How to Add a Personal Touch to Your Marketing Automation

You can personalize your marketing automation without sounding like a robot. It just takes some careful thinking and knowing exactly when to use a human touch.
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The days of “one size fits all” marketing are over. If you want to stay competitive now, you need to talk to different types of customers … differently.

But I bet you already knew that. And you don’t just know it – you apply it to your business all the time. You probably have well-defined user personas, for instance. Or you segment your email messages. Or you go all the way to personalizing them as best you can.

And that’s all good. Most of us (successfully or not) are really trying to achieve the one to one marketing ideal that Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote about more than 20 years ago.

Have we achieved that goal? Not perfectly … but we’re definitely closer. And that’s largely thanks to marketing automation. Even if we don’t always execute it perfectly, the rewards of marketing automation are so attractive that we’re willing to fall a little short sometimes.

Rewards like this:

Those are some impressive results. But the returns on personalization are pretty darn good, too.

So it’s reasonable to assume that if you could combine these two tactics ‒ automation and personalization ‒ you’d be downright dangerous.

But there are levels of sophistication with personalization. Simply dropping in a first name now and again is just the beginning. And it’s even possible to deliver something even better than personalization: a real person.

So here are a few ways to add the human touch to your marketing automation (and to hopefully help get you your next raise).

1. Use their name.

This is the simplest, most basic type of personalization. So basic that some of you will be turned off that I even suggested this. But for those of you who aren’t using your prospects’ and your customers’ first names, it’s time to start.

Don’t limit yourself to using first names only in the salutation of your emails, either. There are plenty of other places to slip them in:

  • On your website, with a little welcome overlay (typically in the bottom right corner of the screen).
  • On landing pages
  • In direct messages sent via social media channels
  • Via SMS messages
  • In apps

You can take this simple type of personalization (you’re basically just plugging information into a data field) another level up. Just use different information than someone’s first name. Like their title, their company, or their last product ordered. Any little bit of personalized information will help you to get their attention.

2. Use their interests.

If you know someone has recently downloaded a whitepaper about a specific subject, that’s actionable information. If you had, say, some dynamic content blocks in your email newsletter, then you could automatically select which articles to feature for them based on that past behavior.

You could also use that past behavior to make a recommendation about which piece of content they should view next when they’re on your website. Overlays or sliders can show short messages that make suggestions like that.

Or you could also send them a text message when you publish new content they might be interested in. You could send a message like that via a social media platform, too.

These are all standard moves … but maybe you can do one better. So let your sales reps or customer service staff contribute, too. After all, sales and customer service are often the only ones who have actually spoken with these people. And even a short conversion can reveal a lot about what someone is very interested in, or what they’re worried about.

Remember to leave some room in your content recommendation engine for sales or customer service to recommend a few topics. This will not only make your messages more targeted, it will also show prospects and customers your company is listening and can rapidly respond to their needs. It also coordinates all the customer touch points better; ideally marketing and sales and customer service should cooperate.

3. Use the information they’ve given you from interactive content.

We love interactive content. And not just because it’s cool. Interactive content gets better engagement and is more memorable. It’s also a fantastic way to gather information about your users.

They’ll be more willing to give you that information, too. Who wouldn’t rather fill out an online calculator than complete another form? Especially if the calculator gives them actionable information?

The same goes for online assessments, quizzes, and other interactive tools. These are terrific opportunities to both be useful to your prospects and to fill up your database with highly actionable information. All that information can go towards feeding your content recommendation engine, or it can show a sales rep exactly how to help.

4. Leverage location-based marketing.

Some of the more sophisticated marketing platforms will now let you send messages to prospects or customers who are in a certain geographic area. Maybe it’s the main hall of the conference you’re at, or near a branch office. Or near one of your competitors’ branch offices.

These location-triggered messages are often sent via SMS. They have to be done correctly, too, or you’ll tip from the helpful type of personalization into the creepy stalker-ish kind. But this tactic absolutely works, and it’s new enough that you might be able to get an edge on your competition.

5. Show personalized information in an app.

Apps aren’t just for B2C marketers. In fact, because so many B2Bers have such sophisticated products, an app just makes more sense. There’s more education required in the B2B buying process, for one thing. And usually more ways to customize the product. All those special situations merit tailored information. And apps are great for that.

Apps aren’t just good for collecting information from people either, of course. You can also use them to display personalized information. Consider a “dashboard” main page where a trial user can see all their stats.

6. Bring in a real person.

Any good marketing automation system knows its limits. It’s ultimately there to serve its human managers – not to replace them. So build in some key moments where a sales rep might make a call. Or offer the prospect a chance to make that call.

These prompts may work best if you don’t make them too pushy. For instance, it may be better to offer to answer people’s questions and address their problems rather than to just keep urging them to “schedule a demo.”

You might get even better results if you acknowledged a universal human need: to believe we’re special. Maybe closing a piece of content with “Got a special situation? Click here to talk to a specialist” might get you more business than pushing demos.

Of course, once you’ve got the person on the phone, if the conversation naturally develops enough to merit a quick demo, all the better.

7. Send a postcard.

You know everybody’s email inbox is overflowing, right? Usually it’s almost a lost channel.

But a snail mail inbox may be relatively empty. So consider sending a handwritten postcard to follow up and offer help.

Just a couple of sentences will do. And if you’ve got a stack of blank postcards handy and can use your marketing automation system to see a prospect’s activity, writing a postcard like this shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes. Not much longer than it would take to write an email, actually.

But because real mail gets so much more attention now than emails, that 5-7 minutes could generate a lot more return than a message sent into cyberspace.

8. Ask more questions.

Personalization works best when it’s based on ample information. We love the behavioral data, of course, but just asking your customers and prospects what they think is sometimes better. It’ll show you where your messaging isn’t working, for one thing.

This doesn’t require a sophisticated setup to manage. For example, you could just add an extra sentence to the bottom of your triggered emails, like:

“Was this helpful? Yes or No”

With “yes” or “no” linked so one click counts as a vote.

This strategy is extremely simple (and used in customer service help centers all the time). You could even add an extra level of service and give people a direct number to get live help. That’s a perfect way to deliver a real, personalized response to an automated message.


We all know that marketing automation saves time. It works because once we’ve defined our personas and their buyers’ journeys, we can set up and automate a series of messages to help educate prospects and persuade them to buy.

But that shouldn’t be all we do.

Nobody ever said marketing automation was made to leave people – real, live humans – out of the process. If anything, a good automation system should take on the lion’s share of the work specifically so the humans can step in at the times when only a human’s understanding will do.

We should use our marketing automation systems to kick the entire customer experience up a notch – not to remove people from the process. There are quite a few steps along the way where a human connection is needed.

To paraphrase a saying you’ve heard so many times, “people do business with people – not with marketing automation systems.” Good marketing automation systems just manage and optimize those communications.

Back to you

How does your company use personalized marketing automation messages? If you’ve discovered any tricks that aren’t mentioned here – please – share them in the comments.

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