Personalization has conquered the market by employing a few basic psychological mechanisms married with technological capabilities. Although people grow hypersensitive about protecting their privacy, they then turn around and readily share their digital data and intimate life stories allowing brands to use such information to build lasting relationships with them. We help brands examine us and peer into the deepest recesses of our minds. Personalization would never happen without our willingness to share private content, our thoughtless consenting to the processing of data and our conviction that our personal uniqueness should be met with equally unique products and services. Algorithmic technologies cleverly use “psychology” to feed on our addictions. They encroach on our lives making sure we do not notice it too much. We are no longer surprised to receive an email from a company that addresses us by name. What we get is almost exactly what our ego wants: being noticed, appreciated and heard. By virtue of our involvement in this process, we are experiencing probably the biggest change in the history of customer-producer relationships. Personalization is changing the face of consumerism.
In the beginning there was my name
Everything starts offline in b2c. One of the best known marketing campaigns of recent years, carried out by the Coca Cola group in 2014, has shown that – if implemented skillfully – personalization can be very effective in getting through to customers on an emotional level. Each of us has once held a bottle bearing their name on the label. This simple idea has turned out to be highly effective, and is still successfully employed today by many companies. A recent example comes from Guinness. If you send a Guinness barista your selfie you’re your smartphone, he will run it through a special app that will “print” a photo of your face on … beer head. Although your image will lose clarity with every sip you take, they definitely sold me on the idea. Guinness has found a neat way to use content from my smartphone by exploiting people’s obsession with selfies. Only a few years have passed since the Coca Cola campaign, and we are already at a completely different place: it is not only the physical reality that defines the customer. What matters also is the fact that the customer entering a bar packs a smartphone. Guinness has learned its lesson from that.
I will cooperate
As a consumer, I want to be singled out from the crowd of other customers. I will happily give up some privacy as long as someone sees me for the unique individual that I am. I will share my private data with the companies that can skillfully create an illusion of my uniqueness. In this way, I contribute to the success of Amazon which redesigns its website on the basis of my previous choices. I influence the popularity of such giants as Spotify and Netflix which reward me with personalized playlists for returning to them. I contribute to the success of news portals that display content to match my moods and political leanings. As I cultivate my individuality, I strengthen global corporations which put store by my individual self so long as it allows them to get a more powerful grip on the market. While personalization feeds into my sense of uniqueness and egoistical pleasure, the game is rigged to make sure that corporations gain even more.
The demise of marketing
Today’s internet-educated customers are well aware of their needs. But they owe much of this awareness to algorithms that invariably jump to conclusions based on the customers’ prior behavior. They tirelessly tell them what to buy, what to eat, whom to meet, and where to go to feel better. As paradoxical as this may seem, the rise of algorithm-based technology is killing traditional advertising. With his famous book “21 Questions For the 21st Century”, Yuval Harari becomes one of many authors who tackle this very problem. Algorithms are surpassing us in learning about ourselves. They end up knowing more about us than we do about ourselves. Our knowledge is based on our upbringing, on culture and on the influence of our parents and friends. AI-based applications are increasingly reading our consumer impulses better than ourselves. Traditional advertising will soon no longer be necessary to influence our choices in supermarkets and online stores. Because the algorithm will know best what we are going to pick up in a store. It will “tune up” our selection mechanism to prevent mistakes and disappointments. The imperative is relentless: our satisfaction is to be absolute.
The power of a weary smile
This may be all good and well but one can only imagine all those fickle customers clamoring to give them a break and how tired they are of the algorithmic and marketing tricks that they know inside out. Well aware of how fed up customers can be with being constantly bombarded with brand messages and with being given cynical treatment, corporations never cease to search for solutions. Technology does not sleep – it does its level best to “reign in” customers’ instinct to run, bring them under control and keep them within reach. A growing number of tools are available that promise a better understanding of people’s individual needs. Marketers rush to produce valuable insights into customer personalities. Without a doubt, science labs have a hand in driving the rapid growth of technologies for decoding customer personalities. A belief in a fundamental difference between genuine and phony smiles has inspired a team of experts of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create software capable of distinguishing between a natural and a fake smile. The next logical question is how to use such genuineness detectors going forward. An application that offers insights on the basis of an ordinary facial image will inevitably attract the interest of sellers, marketers, and market researchers. Say I’m feeling down: an algorithm will instantly respond by offering me a movie to watch and cheer me up. The rewarding experience will effectively keep my cynical self at bay.
My name is Siri. I know your dreams
The metaphor “the way to a man’s heart is through his ears” seems to capture what happens when a voice assistant interacts with a human. Siri, Amazon, Echo and other voice assistants are on the rise, particularly in the US. Nearly every second household has members who talk to such assistants about the weather, prices and shopping. The assistants, which are voice-enabled algorithms, learn more about us every time we talk. They rely on recommendations as a mechanism for suggesting people’s best choices. The assistants’ compelling voice holds more sway over us than the texts we read. Every time we ask Siri a question, she learns more about us. Once we are there, it is easy to improve product personalization by saying the name of a company, brand, store or restaurant out loud. Voice assistants are the culmination of the dream of a machine and algorithm that relates to humans on an intimate and emotional level based on intelligence. Customers will literally feel they have been lent a sympathetic ear. Out of gratitude, they will then hear out the machine that will offer them ideas about our the best vacation spot, bank and perhaps life partner.
Personalization requires new tools and it is only a matter of time before they are available. Such tools will help achieve a perfect match between products and services and individual people’s personalities. However, we will also be more likely to wonder whether the desires we feel are truly our own. We may have to make an honest effort to learn to distinguish between our genuine needs and those created by penetrating algorithmic applications with which we are interacting. The time has come to learn more about AI behaviors, capabilities and strategies. Not in order to criticize but to keep it from disempowering us.
Norbert’s blog: https://norbertbiedrzycki.pl/en/