It seems odd to start an article with a quote from one of the worst abusers of human rights in history, but we are. ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic’ is a quote widely attributed to Joseph Stalin, a man who was responsible for the deaths of around 60 million people.
This quote is not a pleasant one, but within it, there is a key message that rings true today - the larger the numbers, the less empathy you have for them. If you hear about one person losing their job and the struggles they have in paying bills, supporting their family, or paying medical bills, your heart sinks and you feel incredibly sorry for them. When you hear about 5,000 people losing their job this level of empathy simply doesn’t exist.
It is the same philosophy for the data we hold, we try to put everyone into neat buckets, the number of people who like one type of email versus another, those who like one product, those in a certain geography etc. Rather than looking at what these customers actually want, they are lumped into one bucket with little thought to their personal preferences. Regardless of what data says about whether an individual likes or dislikes something, every person is different and focussing only on one element of their behavior is not good for either the company or the customer.
However, as data evolves and we collect more about each person, these buckets gradually multiply and become more personalized. For instance, 5 years ago somebody could have been put in the bucket of ‘females in LA who like Nike shoes’, today this bucket could be ‘females in Long Beach who like casual Nike sneakers in blue and green who does most of her purchasing on Fridays and who posts images of their new sneakers on social media an average of 5 times after purchase’. In the future as more and more data is created, these buckets will become even smaller, giving more information to companies that can be used to create offerings and communications to people that’s genuinely personal.
One of the key elements that has held this level of personalization back in the past has been technology, with a large amount of communication needing human interaction to work or basic boring templated emails with small personalized interchangeable fields. Today, we have incredibly powerful systems that can automate the entire process and with the increasing power of AI this is only going to become more useful in the future.
With these two elements combining, it is possible to make communications and products that are genuinely personalized, all you need are a few rules. For instance, you may have the ability to reduce the price of a particular pair of shoes for somebody who is more likely to share them on social media or reduce the price of a particular item on the day of the month that somebody is more likely to buy, i.e. on their payday.
Having millions of customers is always a good things, but, historically, trying to communicate with them on an individual level has been incredibly difficult. Today, thanks to new data technologies it is easier than ever.