Per’s Pearls: Personalization vs. Individualization 

“Don’t be creepy. Over-communicate where your data comes from and make it available to be edited, so consumers feel empowered, not trapped.”

Complaints from the 1%… Boo-hoo I’m a Giant

One of the more irritating things about being taller and wider than the norm is clothing. For dress clothes, I’ve been lucky to find a tailor from Bangkok who comes through the Bay Area a couple of times a year, takes my measurements, shows me the materials and I get a FedEx package a month later with a suit or dress shirts; all at a rate comparable to Nordstrom’s off the rack. For everyday wear, there are a few brands I rely on that have a good rate on big and tall for polos and jeans. As a thrifty consumer, I tend to wait until their Cyber Monday sale and buy a year’s worth of replacements for my wardrobe.  

Here’s my personalization information- 

  1. Wears 2 or 3XL Tall tops/ 46-inch waist 
  1. 54-year-old Male 
  1. Lives in Northern California 
  1. Likes polo shirts and V-neck sweaters for three months of the year 
  1. Buys exclusively during sale periods 
  1. Buys exclusively dark colors- black or dark blue 
  1. Does not buy dress shirts, or sport coats 

Now, imagine my surprise when I get an email advertising women’s sun dresses. This is a failure in personalization- let alone individualization, which is marketers’ white whale, but still very challenging to do on a basic level for the bigs.

It’s all Different Sized Buckets

Let’s take a step back and understand the difference between Personalization vs Individualization. There are a host of competing terms and definitions, each author trying to be clever- and probably sell something by making things confusing. Personalization is best described as a relative bucket (two or three items on the personalized list above) and individualization is me, a unique sunflower (all the variables listed above, plus some I haven’t imagined).  From a marketing perspective, both are super relevant, just for different things, but the base trend is headed toward Individualization. Marketers should always try and understand what and why they’re sending content to customers.  

Let’s take our theoretical clothing client and me. A personalized email campaign may be, “we need to sell 14,000 cargo shorts, as summer is wasting away and we don’t want to discount them too much in October”. As I live in Northern California (plus or minus fifteen degrees off an average daytime high of 65 F year-round), am a 54-year-old male, and I like Polo shirts, it’s a pretty safe assumption that I’ll buy the cargo shorts with some discount.  

Here’s where we cross into Individualization, because of my waist size, the system should be integrated into the inventory system, to ensure that they have a reasonable number of XL- XXL (depending on fit) shorts in dark blue/ black available. Further, looking at my past buying pattern the system notices that I bought a similar pair of shorts five years ago, which is the lifetime of the standard cargo short (totally made that statistic up, but it sounds good). Individualization requires more data integration but will have a much higher success rate as it’s targeted to an audience of one. 

Tales From the Creep

Despite Oxford Analytic and Zuck’s Folly, a McKinsey study from the end of 2021 shows 71% of customers expect personalization, while 76% indicated frustration at not being spoken to as an individual. Simultaneously, 55-60% of Americans are in favor of the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA). A federal law expanding on GDPR and CCPA. What does this mean for marketers? Don’t be creepy. Over-communicate where your data comes from and make it available to be edited, so consumers feel empowered, not trapped.

A Word from our Sponsor

Ironically, perhaps, but at Sageflo, we originally designed our Archiver tool to capture every personalized email for call center, marketing, and compliance uses. However, we are proud to announce the upcoming release of our Persona view, which will allow the customization of aggregate customer segment buckets (gold membership members, Vegans, or Northern California Sasquatches). This will allow an overview by marketing to easily understand what a group of people has received from the brand in an easy-to-view customer journey format. 

The CRO/CMO/COO Fever Dream

We all want a more personalized user experience. I want my daily purchase to feel more like the experience I get when my tailor meets me to measure, suggest, and ask about my wife and kids. I get irritated when Instagram shows me an ad for a cool shirt, only to find they don’t do 2 or 3 XL Tall. On the flip side, I’ve set my iPhone to the lowest data collection, because I don’t trust the industry will self-govern where to draw the line on buying and selling my data.  

This is what keeps retailers up at night- how much is too much and where can I find out just a smidge more to intersect with customers’ lives and be more relevant. The answer is faster and bigger. Real-time data updates pulling to campaigns into ever more complex data segmentation. At some point, it’ll be AI, ‘cause everything’s gonna be AI; but for today, it’s massive integrated data systems. But more importantly, will be how rules get implemented to ensure a customer focus on data privacy and whether that comes from the industry or from the government. What are your thoughts? 

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Posted by percaroe

Despite my varied experiences, I'm a salesperson, and for me, that means solving people’s problems. Father of three/ Husband to one wife/ Marketing Junkie/ Voracious Reader/ Foodie/ improbable Yogi