By Matt Pigott - June 1st, 2016

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Confusing customization and personalization is common, but there’s a world of difference between the two.

More than just a name

It’s an easy mistake to make. When Coca-Cola brought out classically shaped bottles with popular individual names on them, many hailed it as a new stage in the evolution of personalization. Sure, it was a successful campaign generating 950million Twitter impressions and 235,000 tweets from people using the #ShareaCoke hashtag, and grew its global Facebook community by seven percent, but personalization, in the modern marketing sense of the word, it wasn’tCadbury, Marmite, and Nutella followed suit. Of these, Marmite is the odd one out, and not just because most Americans hate the stuff, but because its customization process, right through to payment and checkout, takes place on a dedicated Facebook page. Though many brands bandy the word about like confetti, true personalization digs deeper than mere print-on-demand innovations.

So, when personalization gets confused with customization it’s more than just a semantic misdemeanor. These two constructs are cousins, not twins. Related but quite different. Big brands putting individual people’s names on their products is a nice touch. But it’s a marketing gimmick, not an evolving, truly customer-centric communications strategy; slightly more granular, but far from the sort of personalization top marketers are obsessing over right now.

Go deep with customer-centricity

Good personalization goes much deeper than the basics of addressing customers on a first name basis or selling somebody a product, such as a dress or a car, in the color they want. Of course, these things are important, but what marketers today want is to understand consumer tastes and choices at a more nuanced behavioral level. And they want to understand these things over time.

Knowing how to achieve a more conversational marketing model is crucial for brands that want to succeed. Remember Knight Rider, the eighties TV show in which Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, and his artificially intelligent car, K.I.T.T, together embark on a series of crime-fighting capers? Well K.I.T.T, with his shiny chassis and pre-programmed doctrine of servitude, gets as close to the modern dream of personalization as it’s possible to get.

Fast-forward thirty years, and technology still hasn’t caught up with eighties personalization fantasies. However, changes in the handling of big data, in conjunction with evolving digital systems such as marketing attribution, robotics, and A.I, hint that we’re edging our way towards a new period in which machines with reactive–if not predictive–capabilities become the norm.

Becoming human

Personalization, K.I.T.T style, is about driving digital mechanisms, by way of smart algorithms, to being as near to normal human interaction as possible, without actually being human. Naturally, that goes way beyond a simple: ‘Hi Mike’.

Brands that get personalization right have better relationships with their customers, drive better engagement and, almost as a byproduct, get better conversion rates. Delivering meaningful and relevant content to customers when and where they want it is fast becoming the dominant framework for marketers to hang their campaigns upon. But so many brands are still lagging and taking too long to change. Many still think that traditional advertising methods are the best way to communicate. If communication is a one-way yelling game, perhaps they’re right. Then again, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

Savvy CMOs realize that just because something works, that doesn’t necessarily make it efficient. A straight blunt knife will eventually cut through a tough loaf of bread, but boy is it hard work?

Conquering segments of one

Without the right data and the right systems, ‘segments of one’ will remain a distant dream. Marketing professionals – if they’re to succeed in grabbing and holding the attention of a generation that (A) doesn’t buy-in to advertising (and in fact goes to great lengths to block it), and (B) wants to believe it is leading brands toward its goal, not the other way around – need to find new communication methods that add true value.

Research shows that nearly ninety percent of CMOs still don’t think they’re doing enough to make brand experiences meaningful for their customers.

But then you have online retailers such as who are, quite simply, knocking personalization out of the park...

Very hints at the future of online personalization

Very’s website has the built-in capability to deliver a staggering 1.2million different landing pages according to who’s looking. In this sense, it’s less of a website and more of a tailored online shopping experience; one that recognizes the differences between individual customers and visually reflects their personal preferences.

The future for online retail brands is almost certainly going to be refinements of this type of business model. For brands with brick-and-mortar stores keen to consolidate their offline-online shopping experiences, similar models will play a key part–if they aren’t already. If Very provides a snapshot of how future online retail looks, brands with a one-size-fits-all landing page, or even a three-sizes-should-do-it attitude, need to think again. Why? Because the individual is here to stay, they want what they want when they want it, and brands that provide the best personal service across multiple touch points are the ones that will win them over.




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