Personalization Vs. Personal Relationships

When I was a kid, my dad used to bring us to the butcher to pick up the meat for dinner.  I remember these trips because my dad knew the butcher very well — he worked for him when he was young and he had a relationship with him that went back 30+ years.  

The butcher would carve off a piece of bologna and a piece of cheese and hand one of each to my sister and me.  He and my dad would chat a bit.  He would ask about the band my dad was in and about my grandma, and after a little while we would walk out with the meat all wrapped up.  

I don’t know that they ever talked about what meat to get, and I’m not even sure we always paid for our purchases. What I do know is, we bought meat from him for my entire childhood, and that relationship was strong.  It was a personal relationship in a commercial environment and it created a loyalty that most marketers today strive to achieve, but that butcher never saw it as marketing.  He simply saw it as the way things were supposed to be.



Today, marketers are harnessing data because they’re trying to create relationships that are as effective as the one my dad had with his butcher.  When you walk into a store and the store owner knows details about your life that he can use to personalize the experience, that’s considered excellent customer service.

It’s the same in digital marketing. However, a personalized experience offline — when you become a regular at a restaurant and the staff knows you and what you like — happens over time.  In digital media, we know so many things about you the first time you come into the experience, that it can come off as “creepy” to completely personalize things because we haven’t built the relationship yet.  

As marketers, we have to understand the implied consent and the element of time to build a relationship.  If we don’t respect the time required, then we come off as desperate — and that’s no way to build a relationship.

Targeting and personalization are here to stay. They are crucial reasons why more dollars are being spent online than anywhere else.   That being said, marketers need to be more strategic for how they use them.  We have to find ways to receive permission for the use of data, either by requesting consent or by creating increasingly rewarding reciprocal values as the relationship continues.  

Think of this model as a frequent flyer program.  The more you fly, you get increased value over time, graduating into better tiers of service.  The same goes for a consumer-brand relationship.  The longer you are involved and the more you are engaged, the more you can personalize the experience.  It creates a deeper relationship over time, and that feels valuable rather than desperate.

When you walk into a clothing store, and they recognize you because of the number of times you’ve purchased from them, that recognition creates loyalty.  When the store proactively reaches out to you to let you know they received some new things you might like, that’s also valuable — but that level of depth in the relationship is earned, not freely given.   

That level of understanding of the difference between personalization and a personal relationship is a key to marketing success.

Now if I could just get a piece of bologna and some cheese!

4 comments about "Personalization Vs. Personal Relationships".
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  1. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, April 20, 2016 at 12:24 p.m.

    The element of TIME to build a relationship?  Are you kidding me?  When the CMO wants to know hits, clicks, conversion NOW.. Not tomorrow. We need to move merchandise NOW.    NOW.    THAT is the word that is killing things.  We cannot build a relationship; we must get them to the checkout NOW before they are distracted and move to another web site.  It's all about Now.  Your post is 100% right on Cory.  Now; Convince the client that NOW means 6, 10, 12 months down the road.  Our team builds customer loyalty over time. We tell clients up front this needs time to grow.  By laying out the "rules" up front, we temper expectations.  But when digital hit, those expectations were thrown out the door.  NOW you have real transparency, NOW you can measure and get results over night.  I've heard those promises from digital providers.  Digital marketers have done this to themselves.  You have promised that we can all have it NOW.  Welcome to NOW.  Now..what are you going to do about it?

  2. Kim Garretson from RealizingInnovation, April 20, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

    To Michael Pursel: I see NOW being tempered, at least in retail, by the final admission of brands and retailers that with all the spend and effort to get someone to a product page, it's really kind of stupid to offer them only one action BUY NOW. Both parties know that in most cases fewer than 2% of viewers take the now action. So what do they do with 98% who leave? They follow them around and irritate them by begging them to come back and BUY. Dumb, expensive and with falling conversion rates due to ad blocking, unsubscribe rates for generic email blasts and other. But, again in retail, many top 50 retailers I am working with are finally implementing permission marketing at scale where they are adding a second button at a product page to capture emails for consent to market to them on criteria set by the shopper: price drops, new items and reviews, back-in-stock, other.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 20, 2016 at 6:50 p.m.

    No, it is not the same. You knew the butcher and you knew whatever small chatter between you stayed there. You have no clue who is on the other side tech-wise and what they can do with that information. The less you say, the better. The less you share, the better. Advertising spend would not diminish without all of your personal info which will hurt you in the long run although some avenues would fall by the wayside.

  4. Larry Smith from Live Idea, April 22, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

    Nice story but the fallacy of thinking data is a proxy for an interaction is classic. Personalization is a courtesy like using Mr. or Miss, while personal relationships are an interaction of EQUAL exchange, not a one-sided push. In your story, your father was the hero and reason for the relationship, not the butcher. A similar instance in the digital world will not happen until companies ask and engage customers in a truely meaningful way; look into Project VRM by Doc Searls at MIT.

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