“Three-fourths of the hours streamed on Netflix are spurred by the algorithms that recommend specific shows and movies based on a subscriber's past viewing.” That's what I read a few short weeks ago in the New York Times. That means more than three billion hours of the video streamed in Q1 on Netflix were prompted by personalized recommendations.
If there was ever any doubt about the value of creating experiences that treat customers as individuals, keep repeating that number: three billion.
The media and marketing industries have had the luxury of thinking in terms of the masses for decades. Newspapers sold ads as though every reader saw every ad (the “Myth of Mass Media” as described by Jeff Jarvis). Journalists didn’t know how many individuals actually read their articles. Marketers bought television spots based on broad demographic data. Mass media, mass mailings, and massive audiences. It had never been economical to think in terms of individuals.
Technology changed all that.
Now, companies need to think in terms of serving individuals.
Ecommerce sites have been leading the way in this shift to a personalized world. Amazon is the embodiment of the idea that the “ecommerce revolution is all about you”. Fab.com recently announced that they’re discontinuing large-scale flash sales emails and customizing all communications based on what users follow on the site. Tailored content, site experience, and even products, are all what the customer expects.
For those of us from the news world, thinking in terms of the individual is a near impossibility. That core of the newspaper -- the front page -- has always been the same for everyone. Even in the digital world, every news organization from the New York Times to TechCrunch provides a nearly universal front page. How do we completely change our thinking to where personalization isn't just a feature, but a mindset?
It's time to adopt a personalization mindset.
First, get out and talk to your customers and readers. There's no better way to think about them as individuals than to actually hear the thoughts and wishes of people with names and personalities. Technology will enable delivering personalization at scale, but there’s nothing like old-fashioned conversation to remind you that those data points in your analytics dashboard are real people using your product.
Engaging through social media is a great beginning to these conversations, but there's no substitute for a phone call or sitting down for coffee. Also, make sure it’s everyone in your company and not just your salespeople and marketers out there getting to know your individual customers.
Second, strive to use products created by people that are driven by a personalization mindset -- people that have it in their business model, even. At Informerly, we’re big fans of technology that allow us to deliver tailored emails based on things like the types of stories users have been reading, or how frequently they engage with our emails. We hope it means we’re sending more relevant and valuable emails. Work with products and companies that are pushing the world in this direction, so it's easier for you to do it yourself, too.
Finally, take a moment to think of yourself as the end user or customer. It seems so simple, yet is probably the most difficult thing to do. When you’re finishing up that email marketing copy, how would you react if you saw it in your inbox? When you're interacting on social media, are you sharing something you'd actually enjoy consuming? Even if you’re not the exact target user for your product or service, most of us reading this blog live deep enough in the online world to know exactly when we’re being treated as a person, as opposed to just another data point.
The traditional media industry was trained to think in terms of the masses. While companies like Amazon and Netflix have shown billions of times over the value behind companies creating personalized experiences, moving away from that mass way of thinking is no easy feat. Take advantage of the fact that we can now build products, services, and experiences that treat our users as the individuals they are. It's time to build a culture of personalization throughout your company.
Ranjan Roy is the co-founder of Informerly, a company focused on bringing social news to the professional world, located in New York City. You can follow Ranjan on Twitter @informerly.