Perfected Personalization Is Predicated on Planning

Personalization can unlock new levels of growth and shopper loyalty when executed well. When executed poorly, it can impede growth and drive shoppers away, possibly forever.

Over a series of five articles, I would like to share insights and best practices collected from working with multiple CPG manufacturers and retailers to harness the potential of personalization. Effective personalization planning can increase return on advertising spend (ROAS) by as much as 70 percent. Personalization enables marketers to address the complexities imposed by an increasingly fragmented media landscape. It also drives marketers to continuously navigate the changing purchase landscape, such as the evolving shopper, path to purchase, and the increasing popularity of ecommerce and mcommerce. Finally, personalization maximizes the potential of new technologies such as Big Data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

This article series will focus on five disciplines involved with rolling out a successful personalization strategy: planning, targeting, activation, measurement and optimization. Because all of these disciplines are related, failure to execute well on one impacts the success of the remaining; e.g., if the retailer or manufacturer develops an outstanding execution plan, but targets a suboptimal shopper group, results will suffer. This article also includes a use case created from a series of actual case studies to illustrate the process of personalization planning.

A successful personalization strategy begins with effective planning. Planning can be divided into several stages, including data planning, audience planning, media planning and planning for measurement. Effective planning also allows marketers to gain new learnings into shopper attitudes and behaviors. But first, because personalization is based on high-quality data, it’s important to understand how to evaluate existing data sets and to know the questions to ask data providers.

Data Planning

An often overlooked aspect of planning is the evaluation of the data sets you will be using. Typically, first-, second- and/or third-party data on in-store purchases, shopping behavior, income, lifestyle interests, family composition, and more are available to marketers, either “home grown” from the retailer’s data or purchased from data providers. Marketers should evaluate shopper data based on four criteria:

  • Source and Collection Techniques: It’s important to understand these techniques and ask questions such as “is the data provider passively or actively collecting data from consumers?” and “is the data survey, demographic, purchase or contextual data?” Answers to these questions will enable marketers to determine the value of the data set.
  • Data Quality Methodology: It's worth marketers’ time to take a deep dive into the quality of the data they will plan a campaign around. How the data set is collected, and how it is cleansed and distributed and protected?
  • Recency, Frequency, Consistency: Answers to questions about these factors can mean the difference between reaching someone at the precise point in their purchase cycle or completely missing a window of opportunity. This is especially important when purchasing data from outside data providers, who often don’t communicate data refreshment and its frequency.
  • Validated Versus Modeled Data: Puschase-based shopper data are a plus, as these shoppers are known buyers. When acquiring data from outside sources, marketers should ask what percentage is validated versus acquired through lookalike modeling.


It's possible to achieve 100 percent verified audience targets with the Big Data sets available today. One hundred percent deterministic audiences are extremely valuable and deliver three to four times the results as other audiences showing benefits that far outweigh the slightly higher cost per thousand (CPM).

Audience Planning

When starting a personalization campaign and trying to identify the highest-value target audience, the simplest question that can be devilishly hard to answer is, what is the high-value shopper group I want to impact and activate? Determining the right message that will drive the shopper to take the action that the manufacturer and retailer want is another difficult question. To determine the right audience, it’s important to look at a number of factors to help build out the right target to meet your brand objective. Understanding insights around brand penetration/buy rate, additional segmentation, buyer flow, new/loss/retained, volume drivers, trial and repeat, source of volume, brand share, brand entry, and basket analysis all help define which shoppers you should go after and with what message. 

An example of audience planning: The marketing team at a CPG manufacturer, while analyzing shopper behavior with a retailer partner, discovered that while most shoppers were price-sensitive and value-conscious, there was a cohort of buyers who purchased new, higher-priced natural lunchmeats and were less price-sensitive. Looking at their basket composition and total-store purchase behavior, marketers knew that compared with the average shopper, natural-lunchmeat buyers were also gravitating toward healthier options across all categories in the store and were flavor seekers.

The manufacturer and retailer worked together to use these insights as the basis for campaign planning, crafting messages geared toward increased awareness of healthy, natural items throughout the store.

Media Planning

Once marketers have identified the high-value shopper households, they need several additional insights to implement effective media planning: which households are most responsive to media; which media they prefer, e.g., mobile, email, video, TV, social media ; and what themes are the most related to media sensitivity. These insights enable marketers to connect individuals with the right message through the right vehicle.  

The second part of media planning revolves around the question of when and where shoppers are consuming media. Are they looking online as they put their lists together at home, or on the phone while in the store? Answers to these questions will inform the specific medium and message of an advertising or promotional campaign.

Finally, marketers need to make sure that they're clear on the call to action that they want a shopper to take, so it’s also transparent what they're measuring.

Back to the example: Marketers identified key media channels and programming that resonated with their natural/healthy shoppers to help inform their digital strategy. They also were able to identify key trade areas that overindexed on natural lunchmeat buyers, to integrate their digital strategy with their trade strategy, and prioritize certain markets for heavier execution.

Measurement Planning

Marketers should also anticipate different measurement approaches for different media.  For example, in TV planning, marketers will be continuously trying to improve viewership and targeting so they can buy more efficient networks and programs, with the ultimate goal of optimizing media spend efficiency through dynamic allocations. For digital campaigns, the focus is on buying more efficient publishers and frequency optimization.

Continuing the example: The team served versioned messages to the target cohort of natural-lunchmeat buyers and, within just three to four weeks into the campaign, were able to assess the strength of the campaign elements in driving sales. They were able to assess the impact of each creative by each target group, which publishers were performing best and which targeting cell was driving the most lift. Understanding which elements were most successful enabled the marketing team to reallocate dollars to the highest-performing targeting cells, publishers and creative, thereby optimizing the campaign’s performance. By reallocating mid-campaign, the program in the remaining weeks enjoyed a 28.4 percent sales uplift.

The role of measurement is more than to gauge the effectiveness of an existing campaign -- it also should generate a series of learnings that informs future campaigns. Having a proper learning agenda planned out will not only produce a number of strong insights, but also provide more intelligence about how to effectively plan, execute and replicate campaigns to drive the best uplift for different brands, channel and partner combinations.

To close out our example: The CPG manufacturer placed high priority on growing its brands by building more effective media campaigns. It rigorously focused on continually learning and reapplying, gaining insights and reducing waste in media plans to maximize existing media budgets.

The company focused on more real-time, quantified decisions, and is using the analyses to develop an in-depth learning agenda. Consequently, it has taken the following learnings and integrated them into its program going forward: 

  • Reassessed its percentage investment in underperforming channels and reallocated a portion of the budget to more efficient channels where it received a higher but more effective targeting CPM
  • Leveraged technology and increased its engagement through cross-device reach, hitting households on more channels, more frequently, to drive the greatest uplift
  • Invested more heavily in partners with location-based advertising capabilities, who were more likely to serve impressions to consumers when they were likely to purchase


Overall, the manufacturer has reconsidered the investment strategy across channels and components. It's reallocating spend toward different partners with more impactful technology, and testing using fewer partners with optimal performance, to understand the sweet spot between most impactful channels and most desired results.

This impressive example of sales uplift resulting from a well-executed personalization campaign underscores the importance of upfront planning. In my next article, I will delve into the details on effective targeting, sharing examples of do’s and don’ts from actual campaigns. Stay tuned!

About the Author

Jennifer Pelino

Jennifer Pelino is SVP, omnichannel media at Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

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