Personalization at Scale: What Synthetic Media’s Rise Means for Brands

Advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) is giving rise to synthetic media. But is it something brands should lean into? Here, Christian Jones, head of marketing, Hawthorne Advertising, discusses synthetic media’s advantages and how marketers can integrate it into their brand strategy.

 

Synthetic Media Can Drive Personalization at Scale

Consumers expect personalization. It’s table stakes in 2022, and brands that can’t deliver the personalized content people expect are at risk of losing customers to competitors who can. But while companies of all sizes can define customer segments, it’s difficult to personalize digital content using traditional methods due to the expense. Smaller companies and startups, in particular, find the price tag impossible.

The emergence of synthetic media makes producing personalized content fast, easy, and affordable.

Synthetic media, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a catch-all term for the artificial production, manipulation, and modification of data and media by automated means, especially through the use of artificial intelligence algorithms.” In sum, it’s content produced by technology, not by humans directly. The most visible type of synthetic media at this stage is “deepfakes.” While there are countless creative examples, the Tom Cruise deepfake is often referenced based on his global familiarity and an admirable character impression. But what if customers could interact with your brand’s spokesperson or representative as a deepfake, as museum visitors in Florida did with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí? This kind of interaction could be game-changing.

Deepfakes (and their more nefarious implications) aside, synthetic media has many non-video applications that are immensely useful, including AI-written text generation, music composition, realistic human photogeneration, voice synthesis, and more. As technology advances, the toolsets for creation will become easier and more accessible.

For specific examples of how synthetic media may be of immediate use to brands, consider the avatar as a virtual spokesperson and brand representative. What if technology could render your products already on a consumer or an avatar that represents your target audience? It’s easier to see yourself buying shoes or a new hoodie if you’ve already tried it on, creating brand affinity within audience segments.

In Roadrunner, the Anthony Bourdain documentary, filmmakers leveraged synthetic media to create a realistic voice-over from Bourdain that he never actually voiced. Synthetic media also creates new possibilities for companies with a global customer base. This is deeply distressing to anyone who knew or loved the late author and television star. But it does illustrate the possibilities of editing and creating video content with synthetic media.

After developing video content with a host speaking a message in one language, synthetic media toolsets make it simple to translate a video message and “voice-over” into dozens of other languages. Creating new ad spots without additional voice-over recording, reshooting, or dubbing? It’s almost unheard of. Script changes are also a snap — edit the script, and the facial movements and VO follow along. The tools to generate synthetic media can essentially eliminate traditional “linear” production processes for localization, customization and personalization.

How Synthetic Media Will Evolve in the Near Term

The advancements in the production capabilities to generate synthetic media are evolving quickly, so it’s a good idea for brand marketers to know its advantages and understand its limitations. Currently, one of those limitations is the uncanny valley phenomenon. As the technology evolves and target audiences become accustomed to synthetically generated content, that will likely be less of a concern. But a measured approach over the next 2-4 years is probably best.

Synthetic media is already making inroads with consumers, and the acceptance rate of the emerging technology may follow a trajectory similar to photo filtering, widely popularized by Snap and Instagram. Photo filters have been a gamechanger in the photo-sharing space because algorithm-driven platforms make incredibly complex operations simple for everyday users. That’s starting to happen with synthetic media too.

Younger consumers are experts with filters on Instagram, more receptive to tools like digital face-swapping technology and more comfortable interacting through digital personas. Platforms like Rosebud let users map their facial expressions onto avatars to tell stories and bring old photos to life, giving users a “decentralized Hollywood on your laptop,” according to the creators.

Integrating Synthetic Media Into a Brand Strategy

As synthetic media usage on consumer platforms grows, the impact on brand marketing will increase because the potential advantages are massive. In addition to the ability to personalize at scale, synthetic media can fundamentally change concepts like spokesperson name and likeness usage. This provides brands with PR crisis-proof spokespeople (since non-human avatars are impervious to scandals, for now at least) and boosts the productivity of human spokespeople by reducing the need for recording sessions.

Brand marketers will need to be thoughtful about how they integrate synthetic media into their strategy. For companies that have a synthetic and/or tech-forward focus, it might be a natural fit, whereas brands that are high-touch and/or human-centered should proceed cautiously. The target customer is also a consideration; younger audiences are definitely more receptive.

It hasn’t fully escaped the uncanny valley, but synthetic media and other technologies will eventually automate many creative processes associated with video production, including scriptwriting. As the palette of tools becomes more advanced, marketing, as we know, will change; but we’re not there yet. For now, brand marketers should keep a sharp eye on the explosion of new tools to exploit this new tech and be ready to jump in when the time is right.

6 Tips For Optimizing Your Personalized Marketing Efforts

The best marketing campaigns are tailored to match exactly what a customer or client is looking for. Personalizing your marketing communications is the best way to let a customer know they matter and that you’re the perfect fit for their needs. However, it can take time and effort to adapt your messaging to each individual buyer.

6 Personalized Marketing Tactics

To ensure you are optimizing your personalized marketing efforts, we asked members of Ad Age Collective how they make the customer experience feel more meaningful without taking up too much time. Follow their advice to create genuine, tailored communications at scale.

