Personalized Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid

Personalized Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Most of my posts are about marketing for tech companies. Here we can learn a lesson from an offending car dealership, because the principles are the same regardless of industry.

Today I received a supposedly personalized letter from a local car dealership. I’ve purchased a new car from that same dealership in the past.

The number 10 envelope appeared to be handwritten. There was no indication the letter was from a company. Inside, the letter with fake handwriting stated, “John, Still have your 2011 Malibu? We need quality, pre-owned vehicles…”

I received this letter on February 22, 2019.

I’m familiar with this marketing tactic. The hope is that I will call and tell a salesperson I no longer have that particular car, but I have another car I’m hoping to get rid of. That may have worked in 1987, but today’s consumer is smarter than that. So are buyers of technology.

Personalized Marketing Should Actually be Personal

Marketing needs to be personalized, and all companies are more aware than ever of the demand for this. Personalized marketing in the past may have been adding my first name to a form letter and using a handwriting font. To use that tactic today is shortsighted, and I’d even say disrespectful to the buyer. I haven’t had that car since 2013, for the record.

The offending car dealership has a record, somewhere, that I am eligible for a GM employee discount, thanks to my father-in-law. In fact, since there has been a GM production plant in my area since 1966, a large number of people in the region have been eligible for that same discount. It’s important to note that the discount is applied the same no matter which dealership sells you the car, if they are honest. In fact, good sales people over the years have advised buyers with the discount to verify they’re being given an accurate discount. Once you find the car you like, just get the VIN number and call any other dealership in the same county (because of the tax rate). The total sale price, or lease payment, should be the exact same to the penny. I’ve done it. 

So given that benefit, it doesn’t matter where I buy the car from, because the price is the same regardless of the dealership. Personalized marketing would acknowledge my discount eligibility and offer to give me great service in a way other dealerships do not.

I leased a new car for myself in December, and one for my wife in February. The car salesman, not from this offending dealership, delivered each car to my house both times, and drove back the cars we were leasing. He handled the majority of the paperwork in his own office and brought to our home the documents for us to review and sign. He eliminated the three to four hour process all car buyers find miserable and saved us hours of our day, twice. That’s personalized service.

Knowing My Name Isn’t That Personal

We’ve all heard how much people love to hear their own name. That’s true. Personalized marketing goes beyond using a customer’s name. Further, just as getting a person’s name wrong can make your marketing backfire, so can stating information that’s wrong, Worse, discussing information that is outdated makes buyers question your competence.

Knowing someone’s name is the first step personalization. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of steps in delivering personalized marketing. Since I previously purchased a car from that dealership with outdated marketing, they should have enough data to make smarter marketing decisions.

A more effective personalized letter would have said something like this, “John, we know you’re eligible for a GM employee discount. You can buy a car anywhere. But if you choose our dealership, we offer A, B, and C to make your car buying experience faster and easier. We haven’t had the pleasure of serving you since you bought your 2011 Malibu, so we’d like to offer you X just to come in and take a test drive.”

Listening, and Data, are at the Heart of Personalized Marketing

Tech companies are challenged with personalizing their marketing. If your company has five solutions, then sales, marketing and IT should be working together to grow and refine your database. Then you can accurately personalize marketing campaigns. The sales team probably knows that a certain company will never buy Solution B from you. Maybe the CEO’s brother has a similar solution. Why send that CEO campaigns about Solution B? You’re only putting up walls between you and your prospects.

Even smaller tech companies have enough data to build a more personalized marketing experience. Should you use a prospect’s first name? Yes, provided you’re aware he goes by Bob and never Robert. If you don’t have enough accurate data to personalize a campaign, it’s best not to feign a relationship that doesn’t exist. It will only alienate your customer.

So to recap personalized marketing pitfalls to avoid:

1. Be genuine, and don’t try to trick people

2. Offer real value

3. Be accurate, and if you can’t be, don’t try too hard to personalize

All buyers are people. Our demand for personalized marketing grows every day, but the demand for genuine relationships and interaction has always been high. 

Why Winning Awards Doesn’t Help You Win More Business

Why Winning Awards Doesn’t Help You Win More Business

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Promoting your tech company as award-winning can be backward marketing. Here’s what to do instead. 

