Online Personalization: Issue Is With People Not Technology

Today I came across an article by Isaac Weisberg, titled Unintended Consequences of Targeting: Less Information, Less Serendipity – Part I. In this article Isaac argues that online personalization limits the exposure of information to the individuals. I agree that current personalization practices are very limited though it is more of an issue with the marketers engaged in personalization than with the technology. ( Note: Retargeting, Behavioral Targeting, on-site recommendations, customized emails etc. are all different forms of personalization). So it is not Personalization that limits the flow of information but it is the people engaged in Personalization.

The purpose of personalization is to provide information that is relevant to an individual and in order to do so you will eliminate a lot of information that the person is not likely to be interested in. However that does not mean that the person cannot be exposed to new information with the personalization.

The issue is that most of the marketers engaged in personalization (targeting) do not exploit the full potential of personalization and limit themselves to basic targeting. I highlighted one such issues in my post 5 Questions to ask before starting a Retargeting Campaign.

Personalization does not mean that you have to limit yourself to the same product or even the category. User’s behavior gives you a clue on what he/she likes. Use that to figure out complimentary items that you might be able to promote and even items that don’t make sense together but you have seen patterns from sales data that tell you that they might go together. E.g. particular pair of shoes is bought by lots of moms, so maybe kids’ shoes might make sense to promote to a user who has shown interest in those shoes. Isn’t that flow of information to the user?
I once worked with a client who used two mutually exclusive behaviors (people who read financial news and view international weather) to promote a totally unrelated product (high end international travel) with a great success.

So, yes exposing people to new information while doing personalization is quite possible as long as marketers doing the personalization are willing to use their creativity and move beyond their comfort zone.

Questions? Comments?

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2 Replies to “Online Personalization: Issue Is With People Not Technology”

  1. Hi Anil,

    interesting comment. I agree with you that the technology can be used to do targeting in the "right" ways, i.e. to offer things that might not be obvious based on previous behaviors of other customers.

    However, I think there is a problem when you say "So it is not Personalization that limits the flow of information but it is the people engaged in Personalization". How can you separate between people and technology? The technology is as good as the people behind them.

    For example, even when I visit Amazon (which is highly considered in terms of recommendations) I rarely find recommendations on books/CDs/DVDs that are new to me…

    But hopefully the very advanced tools we have today will pull us upwards.


  2. I agree that current implementation/use of technology is limited by people using it. The example I gave in my post shows that it is possible but people are not willing to take chances and go out of their comfort zone. I think we both agree that personalization needs to go beyond the obvious.

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