Personalization Isn’t Personal Enough Anymore

by Sara Arnold

August 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Everyone likes to joke about how technology is always changing. Why buy this when a new version will make it obsolete in six months, amirite? For people in marketing, the feeling is similar. It seems like just when you nail down the latest way to connect with customers and improve engagement, it changes. <Insert frustration noise of choice here.>

I wish I could help you out with that, but I can’t. Instead, I’m just going to complicate matters further by telling you that that one thing you’ve just gotten the hang of is no longer enough. I’m talking about personalization and, well, I think you know what I’m going to say here.

It’s all part of the evolution, right? First, we had segmentation.  That was just really a fancy way of saying what we’ve been doing all along, which is identifying key audience segments and tailoring our messaging to reach them.

Real personalization was the next phase. Taking segmentation and breaking it down a bit further with more specific messaging, recommendations and experiences. We’ve been here for a few years now. And thanks to numerous technological advances and cool software and data and reporting tools, we’re all happily on the personalization bandwagon. It works. Everyone’s doing it (some better than others).

But, we’ve finally reached the point where it’s time to shake things up.

Enter individualization. Brendan Witcher of Forrester recently co-hosted a webinar all about one-to-one engagement, during which he talked about customers’ demand for experiences more specific to them. You can watch it here, but I wanted to share some of my key takeaways.

We’re in the “Age of the Customer.”

Empowered buyers are demanding a whole new level of focus. And this changes everything. Companies who do it well only make it harder for everyone else, because customers who have a great shopping experience expect that same level of awesomeness from everybody. And if you don’t deliver, they’ll go find someone else who can.

Oh, and if you think you’re doing fine and don’t need to invest here, note that Witcher mentions a global survey conducted by Forrester in 2015 revealed that investing in personalization technology is the #2 priority of businesses. Make sure you’re going to be the one everyone goes to (*cough* Facebook), not the one everyone leaves behind (*cough* MySpace).

Personalization driven by segmentation leaves a lot of people out.

This was kind ocustomers want personal experiencef a revelation for me. We tend to create marketing segments based on commonalities in buying behavior. We group these people together and send “personalized” messages that speak to their common wants, needs and actions. This makes a lot of sense. We reach a large number of people with tailored marketing and we sell things. Let’s all smile and pat each other on the back.

But. What about everyone else? You may think they aren’t as important because they aren’t as easy to define and segment as everyone else. Witcher points out that you could be ignoring a huge group of customers just because they require a more individualized effort than your larger segments. And you’re just pissing them off by creating a poor experience.

You have to change your thinking from segmentation of groups to segments of one. When everyone’s their own unique segment, it becomes much easier to reconfigure your marketing to speak to individual needs and desires.

It is a waste of everyone’s time to personalize experiences that provide no real value to a customer’s journey.

Whoa. This one absolutely FLOORED me. Because he’s so right. It’s been drilled into us over recent years that you have to hit customers over the head with “personalized” elements to show how much you care about them and relate to their wishes and feelings. How warm and fuzzy do you feel when you get a generic birthday message from a brand that has nothing to inspire me to interact with them at that moment? It’s like, “Gosh, I’m so thrilled you used your automated system to generate a birthday message based on my customer data. Swoon!”

Or how about a “Happy Friday!” message. That’s pretty innocuous, right? What if you work one of the millions of jobs that aren’t a M-F, 9-5 kind of thing? Somewhat less meaningful, no?

Personalized content experiences must be delivered across every screen and channel.

This goes beyond responsive web design. This goes beyond a content-first strategy or a mobile-first strategy. This is experience-first. You can’t think about these or plan them in vacuums. It’s not about what looks good on different screens or in different channels. It’s about delivering great, personalized, consistent customer experiences no matter how they are experiencing you.


Honestly, I can go on and on about this webinar and what I learned from it, but I don’t want to just regurgitate it here and rob you of that feeling of revelation I had several times while I watched.

I’m sorry, I know you just got really comfortable with personalization and it’s hard to rejigger companywide mindset to a new way of thinking. But this is the future. And you can either be the one leading it, or be the one everyone is leaving behind for those who ARE leading the way.

August 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Sara Arnold

Nearly a decade of advertising and marketing experience has taught Sara one thing—there is no consensus on the use of the Oxford comma. Shrugging off that complication, Sara focuses on wrangling words into compelling stories. She’s continually digging into creative strategy and looking for unique ways brands connect with customers. Also, cat videos. Lots of cat videos.