Years ago, I headed into a restaurant for lunch with my coworkers. In the parking lot several cooks were barbecuing and smoking ribs. In front of them a large banner read, “Award Winning Ribs.”

My witty coworker asked, “Who voted?”

Winning an award by a third party does not indicate in any way the work helped the client grow. There is no shortage of organizations offering an award to businesses, as long as you pay them for the recognition. This is so backward. For $2000, I can make Creative Stream Marketing a Top 10, award-winning marketing agency, top web design firm, graphic design firm, or anything else I want.

People love recognition and are, sadly, willing to pay for it.

I happened to get an email from a representative at a (maybe) wonderful company. His email signature included a statement that it was an award-winning X type of company. Ironically, that statement was hyperlinked to the company granting the “awards.” It clearly stated that for $2500, you could receive an award and be listed in the top 10. I can’t get those red flags out of my mind. It made me question that company’s credibility and competence.

Most buyers of technology solutions and professional services won’t bother to investigate these awards. In part because they know these awards are meaningless and don’t bring them value. In part because they care about what you can do for them, not your award.

Even if you might receive a legitimate honor, here are three reasons why it’s backward to use “award-winning” in your marketing.


Most of the “awards” I’m referring to here are those you pay for. They are offered as packages you can purchase. The larger the package, the more supposed benefits you are given.

There are legitimate awards or recognitions granted by objective, third-party research firms. In these cases, an objective team of analysts studies the various technologies and solutions available in the industry. They then publish a list of top tech solutions.

When an objective party says your technology or solution is the best, you can, and should, promote that. It can open doors not previously possible for your company.

The difference is you can’t buy that recognition.

3 Reasons Why Promoting Your Business as Award-Winning is Backward Marketing

1. Marketing should be about your customer, not you. 

You’ve won a legitimate award, meaning, not one you paid for? That’s wonderful. Celebrate with your team.

A former boss once told me he was irritated with the ad agency our company used because they had a shelf full of awards but he felt that same agency didn’t do much to help increase business. Isn’t that what your business should be about? The most effective businesses make everything about their customers, not themselves. I’m not interested in any company’s self-aggrandizement. What can you do for me?

2. It’s the wrong way to build credibility.

Awards should be reserved for restaurants and pies, not used to build credibility by a tech company or marketing agency. Ironically, some of the best restaurants in any city are not award-winning. The food is so good, word gets around. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant simply because it won an award? Maybe, but awards are never the primary driver of restaurants, let alone tech companies.

Most of my family and many friends have been buying pizza at an iconic pizza place in my town for over 50 years, in spite of an overabundance of authentic pizza shops. This hometown favorite ships pizzas around the world (frozen) because once you taste it, no other pizza comes close. They may have won awards, but most locals wouldn’t know that.

This is obvious but worth mentioning. Have you noticed no one ever bought a Mercedes because it’s an award-winning company? Did you buy your iPhone because Apple won an award? Does Tiffany & Co. sell award-winning diamonds? Exactly.

3. It’s very 1980’s-ish.

Marketing yourself as award-winning is very old-school. It disregards social media, the internet, and the thinking of current culture. Who hasn’t Googled a restaurant or hotel, or read a product review on Amazon? That’s what buyers (who are people) do today. Award-winning really means nothing. Have you ever heard a friend say he booked a certain hotel because it won an award? Me either.

Did you find shoes you love on Amazon? What matters more, that the shoes are award-winning or that numerous reviewers said the shoe was really comfortable and didn’t wear out like other shoes?

3 Things to Do Instead of Promoting Your Business as Award-Winning

1. Share a client testimonial.

This can be a simple, one-sentence quote or a 30-second video. When I say simple, I mean free, fast, and not a major project.

Maybe your client is willing to take her phone a record a quick testimonial like this: “Hi, I’m Jenny from ABC Company. We had a challenge with X and looked to XYZ Company for help. Within three months, our efficiency and profit dramatically increased. They are true partners with us.”

You can add a strong quote to a graphic and post it on social media. Share it on your website for longevity.

