Last updated: Individualization vs personalization: Why personalization isn’t actually personal at all

Individualization vs personalization: Why personalization isn’t actually personal at all


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There’s a lot of confusion around the topic of individualization vs personalization, but it’s important to know the difference.

It wasn’t that long ago that personalization was the “next big thing” in marketing and customer engagement. Instead of broadcasting a generic message and hoping consumers would piece together the parts that were pertinent to them, we could now address our audience by name, and feature content and products that fit their general demographics.

Personalization was the first step forward towards a new type of customer engagement – engagement based on customer experience.

But now, with hindsight being what it is, businesses are coming to a funny realization: personalization isn’t really that personal at all.

Dear [First Name], we need to rethink individualization vs personalization

Sure, I’d rather receive an email addressed “Dear Emily” instead of “Dear Valued Customer.” But the personalization of old doesn’t go far beyond that. Indeed, it was just the next step in more traditional audience segmentation.

Today, businesses live or die based on the customer experience they’re able to deliver, and customers have shown they want and expect those experiences to be curated and tailored to them.

More and more, you’re finding companies not only showcasing their product line on beautifully designed websites – but also offering “personalized quizzes” designed to guide customers to the products that meet their specific, unique needs (sometimes with their names printed right on the product labels!).

Moving away from personalization to get more…personal

Ironically, companies are moving away from personalization in order to have more personal, human conversations with their customers. It’s a naming issue, really. People want – and organizations want to deliver – personalized experiences, now more than ever. But capital-P Personalization isn’t enough anymore. So, what is?

It’s called “individualization.” Where personalization was the next iteration of audience segmentation, individualization is an alternative to segmentation as a whole.

Rather than communicating with customers or leads based on whichever group (or segment) they fall into, it’s about connecting with them as a person, with unique needs, preferences, and habits that may or may not be representative of others in their segment.

It’s about seeing your customers as people first.

And it isn’t easy.

Individualization: The basics

Individualization requires a single view of your customer across multiple channels and departments. And it requires their trust. Reaching customers on that level means collecting personal data – and walking the line between personalization and privacy.

The good news is, consumers today are digital natives. They understand the trade-off, and many are willing to share their data – IF you are able to provide a worthwhile experience in exchange. That means hyper-individualized marketing and communications, not just creepily accurate ads on their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

And when companies deliver, they’ll see the rewards – in the form of customer loyalty, brand advocacy, and higher customer lifetime value.

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