We’re thinking about personalization all wrong. Yes, I’m talking to you Netflix and Amazon.
First: I’ll start with a story
At 6:55am on the first Friday of every month, I wait for my local Great Clips to open to get my haircut. Why I get my haircut that often and why I go to Great Clips are for another post. In the meantime, call me cheap if you must.
At Great Clips, I don’t always get the same stylist, which I’ve come to expect. But if I do, it is a personalized experience. When I check-in, their CRM system pulls the razor guards I prefer, what trimmer to use and, of course, the time of my last visit. But that’s not the personalized part of the experience. Let me say that again.
Great Clips knowing the explicit preferences I’ve provided since becoming a customer is not personalization. That is (or should be called) something else. Maybe it’s targeting? Or preferences? Segmentation?
When Tammy or Jonathan, my faves, point me to the chair, the conversation doesn’t start with “What are we doing today?” They know already know that because of the data their systems provide. They start with “How are the kids?” or “How was the wedding you went to?”. That’s personal. Unless Great Clips has smart devices listening to our conversations (like we all know the Google’s and the Amazon’s are doing today), their systems probably aren’t smart enough to actual provide that detailed data. But they should. As of now, it’s the people that provide personalized experiences. Something that Netflix, Amazon and others aren’t known for.
Second: A correlation between personalization and music
Let’s break this down. Personalization is grounded in what is personal. My preferred shipping type or shirt size aren’t personal. Genetic medical issues, why my kids go to the school they do or why I love dogs over cats…that’s personal. Companies shouldn’t get overblown credit for knowing that I like dogs. Isn’t buying dog food week over week enough? It’s the why that is personal. And there is probably a story associated to it.
And who is better than telling a story than lyricists? Answer: no one. Ever wonder why music plays such a integral part of our lives? It’s because the verse, chorus and bridge tell a story that can connect with us on a personal level. It shares the why of our story in a methodical way.
Next: So what should we expect?
When Netflix can write my story through data, then their experience wil be personalized. Know that the story of a given documentary matches my political and social beliefs. That the director has experienced similar personal struggles as me. That my co-workers have watched it and enjoyed it too which will lead to fun conversation at the water cooler. And that my calendar is free tonight allowing me the time to watch it. Not because I watched a documentary yesterday, therefore I want to watch another one tonight.
When Amazon can write my story through data. Know that TV I just ordered is for the room I’m in the process of remodeling. That I’m over stressed because of the remodeling complications. That I chose that model of TV not because of the price but because I agree with the manufacturing environment the vendor stands form. That I actually need the TV when the project is done (not in two days) but took advantage of an offer because it landed on my pay day. That I could order the TV any day if I had gotten the promotion I’ve been working my tail off for at work but didn’t because it was given to someone else. That I don’t actually need the top of the line TV, but in order to get the one accessible feature I need, I had no other option. Not because I recently viewed a rental on Prime Video, therefore I need a new TV today.
All of this, of course, comes at a cost. Do I actually want these companies knowing all of that about me? Maybe not. But they shouldn’t call themselves hyper-personalized if their experiences aren’t actually personal.
Last: I should mention…
“Personalized” products and capabilities have been the focus of my design career for years. With this point of view below, I’m pointing a finger at myself as much as anyone else. Instead of taking a defensive response, let’s set the record straight and use the right language going forward.
From the author
I’ve never walked away from a discussion feeling good about myself if all I did was talk about what I believed to be true. Similarly, I didn’t write this post believing I know everything about the subject matter above. Instead, I want all involved to learn, including myself. So please comment and share feedback on this post, write me on Twitter or send me an email, email@example.com.