1. Have reliable creative asset templates.

Have a creative asset that can be easily edited for different personas or marketing channels by swapping out key images or messaging, but keep the template the same for the most efficient use of time and resources. – Jessica Hawthorne-CastroHawthorne Advertising

2. Choose the right technology.

The key to optimizing your marketing efforts is letting your tech stack do the heavy lifting. As marketers, our job is to engage buyers with killer content and CTAs, not to spend our time researching who they are and what they care about. By letting your platform uncover the critical data you need to know, you can focus your time on delivering a meaningful, ultra-personalized experience. – Latane Conant, 6sense

3. Pick your targets carefully.

The more precisely you define your targets for personalized marketing, the more time and money they warrant. In certain account-based marketing strategies, individual targets may be worth hundreds of dollars and hours of time each. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

4. Tap into emotional insights.

So often we think about segmenting our customer population to develop targets. We think about where they live, what they are interested in — but the reality is that we are not connecting the emotional insights to those profiles that drive behavior change. Personalization comes from leveraging emotional insights in each segment that are translated by each person individually. – Kristen Anna Roeckle, Concentric Health Experience

5. Leverage artificial intelligence.

AI now enables marketing tools to analyze and understand user preferences better. It’s helpful to make AI a part of your marketing research efforts by using more AI marketing tools. You’ll be able to provide personalized content without having to spend too much time doing the research. Instead, you can focus on supporting your customers and driving conversions. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

6. Understand the limits of personalization.

With the abundance of data, we often feel the need to over-personalize our marketing. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Instead, take a step back to ask if your audience even wants that level of personalization. Sometimes you can save a lot of time and effort by recognizing that your audience is content with something as simple as their name in an email. Anything more is creepy! – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

9 Tips For Balancing Automation And Personalization In Your Marketing

1. Layer your communication to connect.

Many make the mistake of depending too heavily on personalization, creating an expectation that is difficult to achieve. I find that if you use automation to layer a “base” of communication with customers and personalization to provide the “extra touch,” that balance allows you to reach the full potential of your marketing and you are better able to connect with today’s consumers. – Rich Honiball, Navy Exchange Service Command

9 Tips for personalized marketing

2. Be relevant, but not too relevant.

Eighty-one percent of consumers want brands to understand them, but not at the expense of their privacy. If you get too personal, it can trigger a customer into thinking that your company is creepy, abusing a consumer’s trust and violating their privacy. Using automated email sequences to different broader consumer groups that have common traits are a great way of being personal but not too personal. – Patrick Ward,Rootstrap

3. Keep the human touch.

While AI and marketing automation are important to effectively execute large campaigns, it’s important people are involved in the personalization of messaging as personal human touch is still needed to deeply resonate with a consumer. Consumers are able to immediately tell the difference between a message sent via automation versus personalization because machines can’t mimic the human touch yet. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Have your sales and marketing teams collaborate.

Your organization’s sales and marketing teams should never operate in isolation, nor should one’s agenda set the other’s. By creating goals, metrics and strategies together, you’ll ensure an automated marketing strategy funnels warm leads to a sales team ready for one-to-one personal service that will maximize both functions and delight prospects and customers. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute

5. Use rich text to mimic a regular one-to-one email.

If we are going to automate one-to-one messages, we should make sure they look like  messages that people actually write to each other. Now ask yourself, have you ever created a fully-formatted email with CSS and HTML to send to just one person? No! So then why do we continue to automate those emails? Shifting to rich text will increase your engagement. Be human to be amazing. – Mathew Sweezey,Salesforce

6. Have a scalable data strategy.

Marketers must implement a scalable data strategy that helps them get to know their customers and prospects so that they can first communicate in ways that feel human and natural before they automate. Then they can test carefully and incrementally so as to maintain a purposeful connection between mechanical marketing tactics and the humans on the receiving end. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

7. Understand your customers’ expectations.

Finding the right balance starts with understanding your customers’ expectations around personalization. At a minimum, you want to meet their expectations and deliver an experience that sustains their loyalty. Invest in accumulating these insights and then deliver against them. The harsh reality — if you lose customers through a lack of personalization, marketing automation won’t save them. – Mason Page, Reflect Systems

8. Use your CRM to drive phone calls.

Using a CRM system to drive outreach is nothing new to B2B companies. B2C companies can delight customers in this way as well, particularly direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies who have a lot of customer information. A thoughtful phone call or email from a real person reflecting specific understanding of your customer can create long term affinity for your brand in a world of automated content. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

9. Go for quality over quantity.

Remember the adage: “Less is more.” Control the number of messages to the number of people you’re targeting. Then segment those audiences. Once someone responds, you can get to ever increasing levels of personalization with the right messages that are relevant to those people. Finally, make it easy for people to opt out and talk to a person live via a chat utility or other channel. – Marc Landsberg, SOCIALDEVIANT

13 Tips For Effectively And Efficiently Personalizing A Marketing Campaign

Today’s marketers are learning that personalized campaigns are often the most successful. These powerful marketing tactics are particularly effective in targeting Millennials and Gen-Zers, who crave authentic, personal connections with the brands they patronize. However, taking the time and resources to tailor every individual marketing message can get very expensive, very quickly.

