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Episode 38: “The Blueprint for Personalization” with Dr. Jacob Aizikowitz, Founding Partner of XMPie and an
OutputLinks Communications
Group Senior Strategic Consultant

Dr. Jacob Aizikowitz, Founding Partner of XMPie and a Senior Strategic Consultant at the OutputLinks Communications Group, shares insights into personalization, segmentation, and integrated journeys across channels because, "Doing something that is engaging, creative, highly personal and highly relevant takes work. You have to prepare more content. You have to do more things, so there must be a significant return -- and there is."

Matt [00:00:11]: I'm Matt Swain. And you're listening to the "Reimagining Communications" podcast, where we discuss the opportunities and challenges facing companies on the road to optimizing their communications for the future. Today, I'm joined by Dr. Jacob Aizikowitz, an Israeli entrepreneur, a business executive, and now a founding father of integrated print and digital media personalization. Jacob, thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Aizikowitz: Thanks, Matt. It's a pleasure to join you in your podcast series.

Matt [00:00:40]: So, Jacob, I'd like to use our time today to dive into the topic of personalization in printed and digital communications. You are an authority on the topic. So, I'd love to hear what led you and your partners to found XMPie in 1999.

Dr. Aizikowitz: Thank you for the question. When we started XMPie, our vision was to bridge digital and print media for personalization applications. But the purpose was that for the communication, for the marketing executive, for the relationship managers, personalized communication will be a strategy, not a media-specific discipline. So, this was the big vision. And so, we called it bridging digital and print. We were very familiar with personalization in digital printing. On the other hand, when we took a step back and looked at the broader world, we saw that everybody in the world is talking about personalization in the internet as if they're the same thing. So, two very different ways of thinking about personalization. And we knew that one could do something, create some technology platform that we allow to unite them, and again, treat them as one personalization concept and use different media types in order to implement it. That was the idea to trigger and the idea for funding XMPie. I think that, overall, we were successful. I have to say that in our world, we had to revise several times our approach to digital until we, let's call it, nailed it.

Matt [00:02:16]: Yeah. And you had a successful exit to Xerox and then continued to lead the company after that. What are some of the things that really stand out from those 20 years at the helm, or as a founder and contributor to the success of XMPie?

Dr. Aizikowitz: Overall, I think that the importance of being able to work with the business dimension and the technology dimension, is putting customers as something that is very important and engaging customers were all things that are very, very important for the evolution. We founded the company at the collapse of the dot-com, so it was very difficult to get the initial investment. And later going through all the different phases, it was challenging, but also rewarding. And, again, customers were very, very important and helped a lot in terms of being able to advance the company and become relevant to Xerox.

Matt [00:03:17]: You talked about engagement in that piece. And one of the things that you've said in the past is that you need to have high-quality software to create high-quality content. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that?

Dr. Aizikowitz: Yeah, we had several chats about it in the past. First, I would like to say it's not about the quality of the software as software. Good quality software is important everywhere. But the idea here was that if you want to have the end result in engaging, relevant, personalized piece, it's very important that the software will know how to create high-quality designs, high-quality prints, and things like that. The main idea is that you don't want to lose the creative multiplier when you go and do a personalization. You don't want to trade off creative and personalization. And it's in the context of software that will allow you to create highly creative and personalized things, in order to be able to really engage people.

It's important to remember that at the time, the other media was the internet. And people already had browsers and color monitors, and they could see engaging color, and graphics, and all of that on the internet. And it was also personal. So, the trade-off, it was not just the full freedom to decide in the print world whether you want personalization, without creative or creative without personalization. The internet world told you that you need to have both.

Matt [00:04:57]: Yeah, and it's a great point of clarification. And you were also talking about, relative to personalization, part of that storyline around value creation and then transactional communications, which by their nature have to be personalized. What kind of premium have you seen one to one personalization command in other market segments?

Dr. Aizikowitz: Well, generally, this is always about a factor, you know, 2X, 3X sometimes even more relative to something that is not personalized. At the time, there was a lot of work that people did to try to explain the differences between something that is printed without personalization, with simple personalization, like your first name, is a bit more sophisticated for personalization. And then with the top, everything changes. By now, this is not so important. I think the thing that I had from the beginning, and even from some of the well-known agencies with whom we interacted initially, I got very good feedback that says, "Look, if you combine print and digital, you're going to get significant uplift. And the numbers are the 2X, the 3X and things like that. While I'm on it, I can say that sometimes these days, and we're talking about almost 20 years back, some people looked for 10%, 20%, 30% improvement. That's not enough, because doing something that is engaging, creative, and highly personal, highly relevant, takes more work. You must prepare more content. You must do more things. So, there must be some significant return.

