In 2019, ‘personalisation’ was dubbed the marketing word of the year by the Association of National Advertisers. Since then, a quick Google search will inundate you will results telling you why your B2B strategy needs to get more personal and how buyers want more personalised communications and advertising – but is this really the case?

With marketers in the B2B space constantly falling foul of the latest trends, personalisation at scale, that is, a form of highly segmented targeting, appears to be the newest buzzword in the industry. However, a recent report from Gartner on marketing trends predicted that by 2025, 80% of marketers who have heavily invested in personalisation will scale back their efforts in this area, mainly due to demonstrable lack of ROI.

Personalisation and paid media

There are a multitude of platforms and services that offer highly specific personalisation targeted towards the B2B sector. With personalisation tools, it is possible to target specific companies with custom messaging on your website and ads, dynamically changing them based on who is viewing your content.

In theory, this sounds great. The more personalisation, the better. In practice, however, implementation of this can be both overkill and extremely hit or miss in terms of success rates. Time and cost aside (which are both considerable), such a system often depends on prospective buyers viewing your page or ads from a particular company network, rather than a home network, for instance.

From a paid media perspective, it is both easier and more effective to simply use broader industry, company and job title-based targeting. This offers enough personalisation to still present useful and relative targeting options, without getting so granular as to be more effort than reward.

Problems with personalisation

Even if personalisation were the answer to all your B2B marketing woes, one core problem remains: personalisation requires that marketers have relatively in-depth and accurate data on individual buyers, which in turn relies on third party data.

Putting privacy concerns aside, one study from MIT and Melbourne Business School found the accuracy of such data to be highly questionable. Gender was accurate only 50% of the time, while age had an accuracy rating of just 25%. In terms of B2B-specific data, information such as job title, company size and other useful data points change on a regular basis, with many third party providers failing to keep up – in fact, at least 30% of B2B data decays every year, with this jumping to 70% in high employee turnover sectors.

Compounding this, research conducted by Forrester found that only 12% of B2B marketers stated they had high confidence in the accuracy of the data they were using. Given the low accuracy and confidence in the data being used, is this really enough to base costly personalisation strategies on, especially those targeted towards new audiences?

In these instances, personalisation that isn’t accurate or relevant to who you are trying to target actively harms both brand image and buyer confidence than no personalisation at all.

When does it make sense to personalise?

A study from the Advertising Research Foundation found that participants were no more likely to share data based on receiving more personalised advertising as a result, indicating a lack of value placed in personalised advertising more generally. In an age where the average B2B buyer is savvier than ever before, and prefers a “self-serve” approach to their research phase, does such personalisation merely risk your brand coming across as overly intrusive or tone-deaf towards modern privacy expectations?

Though the efficacy of personalising towards “cold” audiences is questionable, that doesn’t mean personalisation has no merit at all. Once a prospect is ready to interact with your brand, such as when they complete a form on your website, or willingly sign up to receive email updates or newsletters, it becomes infinitely easier to create effective personalisation.

Compared with personalised paid media ads, email isn’t just faster, cheaper and more effective at conversion in the B2B space, but also presents the perfect medium for tailoring communications to where your prospects are in the sales funnel.

In a similar way, a personalised approach to sales is all but vital, allowing you to adapt your communications much more accurately and confidently to an audience that is already warmed up to what you have to say.

Personalisation at scale presents multiple problems for B2B marketers. Along with privacy concerns and data accuracy, offering a truly personalised experience to new audiences is both complicated and variable in terms of success. Making the most of tight marketing budgets means focusing on the activities where personalisation has the most impact such as email communications and sales.

Sam Martin-Ross, UK MD, Eskimoz
UK Managing Director at Eskimoz | + posts

Sam is UK Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Eskimoz, specialising in delivering data-driven campaigns for scale-up businesses. He is passionate about working closely with B2B businesses to help them grow, and loves to see the impact of his work on a company’s growth.