The Personalization Bubblegum is all Chewed Up

Personalization is a word that’s been chewed around quite a lot in our industry. Everyone seems to have ideas of what it should mean. And tech marketers are shameless about stretching out its definition to be sure it includes their own product or service. Everyone has blown so much hot air into the Personalization bubble that the term no longer has any real meaning. It’s sadly been reduced to a worn out piece of gum that’s ready to retire underneath a table.

If you ask someone who’s been sheltered from the content that’s been dribbling out of retail/tech over the past couple of years what “Personalization” is, they probably won’t mention anything related to broad segmentation or “sorta you” experiences. Their fresh perspective could be that Personalization has to do with tailoring something to an individual person’s needs. It seems, at least, that is what the term was originally supposed to be about.

Companies that actually provide the kind of Personalization that’s in line with the original meaning of the word are faced with a conundrum. We need another phrase to describe what it really means to truly provide individual visitors with an intelligent experience that builds off of their individual tastes and helps curate merchandise and content at the one to one level. Something that’s more descriptive and hasn’t already been watered down. We actually need a new term for both the concept and the technology that delivers it. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

  • As a concept: We use “Individualization”. It leaves less room for loose interpretation and gets to the core idea of tailoring to individual consumers.
  • As a technology: We use “Personalization 2.0”. It denotes a more advanced application of the concept that has evolved from something more rudimentary.

Not being able to stick with the original term is somewhat frustrating. Adding new terms to the mix can be confusing. But as a buzzword, “Personalization” isn’t clarifying anything for anyone right now.

A recent study found that 80% of marketers can’t personalize their marketing. Getting bamboozled by vendors who claim to be delivering Personalization may be part of the problem.

Those of us who truly deliver Individualization need to separate the wheat from the chaff and boldly define who we are. B2C marketers should have high expectations when it comes to engaging with their shoppers at the individual level. But to accomplish their goal of providing true 1 to 1 Individualization, they have to be sure they’re ordering the right solution.

There is a final cheeky option. Every other company out there that’s been abusing the term could call themselves “Personalization Light”. Or, sticking to the bubble gum analogy, “Sugar free Personalization”. That would save us the trouble of having to think of new ways to describe what we do. But who’d actually do that?

For more on Personalization 2.0, check out the four characteristics that define it, according to Forrester’s Brendan Witcher.


Photo: Flickr / Kārlis Dambrāns

Stafford McKay

Stafford is the former Director of Content at Reflektion. He’s passionate about eCommerce Marketing, Technology, and Lake Michigan. When he’s not writing content, he can be found out on the water in the 1938 Chris Craft he shares with his family.