Matt [00:06:39]: I think you also were talking about the different types of personalization because for some, it's just that first name, "Hi, Jacob." For others, it's highly personalized in terms of the graphic elements, text, the incorporation of voice or video. What do you see, in terms of the level of personalization and how far we've come? But also, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on one-to-one personalization versus segmented that's relevant to a target group, but not speaking to me, Matt Swain.

Dr. Aizikowitz: So, let me address it in terms of the simple example of just using your name versus something more sophisticated. To be fair, there is work that was done that showed the level of response improves as you go through being more sophisticated on the personalization. There's no question about whether personalization is working. So, my view is that you want to have the technology that allows you to do whatever sophistication of personalization that you as the marketing, the communication executive, whatever level you think will work.

If you want to use just first name, and if it serves you, and then you have less work, in terms of preparing them out of other stuff, fine, no problem. But you do not want to be in a situation that you as the communicator, envision a certain type of personalization with the name or with different pictures, and things like that. And some of you will realize that your software doesn't allow you to do that. And so, the technology for personalization in print should allow it to do everything. And you as the communicator, the marketing executive, the person who really understands about communicating with the audience, should make the right choices, but not be limited by the capabilities of the technology.

The second item that you put on the table here was the question about segmentation. That's a great question. Clearly, before a high level of personalization came in, the notion of segmentation was there. And what people were doing for print was to say, "Okay, we analyze the audience and let's say we can identify five different segments," and then you prepare the version for one, for two, for three, four, and five. And you have five different versions of whatever communication you want, and you even prepare them in advance. This does not require any sophisticated personalization technology. But if instead of 5 you do 50, and you want to run on an audience of let's say 100,000 people, you cannot prepare 50 versions in advance. You have to do it live. Each person will belong to a particular segment. The segment identifies the profile, and based on the data, you will generate the piece for that person.

And so, when you have segmentation, not a very small amount, not like 5, but instead for 550 and you have that level of segmentation, then I don't see a big difference between technology you need to do 50 segments and want to do full, personalized, every person gets something really, really different. In terms of the impact, I mean, what is more effective, and I think that it's the choice of the communicator. There's no need to go to a level that every person is a segment of one. There's no need to do that. But if you have enough segments, then you need technology that allows you to do things as if it is personal.

Matt [00:10:11]: It's interesting because we've done research, where we've found that one in four consumers have left a company, a provider of theirs because they did a poor job of personalizing the communications. And what's interesting in that stat is, what does a poor job in personalization mean? Is it that they did not personalize? Is it they tried, and they personalized incorrectly or is it that they over-personalized and they showed too much of what they know about that customer and it felt like a breach of privacy?

Dr. Aizikowitz: Yes, that's absolutely true. And sometimes avoiding too much personal, but still, I think enough of the refinement. So many, many segments are the way to overcome this issue.

Matt [00:11:00]: So, would the 1999 Jacob be proud of how far we've collectively come relative to personalization of communication across channels?

Dr. Aizikowitz: I believe that, yes. There's still a lot of ways to go and to expand. But you see many more organizations, and some of them in the print business, that transformed a business going along the vision that I stated earlier. And so, they really embrace the technology, and the capabilities, and the thinking, and go forward. And so overall, I think that there is a lot to do but certainly much better than what it was 20 plus years ago. What's expected today is much more than just a personalized print piece, and even more than just a personalized print piece and maybe a landing site, like what people call pURLs. Today, it's much more about the integration, much more about journeys, and things like that. And this is where things are still evolving.

Matt [00:12:11]: Yeah, and we spend a lot of time on those journeys and looking at how to improve micro journeys within the overall journey. And I think your point around the personalized URL, the pURL, or even having connectivity from digital to printed communications and vice versa, it becomes interesting in that storyline of the omni-channel communications experience, and each customer's preference being slightly different. Some will only want to interact digitally and will want that experience optimized for digital, others will strongly prefer print, and some fall in between, and really kind of interact across all channels, and look for a consistent experience. So, my question in that tee up is around the software, the technology, your views around how we've collectively done as an industry in providing the technology that customers need, the customer being the enterprise, in this case, to deliver on that.

Dr. Aizikowitz: There's a huge momentum around digital. And in that context, so digital without print, there’s huge momentum around it. And in that context, there are many different channels. So the notion of journeys, of integrated journeys, of something that is not just one touchpoint or maybe not just one or two touchpoints, something that is an ongoing dialogue and conversation between, let's say, the brand, or the enterprise, and the audience, that notion is very, very strong. I believe it's very, very strong. And it does not depend on whether we have a particular technology for print because even without print, it's very, very strong. What I see is that the steep challenges in terms of making print one of the channels.

