Defined personas and established communication styles are the hallmarks of old-school marketing personalization techniques. Today, organizations of all kinds target specific groups of their audiences with segmented content. But where engagement is concerned, the most effective communication is enabled by letting audience members identify their own groups.

If you want to put a label on the strategy, try this: personalization 4.0.

As former Urban Outfitters marketing executive Dmitri Siegel put it, personalization helps us “stop marketing dresses to men.” Sure, that statement might have originally been aimed at brands selling products — but it’s applicable to employees as well. With the growing amount of information online, event marketers need to get on the personalization bandwagon and use that data to personalize the event experience, not just the customer experience.

Updating Your Personalization Strategy

So what’s the best way to spark this new personalization strategy? First off, marketers should let their users lead the way. Content users select can be used to generate an individualized profile that includes a score or rating for given areas of interest. In other words, users should be able to define what they’re interested in by visiting pages and interacting with content.

Typically, however, users have to actively identify content they deem relevant. Twenty-seven percent of content marketers have been relying on manual processes for content creation and personalization while just 5 percent rely on full automation. Using AI and IoT sensors can help marketing teams recognize users as they search the web or walk the floor of a conference, then make content recommendations based on past behavior. That’s the next step toward better personalization.

Cues from these sensors can help AI programs construct a user profile based on attention-based metrics, offering subtle, immersive content suggestions. And as a bonus? More accurate user profiles help marketers spend their time more wisely. Think back to that 27 percent versus 5 percent. Imagine the time marketers save when processes are automated!

How Can AI Help?

Fun fact: There’s more than one way to effectively apply AI in this context. The best solution for you depends on what you’re looking for. But defining categories — and some parameters within those categories — can help identify the kinds of content interest your users most.

When you group communities by interest, you can send group members recommended content based on the ways they’ve engaged with content. Let’s say 50 of your event attendees have watched one of your videos, read your e-book, and downloaded a whitepaper all on the same general topic. Our AI tool can help identify and group those users together and send them more related content or encourage those 50 users to network or interact on the basis of their shared interest.

Then, at the event itself, you can give participants smart badges that collect information about which sessions, booths, and experiences they visit. If there’s a correlation between those actions and the content they consumed before the conference, your AI tool can help you build models for the communities to which attendees belong. Think forums for like-minded people to talk about best practices in their fields, all based on the interests they shared online and in person.

AI-enhanced personalization techniques such as these smart badges ensure that customization doesn’t come with Big Brother-level strings; they primarily benefit the attendees receiving those tailored touchpoints rather than exclusively existing to serve event-owner metrics. Anticipating what people want at an event can be a gray area riddled with offhand opinions. By understanding exactly what they want according to their past choices, you can analyze the input that users are giving in real time. As AI and machine learning continue to mature, you’ll be able to dig up more granular information that will, in turn, become more meaningful for users.

Launching Personalization 4.0

Events have a shelf life, sure, but there’s at least three to four months of communication leading up to that event. Then there’s the week on-site and follow-up communication. The way your attendees engage with — or, let’s face it, don’t engage with — that pre-event content can inform the content you should serve them week-of and in the following weeks.

Collecting this information and driving interactions with AI ensure that you’ll be better able to pivot and talk to audience groups you might not have noticed before. The major benefit of the bottom-up approach instead of top-down persona categories is that you’ll be able to stay agile with communications on the basis of new information and to not work with false assumptions that, over the course of a live event, you have no way to confirm until well after the fact.

Personalization is a data-heavy topic, but it doesn’t have to be with AI. Plus, it’s as much of an emotional connection as a statistical one. For events, incorporating personal elements of recognition such as user-submitted photos into the experience is paramount. Tailoring communications to be efficient is one thing, but it’s just as important to emotionally connect with your users to keep everyone engaged.

The strategy of increasing personalization has been the norm for marketers for several years now, but it’s really only getting started. As AI and machine learning become more powerful, you will be able to harness their potential to create an immersive experience that will last long after your events — and that follow-up communication — have ended.

Alex Nuttall

Alex Nuttall

Associate Partner and Digital Strategist at Kindle Communications

Alex Nuttall is an associate partner and digital strategist at Kindle Communications. Kindle creates strategic and innovative events, communications campaigns, digital solutions, and development programs.