marketing personalization is dead

Personalization Is Dead

Gee Ranasinha Communications 5 Comments

A few years ago some technology came about that allowed marketers to personalize their mailings to you.

All of a sudden we were all deluged with mailings with our name in them. Maybe your name was written in roses, part of a pretty photo of a flowerbed. Or your company name appeared in fluffy white clouds as part of a beautiful landscape.

The marketing, printing, transpromo, and direct mail industries all jumped for joy. Companies could create a personalized message to each of their customers and produce more engaging and relevant content.

Except for the fact that, as consumers, we all got very bored very quickly.

Was it because of the cheesy ideas, expressed with even cheesier images? Well, partly. But I think that its because marketers – and therefore companies, by inference – don’t know the difference between personalization and individualization. Consumers no longer get excited about seeing a mailing with their name on it. They want you to know them as people, not as a name.

Why? Because they’ve come to expect it. For example, when I log into Amazon I’m not impressed that I can see my name on the homepage. I’m impressed that I can see a list of everything that I’ve bought, everything that I’ve browsed, and can view a list of Amazon-recommended items that I might like to purchase based upon purchases from other people who’ve bought similar items. I have bought a lot of stuff on Amazon because of this, and I bet that you have too.

You see? It’s not about having my name on a piece of paper. It’s about the communication being relevant to me and only me. Knowing my name, where I work and what I do is no longer enough. I want you to know me.

I want individualization, not personalization.

About the Author
Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

Gee Ranasinha

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After founding a successful media production firm, Gee became worldwide director of marketing for a European software company. As well as CEO of KEXINO he's an author, lecturer, husband, and father; and one hell of a nice bloke. He lives in a world of his own in Strasbourg, France, tolerated by his wife and young son. Find out more about Gee at

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Comments 5

  1. Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

    It quite worrying how many commercial printers and agencies look blankly at me when I say, “It’s not about the personalisation of a piece, it’s about making the piece relevant to me at that point!” I think that even ‘individualisation’ is still partially missing the point. You can make a DM piece individual to me, but it still might not be relevant to me at that point. For example, Amazon might send me a personalised email giving me a discount off a voucher ( but what happens if I had already purchased one a day previously?

    Getting it right involves, making the piece individual, making it timely, and relevant and that involves joined-up thinking and an ‘integrated’ approach to marketing communication.

    Those that are still excited by putting the consumers name in flowers are pitching the wrong message. Put my name in MY favourite flowers in a timely and relevant piece then it works tremendously!

    1. Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

      Hi David,

      I think you’re right to make the point of relevancy (it’s what I was alluding to in my post, but I didn’t express it as such). There are too many companies that have dismissed such targeted campaigns, and (IMO) for the wrong reason, because – as you say – they’re missing the point.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

    Gee and David– I agree with your statements about personalization vs. individualization. However from a marketer’s point of view, I wouldn’t say we are missing the point or don’t get it, because I think the kind of indivualized messaging you speak of is what all (or at least most) marketers want… but the obstacle is database management. Ensuring your data is correct about the recipient’s buying behaviors and latest purchase is critical and I’m not sure how confident most companies are with their data. They may know what is more effective but take the safer path and just use names and basic information.

    Is there data that shows the ROI in individualized mailings vs. personalized mailings? If the ROI is much higher, then more companies may be interested in spending appropriate dollars to scrub their database and ensure data is accurate and plentiful.

    1. Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

      Hello Lindsay, thanks for your comment.

      I agree with you when you say that it’s all about (updated!) databases. The problem, as you rightly point out, is that many companies are unsure of how accurate their information actually is, and end up treading the path most walked. For me, if an organization’s prospect/client database doesn’t have enough captured information to truly ‘individualize’ the piece, then the company concerned should reconsider their campaign concept since, in my opinion, the mailing runs the risk of being just another ‘me-too’ personalized piece.

      If todays business economy about how companies engage more (and better) with both new and existing customers, then the mining and subsequent multipurposing of relevant and pertinent customer data should be high on every marketer’s list of priorities.

  3. Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

    Gee, David & Lindsay, I agree with what all three of you are putting across here and as a consumer at Amazon, I too used to be impressed by the way they presented data to me (sorry to single out Amazon here) but they are only doing half the job in my opinion, if I look at my page today I see a generic discounts ad that has no relevance to me, I have a shoes ad… guess what… no relevance and because I purchased a baby stair gate yesterday I am presented with a further 6 that I might like to buy! They are also ramming best selling products down my throat… SO is there any intelligence in what they present? No, only rules for search queries in the database (not to say they aren’t complex or anything!)
    In my opinion it would get more interesting when they start using learnt buying habits, when they ask me to do simple 30 second surveys that capture more information about what my likes and dislikes are and when they use area data to provide what’s selling well in my local community….
    Naturally I’m talking about existing customers here where information on the customer can be gathered. The other dimension is what are they being pushed to sell? If we look at supermarkets they get better deals to sell certain products and this is reflected in the vouchers they mail to their customers….
    For example I shop at Tesco’s, we always buy online and have it delivered and we always buy Huggies nappies, yet Tesco’s always send me vouchers for Pampers! Why? They are clearly not thinking about why I use Huggies and therefore offer me savings on them…. But it’s ok as the little booklet they send has my name on it….

    So although we are crying out for individualization, how much are we willing to tell people to truly be able to market off the back of it, how can we better use demographic data that isn’t completely irrelevant to the consumer, and really does the mass consumer really want this?

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