But now personalisation is back big time. In part this is simply because more companies’ digital capabilities have matured to the point where they are actually in a position to do it rather than just talk about it.

In part it is because customers simply expect Amazon-like capabilities on all sites. In part it is because most companies aren’t struggling with getting traffic to their digital presences but they could be converting much better.

Recent Econsultancy research with Adobe showed that 52% of digital marketers surveyed agreed that “the ability to personalise content is fundamental to online strategy”.

Q: To what extent do you agree with the following statements?

Following are the 4Ps I believe represent the future of personalisation and one to one marketing. But first we should clarify what we actually mean by personalisation in its various guises.

There seems to be little consensus on the semantics. I would split personalisation into ‘anonymous’ and ‘known’ customers. 

In the former, personalisation can be done at an individual level but the individual is not identifiable. Typically he or she is actually a cookie or other digital fingerprint. Within ‘anonymous’ there are two sub-categories: customisation and behavioural (re)targeting.

Customisation involves personalising the experience based on attributes like the user’s IP address (and thereby location etc), their referring search terms, the device being used and so on.

Behavioural (re)targeting, most often perceived as the ‘creepiest’ form of personalisation, means messaging can be targeted based on an individual’s online behaviour all around the internet.

For known customers there is both explicit personalisation, like user preferences and settings typically via a login of some sort, and implicit personalisation, based on a whole range of data but most usually transaction history.

In the former the personalisation is usually very evident to the customer; in the latter it might be less obvious, like Amazon’s product recommendations.

We are seeing rapid growth, and interest, in all these forms of personalisation. Econsultancy research shows, if done well, they can all dramatically increase marketing effectiveness.

John Lewis reported that a personalised recommendation tool on its website was a key factor in driving a 27.9% increase in sales over Christmas last year.

Personalisation can delight customers, even marketers, as per this comment in Econsultancy’s blog recently:

This week I witnessed a truly simple yet great piece of personalised marketing. I received an email from Pizza Express with my name written out in flour on a pizzaiolo’s table, wishing me happy birthday and offering me a free bottle of Prosecco or wine on my next visit. Brilliant! I’m off to Pizza Express.

Where the lines are increasingly blurred, and data protection and privacy laws harder to interpret and apply, is in social data and the social graph.

For example, if a Facebook friend of mine grants access to my profile data, via his, to a brand then I become known as an identifiable person to that brand despite the fact I may believe to be anonymous to them.

In the Econsultancy/Adobe research we found that currently only 6% of marketers surveyed use social graph data for personalisation but 88% of those doing it say the impact on both ROI and engagement is high.

My 4Ps of personalisation are:


This is a big topic, often emotionally charged and varies by jurisdiction and culture. e-Privacy Directive, Do not track, cookie compliance, FTC, default browser settings, self-regulation etc.

Much of it comes down to perception and trust in the eyes of the consumer, rather than legislation or what the industry thinks. Which makes it a brand issue as much as anything.

Transparency and a real value exchange (what are you giving customers in exchange for their permission/data?) is more important than the specific technologies or laws.


Perhaps ironically one of the biggest opportunities for digital marketing is the physical world. Digital can be used to configure and personalise the real world.  At the extreme, some shops in Japan are changing their store layout in near real time to mirror what is happening on their websites.

Augmented reality (AR) can add an information layer to the physical world that is entirely personal. Likewise the ‘internet of things’ can give a digital, personalised, life and experience to physical goods and objects.

Click and collect and personalised in-store shopping apps are the tip of the iceberg in terms of experiential opportunities for using the digital to personalise the physical.


Whilst we as marketers need to navigate the grey lines of what is ‘creepy’ or ‘Big Brother-ish’, we still need to embrace the sort of ‘invisible design’ whereby our digital services attempt to best guess what our customers are interested in and then adapt themselves as effectively as possible to every signal and input a customer gives us.

Our marketing needs to be as natural, relevant and helpful as possible. We have to aspire to predictive personalisation based both on empirical data (think Amazon) and serendipity or ‘sideways’ experiences (think last.fm).

As sensitively as possible, with a level of brand trust and authority, we should be able to tell our customers what they should like, buy, and experience, and they will be grateful for our help.


We might think now that pushing information proactively at customers is a bad thing. I think in the future they will expect this as long as the experience is correctly crafted and choreographed.

Google is already experimenting with ‘push’ search. We have moved beyond the internet as a repository of information to be retrieved.

In the world of apps, the internet becomes most useful when we can do things. The future of digital marketing, and personalisation, is about verbs (think ‘Like’) not nouns.

Truly successful, personalised, digital services of the future will help you do useful things across devices, using cues like voice as much as touch or clicks.

If you remember one to one marketing, you’ll remember when PDAs (Psion Organizer, Apple Newton etc) were cutting edge. Perhaps here too we need to go back to the future and aspire to create digital services that both assist and are personalised. 

This article originally appeared in Marketing Week.