2. Create a case study or success story.

Case studies can be powerful opportunities to share your success stories. In fact, many companies now refer to case studies as success stories. It’s less stuffy and a bit more positive. Further, success stories can be brief without page after page of details. They can be an interesting recap of how you helped a company improve in some way.

Case studies can take many forms and can be presented in various formats. Typically, case studies present a problem/solution story. Many times, your client won’t give permission for you to mention their name. You can still tell your success story in a way that resonates with your prospects.

3. Design an Infographic.

Infographics are a modern way to present facts. They tell, in visual form, stats you’re proud of. They can include stats like this:

  • How many minutes it takes to sign up
  • How much money a customer can save in a year
  • How long (or short) it takes your customer to see ROI
  • How much time your solution can save a mid-sized business
  • Number of tasks or dollars you manage for your clients

Note the items above are about your customer, not you. That’s how it should be.

To me, most of the time I see a company promote itself as award-winning, it’s a red flag. Follow the points above. Make your marketing about your customers, not yourself.

As for credibility, your work should speak for itself. When our clients tell us they’re seeing results of our work, that’s far more satisfying than paying to be recognized.

Marketing’s Artificial Claims of Artificial Intelligence

Marketing’s Artificial Claims of Artificial Intelligence

Reading Time: 3 minutes

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is the new favorite word for marketers. Is Artificial Intelligence just a marketer’s fancy way of describing an algorithm or advanced automation?

What many companies call their AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is really just glorified Input/Output. AI makes for good marketing, but in many cases, it’s just not true.

This Conversation Really Happened

A buyer for a global company asked me a not-so-surprising question regarding our technology solution. I’ll explain here what I shared with him.

Buyer: Can you explain your AI?

Me: Excuse me?

Buyer: Can you explain how your AI works? We’re comparing the AI of each company we’re considering using.

Me: We don’t have any AI. Neither do they.

Buyer: Excuse me?

Me: AI is an overused, sometimes inaccurate, term, and many tech companies use it loosely. What many companies today have is highly complex IFTTT or input/output. In the tech world, IFTTT is neither artificial nor intelligence. It’s basic computer functions, even if it’s many happening at once.

Buyer: So none of these solutions are really AI?

Me: Correct. It just a marketer’s way of getting attention when presenting a solution. It’s the modern way of saying you have advanced technology.

This isn’t a slam to marketers. I am one. I’m simply calling for some honesty, if not accuracy, in how technology is marketed. 

Use human intelligence to share how you can make a difference instead of throwing AI around.

That’s AI: Actually Intelligent.

I had the pleasure (and brain strain) of hearing Dr. PG Madhavan share his expertise on Artificial Intelligence. He shared that most of what is called AI (Artificial Intelligence) today is really IA (Intelligence Augmentation). Here are some examples of what people call AI today, even though these are not really artificial intelligence.

  • Local Grocery Store: Your store may give you a coupon for dark chocolate. That’s based on your “market basket.” It knows, based on what you’ve purchased compared to all other shoppers, you’re 88% likely to purchase dark chocolate if offered a coupon.
  • Facebook’s “People You May Know” Feature: It’s not really AI at all, but a very basic algorithm. People act as if it’s magic. If 128 of your friends know Bob Smith, it’s a statistical probability that you likely know him too. Further, if your phone was in the same room as Bob’s, it’s even more likely you know him. That’s not real AI. Side note: most people have the same internal conversation with Facebooks People You May Know. “Sure, I know him, and that’s why I don’t want to be friends with him.”
  • A Grocery Chain: Might use an algorithm to discover for the past 3 years, most shoppers pay full price for Starbucks Christmas Blend. I’m drinking it as I write this. It takes a human to understand the cultural significance of Christmas, how it emotionally affects shoppers, and why many are willing to pay full price for Christmas Blend the week before Christmas. True artificial intelligence would have been able to log any new product and know whether it will sell full price in a given week without historical data.
  • Your favorite GPS App: If the shortest distance between point A and point B is through a dangerous neighborhood, you need human intelligence to make a good decision. I’m sure GPS technology will eventually help us steer clear of neighborhoods with high crime rates. Today, intelligence augmentation can only tell us how to get somewhere quickly. It can’t promise the journey will be safe. Wouldn’t that be smart?

