Personalisation Has the Wrong Name and We Are Not Even Close To Getting It Right!



Lab MD, Jonny Tooze talks about personalisation for The Drum Network's Tricks of the Marketing Trade...


In the agency world, we all like to keep up with technology and the latest buzzwords. We need to stay one step ahead and we need to keep innovating. I’m no exception. The three big things keeping me up at night at the moment are personalisation, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence.

What I have realised recently is that all these topics are intertwined. What I’ve also realised, is that ‘personalisation’ is the wrong word for personalisation.

We talk about personalisation as modifying the content, functionality or design of a campaign based on user behaviour, and other factors, to create a better, more relevant experience for customers when using a website, an app, or other digital touch-point. This is all very modern – most brands aren’t personalising their users’ digital experience at all and, of those that are, many aren’t doing it brilliantly. If you get it right though, it can be hugely effective.

One major problem is that, while all the platforms offering personalisation are super-smart, most still require lots of human input to work out what the intelligence behind the digital experience for each user should be. They can learn a bit, but not much. In reality, personalisation as we talk about it today just isn’t personal enough.

Even though a single user may have a unique experience, it’s probably more accurate to call personalisation (as it currently stands) ‘categorisation’ or maybe even ‘pseudo-personalisation’?

Brands have amazing platforms to deliver content. They also have a stream of engaging content coming from the thought-leaders inside their organisation, from their agencies, influencers, industry, and from their customers. But, in actual fact, they often know very little about their customers – no matter how much data they have painstakingly gathered.

This means that brands aren’t in any real position to work out which specific customer, let alone which group of customers, should be shown what content, how often, and at what point during the ‘digital transaction’ – which, these days, may be between 10-20 touch points across 5-10 channels.

You can have a very good shot at this working with personas and other methods, but really you are categorising with an aim to personalise rather than the other way around.


True personalisation


We need to look to the world of artificial intelligence before we can really see true personalisation in action. We need algorithms that can decide on the fly what people might want to see based on way more variables than the simple stuff we currently factor in, such as previous browsing behaviour, referral data, and social profiles.

What’s more, everything needs to be connected, and that’s where the Internet of Things comes in.

I want my Papa John’s pizza app to fire up and ping me an offer of my favourite pizza, because my fridge has told it that I couldn’t be arsed to buy food two days ago.  Oh, and order me a Pepsi too, as the scrap that’s left in the 2-litre bottle must be flat because it’s been there two weeks.

I want Facebook to spring up a dialogue: “Are you sure you want to go to this event? Your TV told us that you like watching The Walking Dead on Monday nights.” Oh, good point TV.

I want the BBC News website to know that I’m not in the country, but it’s still me, and no, I do not want to hear about political issues in Africa more than Jeremy Clarkson’s demise just because I’m there. I want it to promote an article to the home page about a major manufacturer safety update on my new car because it knows what car I drive and what model it is and that I have a family that I don’t want to kill in a fire. Isn’t that really personalised, important and relevant news?

When we start to factor in basic artificial intelligence, not just ‘programmed responses for categorisations of users’, and data from the connected ‘things’, we start to move into true personalisation.

But the big question is will the brands control the artificial intelligence? Will we give them that much access to our data? Or will we all have our own little bunch of artificial neurons working on our behalf, acting as our proxy to the big wide world? You’ll definitely learn to trust your own bot more to go and gather relevant content or to make those decisions for you rather than a brand.

Maybe brands will just become nothing more than sources of content, products and services which bots can choose to consume and promote to you as they see fit?

Maybe artificial intelligence will be the final nail in the service economy’s coffin, commoditisation gone too far, and all we’ll have left after that is the ‘experience economy’. True personalisation; connected; an experience.


But we’re not there yet.

Jonny Tooze - Lab MD and Founder

By Jonny Tooze

Jonny Tooze is a successful entrepreneur, thought-leader and public speaker actively helping to shape and influence the digital industry. Jonny has been hooked on digital from the start of his career and has regularly won accolades and awards, including BIMA Hot 100 2014/2015/2016 and The Drum Digerati 2015, with both organisations voting him as a top 100 digital influencer in the UK. Get in touch with Jonny on twitter @JonnyTooze.

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