Picture: 123RF/Scott Betts
Picture: 123RF/Scott Betts

If you are anything like me, then you start your year off by reading all the different trends and predictions for the upcoming year – 2020 was no different except that there were trends for the entire decade. In among these trends was one that got a lot of hype – personalisation. Whenever a trend has that much hype, I worry about it. Why? Well, when a trend is overhyped, the term tends to be thrown around for the sake of appearing to be on trend (often misinterpreted) instead of understanding it and applying it correctly. So let’s unpack this trend.

First, we need to rewind and remind ourselves of the context. In the early 2000s, marketing focus shifted from mass to one-on-one as we realised that audiences are not all like-minded. But there was a major flaw with this approach. Individual communication at the time was extremely cost intensive, which meant that brands started to reduce their audiences.

Behavioural economics and marketing science provide us with empirical evidence that we need to broaden reach and target the category. If you aren’t yet familiar with these methods, a great starting place is Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow. We also learn from behavioural science that people are led by their hearts. Even when we think that we are making a logical, thought-through purchase decision, it is mostly our brain working overtime to justify what the heart wants. So when we remember that audiences are not machines but groups of human beings, then we must realise that brands need to connect through different emotions.

So as we enter this new decade we need to remember to look at all the learnings and string them together rather than just focusing on the latest trend or buzzword. We need to be intensely careful that the trend of personalisation does not take us back to the era of one-on-one communication described earlier. We don’t want to repeat past mistakes.

So let’s look at what else we know to find a place for personalisation. It is unclear who first said “Understanding is deeper than knowledge. There are many people who know me but not many who understand me”, but it is a quote that I like to refer to because it reminds us that we need to strive to understand the human beings who make up our markets in order to resonate. There are many things that allow us to connect to emotions – names, interests and language are just a few to come to mind.

And it is with this in mind that personalisation has a place and a chance to make a real impact. Personalisation allows us to use technology – analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning allow us to understand the humans we are talking to and adapt communication to the individual at scale. And that is how we create this paradox of mass personalisation – we can aim to reach the entire category but still connect with every one of them individually.

  • Isla Prentis is the intelligence lead at Tirisano Consulting, within The MediaShop.


The big take-out:

Personalisation allows us to use technology to understand the humans we are talking to and adapt communication to the individual at scale


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