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Customization, personalization and the importance of human context

Customization, personalization and the importance of human context

A recent project prompted a discussion around the need for brands to understand and capitalize on both customization and personalization. A truly tailored experience can only exist when customization, the experience driven by the consumer’s choices, and personalization, any information provided being specific to the consumer, merge. Historically, a great example of the two concepts would be targeted marketing efforts, on Instagram, let’s say. Ads that populate on someone’s feed are personalized, served up based on other accounts they follow, or what they’ve searched for, etc. And the experience can in turn be customized as the consumer is empowered to decide whether they’d like to continue to see ads on the related topic, or not. Personalization + customization in its simplest form.

The driving force of behavioral data

Woman holding a coffee cup looks at her phone and is served up behavioral data, not considering human context.

As I started to think about the way these two concepts might play together in the future, I quickly arrived at just how much of a driving force behavioral data is. Behind everything we experience as consumers is an action that robust analytics programs have captured and then reacted to.

If you watch something on YouTube, search for something to purchase on Google, follow specific accounts on Instagram, these are the actions that brands now so heavily rely on to track consumers so they can properly target outreach to market new offerings – a suggested video to watch on YouTube, new products to buy from Google, new accounts to follow on Instagram, the examples are endless as this consumer action > brand reaction dynamic is the new way of the world.

We’ve all had moments where we were targeted by an ad or recommended a new video that left us feeling like Siri must be listening in on our conversations. Probably a little paranoid, but not so far from the truth. Every key stroke provides a small data point about us and the more that different technologies continue to integrate and talk to one another in the future, the more data will be pulled from each tiny key stroke and the more companies will learn about the things we do and then react accordingly.

On a personal note, recently relocating from Manhattan to New Jersey shifted my behavior online which made the power and prominence of these behavioral-data-driven recommendations more apparent than ever. For the first time, I was searching for NYC moving companies, watching how-to videos on YouTube to figure out how to mount my TV, and purchasing an abundance of storage containers. And because of these actions, the online world reacted: Moving companies were targeting me in abundance, YouTube suddenly decided I needed to watch a how-to video for everything imaginable, and The Container Store was checking in more than my dear mom does.

I get it. Looking at all these actions I’d taken, the online universe was just reacting to my behavior. It all makes sense.

But as a qualitative researcher, I am in a perpetual state of wanting to understand human emotion. Behavior is valuable, of course, but the emotional underpinning behind those behaviors – the why – is what really excites me.

Finding the “why”: human context and emotion

Man in an office or home office gazes out the window overlooking a city, considering emotion and human context

With those emotions in mind, as we think about the future and the evolution of behavioral data, it will be vitally important for brands to be able to look beyond just behaviors. Yes, I moved from NYC, and because of that I searched online for certain things, I purchased certain things, and so on, but how about what I was feeling? Being nervous for impending change, feeling unsettled, stressed, etc. these are all emotions likely to emerge around a major life change like a move – and yet these emotions were never acknowledged.

Instead, brands were only reacting to my behavior. They understood me based on what I was doing but they seemingly made no attempt to understand me based on what I was feeling. And the result was a missed opportunity to establish a true connection with me, to leave me feeling like “wow, this brand gets me.”

Companies need to be able to move beyond just what can be understood through behavioral data to a place of understanding the consumer holistically. Not only what consumers do, but what they think and feel, the reasons why they do what they do. Creating a truly customized and personalized experience needs to be based not only on behavior but on emotion and human context. That is the real opportunity.

And understanding human context, well that is exactly where Magid shines. If you want to learn more about our work in human science and how we apply it to business, let’s talk.

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