Relevance is Personal, Not Personalised – By Robert Rose

10/Oct/2021 · 2 MINS READ

Let me ask you a question.

What was the most relevant or personalised ad or email you’ve seen in the last week? How about the last month? How did it make you feel? Can’t remember?  Neither can I.

The need for personalisation

As consumers, we keep hearing that research says we expect the advertising and content we consume to be more relevant and personalised. But is this true?  I mean, according to this research, 63% of consumers not only want, but expect, personalisation as a standard of service.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the research is probably correct. But asking consumers if they expect personalisation, is a bit like asking them if they’d expect a powerful hydraulic system on the airplane they’re about to get on. They’ll say, “I have no idea how it benefits me, but it sounds important, so yeah I would.”

Personalisation that is not creepy

We want (or expect) relevant, personalised experiences – but we definitely don’t want to notice that it’s happening. Research shows this too. Most people feel creeped out, angry, or indifferent about learning that ads were presented to them based on personal details.

It’s a bit of a paradox.  Ask customers if they want more targeted, relevant advertising and content as part of their buying process, they will undoubtedly say “Yes.” But ask them if companies should use their data to do it, and they will overwhelmingly say, “Hell no.”

The fine line of personal and personalised

See, the content experiences you remember, are most likely the ones that touched you in some personal way. They may or may not have been personalised – but that aspect was irrelevant in comparison to the relevance of the message. The best content experiences aren’t those that are conspicuously personalised. They’re personal: relevant and welcome.

Personalisation – certainly at the level that most businesses can operate – is rarely personal, and it simply doesn’t scale. As marketers, we often use some detail in a consumer’s behavior (such as a visit to a product page on our website) to illustrate that we know something about that person. We personalise based on the data we can most easily get.

Personalised is not Sharable

Here’s the catch. People are unlikely to share a piece of content that was personalised based on easily trackable behaviour. Relevant content that people want to share moves them to say, “Hey, everybody, you have to check this out!” It’s content they see themselves in and believe others will see themselves in, too.

When your audience has an experience of “Wow, this is exactly what I needed,” that’s when you win the relevance game. So as we assemble our content marketing strategies, let’s think less about superficially personalising content against some data that we’ve gathered and more about creating content that hits that exactly-what-I-needed spot for a defined wider audience – regardless of who has what cookies on their machines.

Yes, we want to use technology to the max. Yes, we want to devise strategies that scale. At the same time, we have to stay in touch with what works for human beings. And what works for human beings is coming across content that has so much value to them that they want to pass it on. Personally.