Why Personalization May Not Work for Your Business


Personalization carries many benefits for almost any business or product. Personalization need not be complicated, either. Sixty percent of shoppers say they like retailers to remember their payment information, as it speeds up purchases. Shoppers like to come into a store or other business and hear questions like, “The usual?” This shows the customer that the retailer has remembered his or her personal tastes and builds rapport. Rapport increases if you add small touches such as remembering customers’ names, addressing them personally in emails, and tailoring mail campaigns to their tastes.

Personalization ensures your client or customer base remains loyal and manageable. Mass email, or the “batch and blast approach,” annoys customers and draws them away from your business or product. Conversely, “segmentation and targeting” helps you spend less time emailing and more time tailoring the information in a few emails to what customers want. Research has found personalized emails are more likely to be opened and clicked through, and the people receiving them are less likely to unsubscribe. Additionally, personalized emails will narrow your customer base. Those who continue subscribing to emails are the people most likely to continue using your business. Those who do not subscribe probably weren’t that interested in the first place. This keeps your client base more manageable, saving you time and money.

Personalization can help you speak more directly to specific needs of patrons, making newcomers feel more welcome. A book lover is likely to read a blog post entitled “Top 7 Authors of 2015.” Yet if you know that book lover is also an elementary teacher, by changing the post to “Top 7 Children’s Authors of 2015,” you have spoken directly to his or her passion and career. You have netted a valuable customer who will return to your website and use your information. At the same time, personalization also welcomes customers who haven’t used your business or product before. For example, a potential customer might know your coffee shop as the one where staff takes time to learn everyone’s drink. That’s great – it shows the customer you’ll learn his or her drink, too.

Personalization Problems

This being said, personalization carries a set of problems. In fact, some writers believe personalization may be destroying the internet and businesses in general, particularly those based online. Some of this worry comes from the way businesses gather information via the internet. For example, a business can now access customers’ personal and payment information from any computer or other device they use, leading to privacy and safety concerns. Yet personalization can become far more specific and cause more damage. Journalist Eli Pariser discusses this in a video about his own internet experiences. He explains that his conservative friends were “edited out” of his Facebook feed because Facebook had “noticed” he was clicking on more of his liberal friends’ links – and responded accordingly. He goes on to explain that “there is no standard Google anymore.” Instead, Google uses signals based on the computer and browser you use, where you live, and other types of information to specifically tailor search results. This might save time, but it also decreases the possibility of learning new concepts, discovering new sites, or even communicating with friends of different persuasions.

Personalization becomes a problem when it starts isolating us. “When websites show us only what we like,” Pariser says, we may not get information we need. For example, you might not think you need to know about the controversial nuclear weapons deal Iran is pursuing with the U.S, and Google may think you don’t need to know it, either. When that happens, it can become more difficult to get that information if you ever do want or need it. “We like to be surrounded by the familiar and [given] information that confirms what we already believe,” Pariser says. Pariser and people like him fear rampant personalization will lead to a decrease in the awareness of serious problems such as homelessness, world hunger, and child trafficking.

This leads to another personalization problem – an increase in entitlement and the belief that if something isn’t specifically personalized, it’s not worth buying, using, reading, or listening to. Critics claim too much personalization causes us to read and search for efficiency rather than enrichment. In other words, we search for the content we want, absorb it as quickly as possible, and move on because we feel like we are all absurdly busy and the rest of the content has nothing to do with us personally.

Additionally, if a product doesn’t speak to us, meaning it doesn’t address our specific problems or our needs, we’ve been conditioned to think we shouldn’t buy or use it. The American Girl company is a prime example. Critics like Alexandra Petri write the line has suffered since its acquisition by Mattel in 1998. Now, instead of historical characters going on new adventures and having new experiences, contemporary American Girl fans are faced with characters just like them – living in the same era, in the same upper middle class homes, dealing with the same problems such as losing a beloved art class or suffering temporary reading problems. In addition, each fan can now create her own American Girl with the “Just Like You” line of dolls. This personalization brings more girls to the brand, but the question is whether it’s also teaching entitlement. In other words, just because the American Girl brand cannot realistically represent every difference in existence, should we try to force them to do so with a line of dolls with no names and stories, only features?

The way many employers conduct their businesses is another example. It’s natural for every business owner to want his or her employees to be content and perform jobs that fit them. Thus, many employers suggest their employees take personality inventories to find their niches. In itself, this is a good strategy. Sometimes though, it leads to unwillingness to take on new tasks or work with certain people because personalities clash or there is a fear that some tasks may be out of reach.

Where To De-Personalize

Can business owners de-personalize some aspects of their companies and retain content employees? Yes, absolutely. The key is knowing where and when to de-personalize. Keep tips like these in mind:

  • Don’t rely too much on personality inventories or team-building exercises. Try to create departments or tasks that will best fit 2-3 personality groups at once. Make clear that an employee’s “type” is not an excuse for doing or not doing something.
  • Make sure employees get all the relevant information they need. For example, if you need your employers to be knowledgeable about free trade coffee, make sure references to slavery in coffee-producing countries is not filtered out of searches. IT professionals are huge allies here.
  • Narrow choices. If your company does offer a personalized product, don’t go overboard. Don’t add chartreuse to your color selection because one or two customers don’t like indigo, sky blue, or turquoise.
  • Emphasize respectful treatment. Knowing every detail about employees or clients is not as important as remembering their name and building and keeping rapport.
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Stephanie Mccall

Stephanie McCall is a full-time freelance writer. She has written three books for the inspirational market. Two are from the same series, Fiery Secrets and Down Candy Cane Lane. Promise of a Future is a standalone novel. Stephanie lives in North Carolina, where she enjoys singing, theater, learning Spanish and French, and reading with her cat nearby.

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