequence), temperature and time (length of cooking). Finally, I serve the meal. If your family members are like mine, they’re quick to share their feedback — what they love, what they tolerate and even what they hate. Getting those insights helps inform future meal decisions. And through repetition, cooking skills improve, resulting in ever-more successful meals.

Does this sound familiar?

As marketing masters, our mission is to use data smartly to create effective communications that serve a purpose, resonate with individual needs and preferences, work within a marketing budget, and, most importantly, offer a satisfactory experience for those who deliver and those who receive the messages.


1.      Gather data.

(Gather raw ingredients.)

2.      Organize and curate data.

(Organize and select food ingredients.)

3.      Orchestrate communications.

(Cook dishes in a particular order.)

4.      Send and measure in channels.

(Serve meals and receive feedback.)

5.      Assess across channels, and produce centralized knowledge and insights.

(Learn and improve meals over time.)


1.      Gather data.

Identify, capture and collect raw data from various sources — just as you might need to visit several stores to gather all the ingredients needed for a particular recipe. But you’re not assembling just any ingredients — you wouldn’t buy ice cream for your entrée, for example. The same is true for data. You need the right data; then you need to run preliminary data, parsing work to extract important information; and then you need to systematically store and manage that data.

2.      Organize and curate data.

We often think that after data has been captured, scrubbed and stored, we can directly apply it to marketing use. This is rarely true. Just as we need to chop vegetables before mixing them into a salad, we must purposefully curate data so that we can connect the dots, extract the meanings and then take action. Critical steps are often overlooked. Think about a restaurant operating without a sous chef. Although master chefs can prepare and cook dishes, their efficiency would be reduced, and the food might not be consistent from one plate to the next. In our personalization model, we recommend organizing data into distinct blocks that are each managed independently from one another. This approach enables agile development and deployment.

3.      Orchestrate communications.

Cooking involves making the right decisions about order, temperature and time. Similarly, as marketers, we’re required to make the correct decisions about campaigns and communications — vertically within a channel (for example, optimizing email subject lines or bidding in pay-per-click) and horizontally across channels (for example, selecting the next best time to engage and optimal touchpoints). Today, nearly all campaigns operate in and across channels. However, those decision systems are complicated, and most choices are based on manufactured rules and business judgment. The need to scale, precisely measure and coordinate across many channels makes advanced analytics an attractive option to add to the marketer’s tool kit. We find that personalization programs incorporate a planful blend of these approaches.

4.      Send and measure in channels.

Now it’s time to serve the meal and find out how it’s received by each of your diners. Orchestration decisions have been made and channels act on these accordingly. Paramount to success is a thoughtful, cohesive measurement plan to ensure that marketers can understand personalization performance across channels. This measurement approach is systematically fed through each channel and is foundational to understanding and measuring marketing in customer- and channel-centric ways. Within this measurement approach are the metrics that channel owners and subject-matter experts can use to improve channel-delivery efficiency and to optimize its performance. Oftentimes, immediate responses occur in each channel and provide direct feedback to the campaign in real-time or nearly real-time. As marketing becomes more customer-centric, approaches that contemplate things, such as centralized message management (including consistent, omnichannel message tagging and audience-message relationship definition), become more important considerations. Developing technology-agnostic processes around these things creates the opportunity for strategic marketing-technology-platform integration, which leads to efficiency, flexibility and scalability.

5.      Assess across channels, and produce centralized knowledge and insights.

Over time, you serve a greater variety of meals to many unique family members and collect a rich amount of feedback and performance data. Many insights can be garnered from this. While the previous personalization step focused on decentralized channel delivery and measurement to enhance efficiency, this fifth step includes creating a structure to amass centralized insights. These insights must be generated and shared across channel owners and discipline teams for ongoing testing and optimization.

Personalization is best served when performed repetitively and consistently in a measurable and scalable way. If you’re regularly creating tasty meals that please people, there’s no doubt that you’re following a process that works well. Likewise, personalization demands a framework that seamlessly connects and activates all critical functional pieces and discipline teams. Tasks are then divided and conquered within a centralized plan.

Few people can pull off a successful holiday dinner on the first try. Experiences built up over time enable a home cook to provide that superb meal. The same is true of personalization. With the right plans, persistent practices, and passionate commitment, we as marketers can ultimately achieve it.

Shi Bu serves as senior vice president of Data Intelligence Practice for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based, data-driven loyalty, experience and customer-engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.