And the challenges are related, I would say. In my view, some of them are related to technology and understanding of technology. Does print come with technology that can be smoothly integrated into the way people are doing a multi-channel in the digital space. The challenge is also in terms of what is the level of understanding of the people in the digital space in the enterprises of what will be the value of print. My belief is that the technology is more of a barrier than the understanding of the value. And so, there is room to improve in the way print and digital integrate. Maybe it's a little bit utopic, but I hope it's not, but my thinking is that if print can be integrated very smoothly into the media mix, then the question of whether to use print or not is going to be much simpler because it's going to be only a choice of a channel rather than, "Oh, this is very different. I want you to have a different team to handle it. We can actually send it to a print provider." That breaks the whole thing. And I think that the print side of the business, the print industry needs to recognize that the customers of the printers are extremely familiar with the digital domain. And they expect print to be blended into it, rather than be a discipline of its own in the very specific workflows, and buzzwords, and slogans that are foreign to the marketing executives and the communication experts in the enterprise.

Matt [00:15:50]: Well, and that's an important piece of this because from a marketer's perspective, you have people that are kind of the digital channels experts. And oftentimes, then there's a print buyer or, you know, somebody that focuses or specializes on the print channels. And if they're not working in harmony, it truly does segment out the experience and it doesn't create the same opportunity, as if you look holistically at a marketing campaign, for instance, and then figure out the channels on the back end versus saying, "We're going to launch a print campaign, what should we do it on?"

Dr. Aizikowitz: Exactly. You know, in some earlier years, not too many years ago, like 2, 3, 5 years ago, and things like that, in an XMPie user group conference where I was speaking to different customers and talking about it, I used to present a slide, where I said, "You," I mean, not you Matt, but printers, you speak to your customers, the enterprise marketing, you speak to your customers in the language of print, and web-to-print is the most modern thing that you're putting on table. But these guys on the enterprise side, their head is multi-channel, omnichannel, and common view of the customer's, engagement, the journeys. So, there is disconnect in the language. And we have to overcome it.

Matt [00:17:14]: I would be curious as you look ahead a few years in the context of COVID and everything that you've been tracking over the course of your career. You've been very good about getting ahead of the trends. How do you expect the software that drives the customer communications and customer experience markets to continue to evolve over the coming years?

Dr. Aizikowitz: I think that we are all experiencing the accelerating factor of COVID, in terms of people transforming to digital. You in your organization did a fabulous work, you know, talking with customers, surveying, and seeing that the desire to change and the actual change happening. And each one of us is experiencing it. That's for sure. But in terms of the way I believe things will evolve in terms of the communication, we are in a situation today that you have the capabilities to deliver relevant content, personalized content, and in different media, and including print. And so, if you want to think of it in terms of being able to do a touchpoint, touchpoint is like one step in a journey. In terms of doing a touchpoint, we're pretty much there. Things are moving strongly to talking about journeys, to talking about customer experiences, which is all about integrating the different media types and different capabilities into an experience.

And this is happening, clearly happening. I mean, we don't need to invent it. We see it happening. But this is where everybody involved with software for personalization, and for printing, and for other things, of course, for integrated print and digital, this is where they will have to go.

It's very clear that artificial intelligence will play a significant role in the software as things evolve going forward. The first element is that developing the rules, the decision of what to present to a person based on their profile, what to offer them based on their history. So, all this stuff is something that you want to be able to do. It's much more automation, in terms of the artificial intelligence, much more automation, then explicitly and tediously, define all the different rules because it's going to be much better when some automation would be around it. The second thing is that defining the blueprints for journeys. I'll say, start with an email then the person responds, where they go to a landing site, they fill in something, and then maybe follow up with the postcard. But what happens if they don't respond, these blueprints, all the marketing automation systems allow you to specify. That blueprint is actually not too easy to create. It looks easy, but it's complex to invent it. All the if then conditions, what will happen if? What should we do if someone doesn't respond, how long to respond? And I'm jumping, but into that space, you have all of this retarget marketing. But this is an area where artificial intelligence and machine learning will come in, and it will make it simpler and more effective. So, I believe as we go forward, it's more about the integrated view of journeys and it's more about artificial intelligence, helping with the rules, and helping with defining the blueprints for the companies.

Matt: Well said. Well, Jacob, thank you so much for participating today.

Dr. Aizikowitz: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Matt: I'm Matt Swain, and you've been listening to the "Reimagining Communications" podcast. If you like this episode and think someone else would too, please share it, leave a review, and don't forget to subscribe. And if you're ready to reimagine customer experiences, consider the Broadridge Communications Cloud, an end-to-end platform for creating, delivering, and managing omnichannel communications and customer engagement. To learn more about Broadridge, our insights, and our innovations, visit broadridge.com or find us on Twitter and LinkedIn.