AI: Marketing’s New Favorite Word

By definition, artificial intelligence is:

  1. the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  2. a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.
  3. the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

Back to my conversation with the global company that asked about our AI. I knew a competitor was billing itself as an AI company, when the truth is that it was glorified input/output. True AI has a degree of good decision making based on historical information and can make decisions not previously programmed. Even better, true AI can make smart decisions without much historical data. If that is true AI, there is much less AI than what is being marketed today.

AI Does Exist

You may be selling technology that’s impacting an industry. It used to be referred to as high tech. Now, marketers, sales teams, and entire companies feel the pressure to talk about their AI.

Unfortunately, highly complex input/output can benefit so many industries, but it just doesn’t sell. Marketing 101 says to be truthful in advertising. Why? If a company doesn’t have the moral compass to be honest, then the other reason to be truthful is that buyers eventually discover the truth on their own. Isn’t it better to have the marketing messages be accurate than to explain that your solution is not “actually” AI, even though you sold it as AI?

Want to market your technology more effectively? Use human intelligence to share how you can make a difference instead of throwing AI around. That’s AI: Actually Intelligent.

How to Write a Case Study When the Client Won’t Give Permission

How to Write a Case Study When the Client Won’t Give Permission

Reading Time: 2 minutes
This is an unfortunate but common B2B marketing story. Maybe your business has landed a major client, such as Walmart, Best Buy, Lowes, or some other Fortune 500 company. It’s a big deal to you and your company, and you want to boost your credibility by letting people know a client this large trusts you.
What are the chances that large company will let you write a case study about them? Probably zero.
I’m going to explain the reasons this is usually the case and provide practical advice on how to make it happen.
  1. First, large companies don’t have the time or interest to help a tiny company gain credibility.
  2. Second, case studies often reveal a weakness or other lack, and large companies don’t want investors to know they have a weakness.
  3. Third, corporate legal departments. Enough said there. We all understand it’s their job to reduce risk, but if you’ve ever worked with a legal department, you already know the answer is no. The answer will be no tomorrow as well.
  4. Fourth, a common scenario is that the larger the company your client is, the less of their business you can affect. For example, I provided marketing to a tech company that created a software solution for Walmart. To be specific, they wrote software for Walmart’s human resource department. To be more specific and more honest, they wrote software for one small segment of the HR department of Walmart. Basically, most of the HR department didn’t even know it needed help or that my client existed.

So how can you share the story of your work and boost your credibility?

  1. Write the complete case study. Make it as strong as possible of a success story, but don’t go so far or reveal so much that it causes your client to reject the entire thing.
  2. Write quotes from your company and a quote from your client’s project lead.
  3. Design it. Don’t just send a messy Word document, but a well-designed PDF suitable to post on your website. Show the client you will present them professionally.
  4. Write your content so it presents your client in a positive light. Obviously, if they didn’t have a problem they wouldn’t need a solution. But you don’t need to give the dirty details. For example, if you provided a software solution to prevent fraud, you don’t need to say that one of their employees stole $85,000 from them. Simply say, “The client was seeking a software solution to improve business efficiency while putting in place the strongest security measures available.”
  5. If the answer is absolutely no, ask for the next best thing. Ask if you can use it internally for a sales person to share with a prospect. You might get a yes for that. We did this for a client, and across the top of the PDF, it was clearly marked, “Confidential. Internal Use Only. Not for Public Distribution.” That gave the large company a little more comfort, and it wasn’t posted on the client’s website.
  6. Be anonymous. If your client absolutely refuses to let you do a case study, write it without naming them. You’ll need to be creative because you definitely don’t want to offend your client and risk the hurting relationship. Keeping a strong client relationship matters more than your case study. Instead of naming Walmart, you might say, “An international retailer with over 11,000 locations in 28 countries…” Most people might guess that’s Walmart, but if your client is smaller, most people won’t know. You could say, “Our client is an electronics retailer with 84 stores in 28 states.”

A client is more likely to approve a case study that’s well-written, accurate, not embellished, and presents them in a good light.