This year’s Personalization Summit hosted by Rapleaf and Microsoft had 150 CEOs and thought leaders involved with this next wave of one to one marketing. You can see the impressive list here. Here is my take on what was said and, more importantly, what was missing.

butlerWhat consumers desire is that personalization act like a butler, someone who knows everything about you but keeps it private. That is the best description yet: personalization with discretion. And tell me how you are using my data. I as the consumer will trade my data for free services, but please tell me how you are going to use my data. Give me some control over it, too.

Google does this with Gmail. What was mentioned in the conference is that most people don”t realize that Google is scanning your email for keywords and serving up ads based on what you write. The information isn”t made public and humans aren”t involved – to quote Google: The whole process is automated and involves no humans matching ads to Gmail content. Does that give me comfort? I don”t know. But I do know that it is exactly the trade-off for having a free Gmail account. And I can opt-out of Google”s interest-based advertising.

We are filtering information so that we receive, read and review what we “like.” That excludes us from new information outside of what we express interest in. That is the downside of personalizing your digital life, and having it personalized for you by Google, Bing, RSS readers, and retargeting. Retargeting is the name for those are ads served to you based on your interests as you move from site to site. What you click on when you visit one site turns into an ad for that same product on another site. For more on this check out

What I heard more than once is that this type of personalization is ok, until it turns “creepy.” That is the new operative word. If the retargeted ad following you around the web said, “hey, you visited this site 10 minutes ago. Can we offer you a 10% discount if you come back?” That might be creepy. But just serving up an ad with a 10% discount on that item is ok, without the reference to “we are following your every click as you move from site to site.”

Personalization is the last frontier of search.

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The encouraging words were that “consumers need to be put in control of their own data”, and that it would be great to be able to opt out of certain personalization. An example given was buying a tricycle for a nephew. This is a one-time purchase. The need to be served up tricycle ads as you surf the web for the next three months is a waste of time and resources. It would be better to be able to opt out or to turn off that previous interest. I personally think this is a big win-win idea.

As we are moving from one to many towards one to one marketing and customer service, one issue kept being mentioned: we as marketers need to do a better job of getting inside the consumer’s head. The companies that are better at defining the user experience in the long run will win. There is a need to do a better job even if it the first time I’ve met you (online or offline).

What wasn’t said at the conference was how to understand the consumer before you meet them, and how to get inside the consumer’s head after you do.

Fortunately, there is an answer. You need to ask the consumer what is the process they go through when they buy items and how they would like to be treated. Not in those words mind you, but that is the essence of the solution.

Without that data, most personalization will continue to be missing the most important piece of the puzzle: how the consumer thinks when gathering information and making a buying decision. It doesn”t need to be so.

If you would like to learn how to identify the buying process of your customers, contact me.

Gene Bellotti