Personalisation: Narrowed Choice or Narrow View?
In digital marketing we have spent a lot of time over the last few years talking about personalisation. When we first started in the big, scary world of SEO (because back then that’s all there really was), content was created to be delivered via the huge dissemination powers of the internet to whoever might come across it. In effect, this was a massive platform on which you could have your say and potentially reach whoever.
Then came Google apocalypse or whatever you want to call the myriad of changes to search that forced everyone (and not before time) to stop manipulating search with crap content and start delivering words, messages and visual media that meant something to the brand. To create content that would engage audiences to the point where they simply have to share it and let others benefit too.
Fast forward to today, where the personalisation of content is virtually impossible to avoid. Google personalises SERPs based on whether or not you are logged in, plus a million other variables which none of us outside the Google circle of trust actually understand. Facebook delivers content based on what we have already liked and engaged with, to the point where a best friend from school that you haven’t engaged in Facebook conversation with recently could announce the birth of their first child and you would miss it because your news feed is prioritising what Tracey had for dinner last night. Netflix tries to tell us what films we’d like to watch and thanks to loyalty cards, your favourite supermarket knows how much wine you drink each week, whether you prefer red or white and how often you have to top up your stash.
Whilst on the surface, this level of personalisation seems to be delivering information that is more useful to us as consumers, when you dig a little deeper you start to realise that someone is putting the blinkers on you. Consider that personalisation is narrowing down our views, rather than doing what the internet is supposed to do – expose us to a wide range of opinions and experiences. By only seeing the content that has been tailored for us, we start to see that single view point as the norm, as the general consensus of the populous, when in actual fact we could be losing touch on what is really happening.
Still, personalisation is a good thing, isn’t it?
Not always. In a recent study – Digital Innovation: Surviving the Next Wave of Change, YouGov – almost half (45%) of British consumers said they were not comfortable with personalisation of the information, recommendations and advertising they receive.
Much of this discontent could be put down to brands personalising on low frequency searches – just because you have searched once for something doesn’t mean you are happy to be bombarded with remarketing messages for the next three weeks. Timing is also key. Just because you purchased a product today, it doesn’t mean you will be interested in refills, replacement parts or add-ons tomorrow. Patience is the key to personalising your offering.
So even if you take this advice, time your offer correctly, target it in the right place and don’t overdo it. How can you be sure you are even reaching your potential audience?
Well, you can’t.
The pitfall of personalisation is that you may not even be able to reach your potential audience because they are stuck in their own ‘echo chamber’, where the only voice they hear is their own. Where the content they consume has already been personalised (narrowed down) for them by their purchasing and online browsing preferences. Where the only opinions echoed back to them are their own, because there are no other beliefs within their pigeon hole.
Still think personalisation is a good thing?
To be honest I don’t think we can put the brakes on the personalisation bus as brands are just too ‘into’ it. But what we can do, as consumers, is keep an open mind. This means sometimes reading content that is out of our normal safety zone, because there could well be a whole host of products and services out there that would suit us down to the ground but they just can’t penetrate the box we’ve become trapped in.