What Personalization Means to Me


What is personalization for you? If you’re like me, and many others out there, it can mean different things at different times. For organizations, it’s really figuring out what your customer doesn’t like as much as it has to do with what I like. For example – your alerts interrupting me while I play Candy Crush are extremely annoying and therefore violently ignored – by me, but maybe not others.

As a quick background, I’m just a regular old sales guy. I sell digital marketing advisory services for Gartner. I’m pretty old school in nature, as I prefer to take clients out to lunch, dinner, and/or drinks. I just think mixing social activities and business in a face to face manner is still the most personal you can get in today’s world. It’s the best way for me to get to know you, and helps get your guard down (and mine), and build trust.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for the socially challenged), that type of service is neither required nor feasible these days. We’re all just too busy, and it’s so much easier just sending an email! With the advent of beacons, targeting, and other marketing technologies, it sure makes it easier than going face to face with chubby, odd, middle-aged folks like me. Heck –   I don’t care much to speak with salespeople myself. Most of us are poor listeners, clearly only care about the sale and our needs, and quite frankly are people I would probably not typically ever hang out with.

As a customer, if your company alerts me to a special deal, a new product/service, or a great sale – it damn well better be something I am specifically interested in. Send me an alert about fingernail polish? You’re notifications just got turned off on my phone. Send me an email about a deal on women’s shoes? You’re spam. Tell me you’re going to give me a whopping 5% off on my next purchase? I will laugh as I delete your message from whatever device I’m using.

However, if you determine with all of your magical tools that I’ve been perusing a certain product for several weeks or months, and haven’t pulled the trigger, a little push is often helpful. Sometimes, a discount isn’t even necessary. (In fact, that may even tell me that the price is going to stay that way for a while and I may as well make the jump!) That said – give me 25% or more off, and we’re probably getting a deal done pretty soon (ß see, I still can’t fully commit to an offer I made for myself)!

I’m a fickle guy and my moods change, and unfortunately for all these companies, I can’t quite tell the local car dealers, super markets, big chain stores, boutique shops, my eye doctor, and other establishments when I’m in the mood to see your beacons of discounts, special pricing and your poor efforts at personalization. What I feel today, is not likely what I’ll feel tomorrow in many cases. What’s cool in November, may not be so cool for me in December. Many of my friends, clients, and co-workers are the same way.

But there are things I just cannot tolerate.

  • Differentiated pricing: Don’t offer a different price for a new subscriber, and charge me more. How do you expect me to be loyal to you, if you’re not loyal to me? Hello Cable Providers!!
  • Sending me emails or offers I clearly have no interest in (see above)
  • Constant pings on my phone or emails – even if I like your product, that will get very annoying fast (we’ve all had that cute significant other that called constantly throughout the day – that cuteness wears off very quickly)
  • Dishonesty (see differentiated pricing)
  • Being read a script or reading through tacky sales communications: Seriously – put some soul into it (ahem, Cable providers again)!
  • Not listening to me, and making me repeat myself.

As a provider – to an extent of customer service (as I feel any good salesperson should take on that role), and therefore personalization I struggle with the same things that I do as a customer. What do I really know about my client? Even the ones that I have a “great relationship” with – I wouldn’t always necessarily believe that they think of me as a friend. They may certainly like me.   I may make them laugh (hopefully with me, but sometimes I realize it’s at me too). They may even appreciate my upfront and no nonsense style, but I always struggle with the thought, “Will this information resonate with them?” Despite my best efforts, it does not always do so. Instead I’ve really tried to key in on what my clients do not like, and throughout my career that has worked well for me, and I’ve come to expect the same from those that want to do business with me as a consumer.

In digital marketing, and marketing in general, the feedback I get is that no one is doing this well. At least not yet. There are best of breeds of course, and you can look to the Amazons and MasterCards of the world for that (among others) – but even they haven’t quite nailed down who exactly they’re targeting to all of the time. Nor do they know exactly what you want, when you want it, and how you want it served. Organizations, despite their best efforts, are just starting to scratch the surface of data-driven marketing, which leads to good targeting, and therefore better personalization.

However, what I hear most companies thinking about is “what does my customer/prospect like?” but that’s just half the battle. We have to also think about what our customers don’t like. There’s clearly more candy crushers like myself who’s missions are constantly interrupted and forced to start over. Be warned, if you do that to me – your personalization efforts just invaded my personal space!


About Author

Gerard Rebalsky has been with Gartner for 7 years and is currently an Account Executive for Gartner’s Marketing Leaders Program. Previously, he’s worked with CIO’s, CFO’s, CMO’s and Security Professionals contextualizing content, facilitating workshops, and developing advisory roadmaps for major organizations around the world. In his previous career, Gerard was general manager for the largest Salon & Spa in Philadelphia and worked as a hair stylist on New York’s 5th Avenue. His varied background gives Gerard a unique perspective on personalization, both physically, technologically, and through his conversations with large account organizations spanning all industries.

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