If you want to get more personal without breaking the bank, try following these tips from the experts of Forbes Agency Council. Their tactics will help you efficiently and cost-effectively take a more individualized approach to your marketing.

 

1. Authentically Automate Personalized Campaigns

There is a multitude of ways to automate personalized campaigns. However, it’s essential not to sacrifice authenticity for the efficiency of automation. For example, too many “persona-based” personalized campaigns paint too broadly when bucketing cohorts. Instead, opt for more individually personalized automation. An obvious example is sending automated emails on audience members’ birthdays. – Gyi Tsakalakis, AttorneySync

2. Get More Specific With Your Targeting

Plain and simple, our technology today allows us to get very specific in who we are targeting. The more specific you are about who you want to see your campaign, the more you are able to personalize it and keep within budget. This means you need to really know who your target audience is and what their habits, likes and dislikes, and behaviors are. – Andrea Keirn, Black Rhino Marketing Group

3. Let Them Tell You What They Want

Give your younger customers a chance to self-select by asking them what kind of consumer they are. For instance, ask if they’re a regular purchaser, a sometimes purchaser or a first-time purchaser. It’s simple: Once they’ve identified as a purchaser at all, they’re more likely to make a purchase. Then, adjust your messaging and offers accordingly (but don’t forget to test those messages!). – Kathy Broderick Selker, Northlich

4. Leverage Narrative Psychology

Personalization of campaigns can be efficient and cost effective when considering the power of narrative psychology. Think social quizzes—these self-directed widgets blew up because it’s all about the “story of me,” a.k.a. narrative psychology. Include your targets in creating the campaign, creatively, and let them tell your story in a personalized manner. – Jennifer Barbee, Destination Innovate

5. Align Campaign Structure And Messaging With The Customer Journey

When you don’t have the time, data or dollars to build truly personalized marketing, structure your campaign to mirror the customer journey and create different messaging for each stage. Most marketers don’t. In the top of the funnel, differentiate your brand and address customer needs. At the bottom of the funnel, use retargeting campaigns personalized to site behavior, and use a strong call to action. – John Keehler, RUNNER Agency

6. Start With A Hashtag

It can all start with just one word. The campaign has to be catchy, and it can be just a simple hashtag where people can get involved with no cost. Having a hashtag go viral would be the most cost-effective campaign. Millennials and Gen-Zers want something straight to the point and real. What better way than to convey your message with a simple hashtag? – Cagan Sean Yuksel, GRAFX CO.

7. Create A ‘Vault’ Of Collateral To Use Year-Round

Cost-effectiveness and efficiency often get sacrificed in campaigns when everything is created from scratch during the time campaigns are being created. Have your team regularly deliver content and copy that can be utilized when it’s time to create a new campaign. Use Pinterest boards and a shared Google Doc that everyone can contribute their ideas to as they feel inspired to do so. – Danielle Sabrina, Tribe Builder Media

8. Tell Real Stories About Real People

Personalized campaigns require preliminary research to understand your customers and the causes they believe in. To deliver powerful campaigns that truly resonate, tell real stories about real people, and draw the connection between these narratives and your brand’s overarching mission and vision. This will help make advertisements that are unique to your company and your audience. – Theresa Schieber, Givewith

9. Study Popular Search Terms

Personalizing ads can be done cost effectively through dynamic, digital creative that is based on the terms Millennials and Gen-Zers are searching for. Different imagery, highlighted products and offers can all be personalized and changed based on the initial search terms. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, HAWTHORNE LLC

10. Engage With Them Where They Already Are

It’s no secret that Millennials and Gen-Zers dwell in the details and thus consume an overwhelming amount of information to help guide their decision making. When crafting a campaign, it’s important to take note of where they are engaging with content, like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, and create campaigns that are relatable, personable and easy to communicate through these channels. – Scott Kellner, GPJ Experience Marketing

11. Get A 360-Degree View Of Your Customer

Invest in a platform that centralizes data about your customers, business, category and competitors to gain a comprehensive view of your business and customers. With machine learning enhanced by artificial intelligence powering your data feed and displaying it in a comprehensive dashboard, you can make informed decisions and instant adjustments to campaigns to connect with customers on an individual level. – Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative

12. Get Personal At The Right Time

Personalizing campaigns used to mean inserting a name into an email or adding some “meat” to your interaction. But there are many stops along the buyer journey to connect when it is the most valuable for the buyer. For example, you get a new iPhone. Now you might need a case and perhaps a backup charger. Just check your email or that text message. This is personalized remarketing at its best. – Bernard May, National Positions

13. Use Dynamic Content

You can create personalized emails without spending hours on crafting emails manually. Use dynamic content. This method enables you to create one email with separate blocks customized to each recipient. It also allows you to localize the images. Dynamic content can be a perfect solution, as it helps brands build a much stronger relationship with the customers by showing that they really care. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS