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Why “Personalization” of the Web Scares Me

Posted By Holly Buchanan On June 20, 2007 @ 10:32 am In Customer Experience,Improving Conversion,Personas | 8 Comments

Laptop Active Wear [1]I walk into a store. I’m wearing sneakers, running shorts and a slightly wrinkled T-shirt. I need to buy a nice suit for a presentation next week. The clerk walks up to me, takes one look and says, “Our athletic clothing is over here on the right. Here, let me take you there.”

Hey, it’s a perfectly valid conclusion. Judging by the data she had (I was in athletic clothing, I was even perspiring a little, though it was from the long walk from Cold Stone Creamery, not a 3 mile run). It was perfectly reasonable to show me the athletic department.

The only problem was, I didn’t want to go to the athletic department. I wanted to go to the designer suit section.

Personalization is a problem when it takes control away from the customer.

I was at a recent conference where everyone was jazzed-up about the ability to show customized content based on customer data. You track behavior and present content according to what that person does, or has done. You make observations and then make predictions as to what that person wants.

But what if your predictions are wrong?

This kind of personalization scares me because you are taking control away from the visitor. YOU are determining what he or she will see.

There are exceptions. For example, there are three things you want your members to do: If you’re a job board, you may want them to sign-up for an account, post a resume, and sign-up for a job alert. It makes total sense to customize content that says, “You’ve taken step one, but you still need to submit a resume and sign up for a job alert.”

Even “Customers who bought this also bought…” is OK. The visitor may have absolutely no interest in these items, but he or she is still in control.

What I’m talking about is, displaying different content for different customers. The customer is no longer in control of what he or she sees.

Do you really have enough insight into what someone is thinking, or what they truly want, from their observable behavior?

What if you have a woman getting ideas for a romantic getaway for her anniversary, and she’s looking at resorts that don’t allow children so she and her hubby can enjoy some much deserved quiet time? You deduce she’s not interested in vacations geared toward kids. But she’d also like to see family vacations to get ideas for the trip she and her whole family will take for spring break.

What if you have a section designed specifically for women, but men want to see it as well? (On The Leo Diamond site, we saw that our male personas left their pathway to visit the “Giving Him Hints” page [2]. This is a page designed for women with ideas on how to give their guys hints as to what they want. But guys wanted to go there because, “Gee, she left a full page Leo Diamond ad on the coffee table…was that a hint?”)

What if you have someone behaving like a Spontaneous-type who only wants a quick overview of your services, but knows he has a very Methodical, detail-oriented boss who’s going to want a 50-page white paper? His first few clicks would peg him as a Spontaneous, but he still needs Methodical information for his (boss) influencer.

Don’t get me wrong. One of the most powerful things about the web is the ability to deliver customized experiences. Future Now is all about creating different experiences for different customers or personas. But nobody can’t predict with 100% accuracy exactly what every customer wants to see. That’s why we create different pathways or scenarios [define [3]], but we let the customer choose which one s/he will take.

Instead of dictating what customers will see, we allow customers to decide which pathway is best.

This way your visitors can have customized experiences designed to meet their individual needs–but the customer decides those needs, not you. Don’t you think the customer is better equipped to understand what he needs?


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URL to article: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/06/20/why-personalization-of-the-web-scares-me/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.grokdotcom.com/wp-content/uploads/Holly/business_suit.jpg

[2] Giving Him Hints” page: http://www.theleodiamond.com/diamond-hints.html

[3] define: http://www.grokdotcom.com/topics/persuasionscenarios.htm

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