Personalization vs. Community Validation

One of the big selling points for online advertising over the last few years has been the concept of personalization. The ability for marketers to personalize their advertising to "the one" or "the few" has been attractive as it focuses the message specifically on the needs and desires of a smaller group, thereby increasing the potential for response.

The question I am posing is whether it is possible to over-personalize an advertisement and therefore lose sight of the need for validation from one's peers?

The Internet has built itself remarkably well on the concept of community. All of the most effective applications of the Internet revolve around a group of like-minded individuals, and one of the reasons these groups are so effective is the opportunity for validation from your peers. The fact that your interests align well with a group of other people supports your interest in them. For example, if you are a closet fan of comic books you can find other groups of people online who have similar interests, thereby providing you with someone to chat with, and also increasing your tendency to continue with your hobby. Sites like "Ain't It Cool News" are so effective because of the loyalty that is built up as a result of the exchange of information from these similarly interested groups (in this case, movie buffs).



This loyalty is strengthened as a result of validation from a group of your peers and is extremely effective in advertising as well. When you buy a product or service, you want to know that other people have done the same and that your choice is the correct one. Cnet's product reviews are an example of this, as is the entire campaign surrounding the iPod from Apple. The iPod is an example of a product that is growing as a result of a strong campaign, but even more so as a result of word-of-mouth. I recently attended a conference and I would estimate that 35% of the people in attendance were carrying around an iPod with them on the trip.

So to revisit the question; does a one-to-one targeted campaign lose the implication of peer validation as a means to increase response and drive sales?

The answer does lie in the relationship between Branding and Direct Response. We all understand that a strong Brand translates into stronger DR metrics. Pepsi sells better than Fizz Cola as much due to the brand name as the taste. If Pepsi tried to target you as an individual rather than as the "Choice of a New Generation", would it be more effective or less so?

I think that there is a balance between the needs of "the one" and the approval of "the many". When you are developing an ad campaign, you need to factor in the role of the community as a form of word of mouth validation of your messaging, and convey this effectively to "the few" who you are targeting at that moment. This requires that you do extensive research to confirm that your messages are understood, accepted, and supported by your target audience. If they are not accepted and supported, then your messaging to prospective customers will not be in line with the reaction of existing consumers. You cannot make claims that your current customers do not agree with or you will lose the validation from the community, and therefore lose sales and market share.

If this is true, then it adds credence to the concept that you must build a brand before you can drive customer acquisition. You need some base of people who knows who you are in order to drive people via DR tools. You set yourself up for failure when you start out trying to drive customer acquisition right out of the gate, without educating at least a portion of the community about your product or service. When was the last time you bought a product from a brand you never heard of?


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