13 Common Personalization Myths You Must Stop Believing
Written by
Ritu Poddar
Ritu Poddar

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13 Common Personalization Myths You Must Stop Believing

Published : February 20, 2020 | Updated : May 13, 2024

Lately, we have been seeing a lot of myths on personalization doing rounds in the marketing circle. There seems to be a lot of confusion around the implementation, its suitability, scalability and more.

Everyone seems to have different answers or versions of the truth about how personalization works. This confusion persists even among those using personalization – which, sadly, doesn’t allow them to reap the full benefits of it. 

Fundamentally, a myth is a story told, again and again, to explain something or to reason why something is the way it is. There are plenty of myths that have lasted for centuries now – like Flat Earth, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Arc, Oedipus and many more. Sometimes they can be entertaining, other times they can cost dearly if held too tightly as a belief. Most of the time there’s no rational reason behind them.

But still, we do believe in them. Why? It seems if you hear a myth for long enough it starts to feel like truth even when it’s not. Unarguably, it becomes hard to know what’s right or wrong.  

Being on the other side of the personalization paradigm puts me in a position where I can see through these misconceptions. So I have decided to talk about (and debunk) some of the most common personalization myths that we often come across. 

Let’s start then. 

Website Personalization Myths

  1. It needs a lot of time to get started

    There is a basic-thumb rule to great personalization i.e. start small, think big. It applies to every size of the personalization application. Mainly there are three key factors that impact the integration process

    1. The numbers of elements
    2. Your personalization solution provider
    3. The type of personalization.

      In the beginning, it is good to start with two or three key elements on the website and select one or two key pages and then record the learnings for scaling up. Breaking up the integration process into smaller units speeds up the initial setup. Doing so also gives you and your team enough time for adoption of the technology and accumulate basic learnings.

      Another key factor that impacts the launch time is your solution provider. Depending on your personalization platform, you can launch your first campaign within 15 minutes to 5 days.

      Lastly, you can select the type of your personalization you want to implement i.e. Rule-based personalization and/or AI/ML based personalization. While in Rule-based personalization, marketers can control the website experience of your customers based on their behavior and demographic data, AI/ML personalization delivers real-time personalized recommendations to the customers across their journey.

  2. It is not for first-time visitors:

    Many marketers falsely believe that they have run into a brick wall when thinking about targeting first-time visitors for personalized experiences. Sure, the visitors are anonymous to you and you don’t know them yet. But that’s not to say, they are completely unknown. You can make use of data provided by browser cookies such as geography, age, and traffic source to streamline their website experience. Additionally, you can make use of third-party data to identify their interests and preferences.
  3. It will impact my SEO:

    This is one of the most popular misconceptions about personalization. Note that Google itself encourages constant optimization and changes on the website for better customer experience. John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst goes onto saying, “Personalization is fine, sometimes it can make a lot of sense.” There is no way changing content or running tests on your website will negatively impact the SEO value.

    That said, from a technical perspective, we recommend you take precautionary steps to avoid making some of the mistakes such as cloaking, redirection, duplication, and website performance issues. We have discussed these in detail here.

  4. Personalization requires too much content:

    This myth sounds more like turning personalization’s strength into a weakness. Marketers often feel bogged down imagining the scale of operations with personalization. A false notion creeps in that you need to have a lot of content before you can start dishing out personalized experiences. But the problem is – we often forget to see what we already have and stop our imagination right there. The solution, however, is very simple. We just need to think of ways we can tweak our content for varied users in our audience. Netflix is a great example of how it is done. Besides, it is always better to start small.

  5. I need to have the technical know-how:

    This myth holds true only when you’re implementing your own in-house technology solutions. It would require a strong understanding of machine learning algorithms and AI.However, when it comes to third-party personalization software you do not need to have those technical skills. You can easily find enterprise-level solutions that only need a few clicks to set up a personalized marketing campaign. For cases when you’re working on complex ideas, you can always ask for support from your personalization vendor or marketing automation agency.

Note: Netflix has written about how they personalize artwork. Give it a read for interesting insights.

  1. I do not have enough data, I can’t personalize

    Often times, businesses sit on a behemoth set of data and they’re unaware of it. Your analytics tools hold enough data for personalization software to understand your audience and get started. Most analytics tools bring with them a lot of insights in terms of demographics, customer journey history, behavior, interests, and preferences.

    And in case your analytics system is not properly instrumented and hasn’t recorded all that data, you can always use contextual information like geography, time of the day, day of the week, and device type to offer a personalized experience in the beginning. Instead of chasing the ‘perfect’ amount of data, it is prudent to start with what you have and build on it.

  2. Personalization is difficult to execute with GDPR, CCPA, and other data Regulations:

    Data is the backbone of personalized campaigns. Any business that wants to scale their personalized experience, has to also scale their data collection strategy. With GDPR and CCPA, this becomes a bit difficult as any mistake can cause you loss of reputation and money due to heavy penalties. This is what often scares businesses about personalization.

    Surely, with these regulations coming into effect the data collection, storage, and compliance policies have become extremely stringent. You have to simplify your privacy terms, tell customers what data you’re collecting and why, give them control to delete/modify their data, keep only updated data and collect active consent. All these changes look complicated to manage and have surely increased workloads for marketers. New processes are to be invented, hygiene is to be maintained all the time.

    But they have also presented businesses with an opportunity. Data breaches by giants of the digital ecosystem have caused great mistrust among people. These regulations offer us a chance to be better with data; to make our customers feel protected. And therefore, do better personalization. They’re not a roadblock to personalization but a milestone for great overall customer experience.

  3. Personalization can be done using online data only:

    Great personalization happens when you take data from all channels, collect it, and use it to improve your audience’s experiences. And when we say channels – we include the physical stores too.

    To be able to pull this off, businesses need to break data silos and coordinate all the different sets of data at a faster pace. Several businesses around the world are already doing it such as Sephora, Ulta, The Home Depot, among many more.

  4. I need to manually segment my audience:

    AI/ML-based personalization removes the need to segment your audience in a traditional manual manner. It builds its intelligence about your audience basis the ideas that work for them. Designed to identify patterns in your data that can otherwise go unnoticed, it makes use of various hypotheses and combinations to automatically segment your audience basis their behavior. It needs little to no intervention from the marketer’s end; thereby, also cutting down on the time it takes to launch or scale personalization.

  1. Not every industry/product is suited for personalization

    Personalization can be used by any industry/business size for any product. Simply put, personalization is not about an industry (B2B or B2C), vertical, or a product; it is about your customers. It is about catering to their needs in the best possible way.

  2. Personalization is for short sales cycle:

    It can seem that personalization solves only the conversion problem in the short term. But that’s not the case. Personalization can help build long term relationships through quality and regular engagement.

    Personalization systems ride on a deep understanding of your audience’s persona. And this understanding can be used in various ways and at various intervals to engage them with you and your business. Ultimately, it leads you to create quality personalized content, and deliver a great experience in every interaction.

  3. Personalization is for big brands only:

    It seems that this belief originates from the initial personalization success stories of e-commerce and OTT giants like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix. Most of these companies use in-house technologies and resources. However, of late a lot of easy to use solutions and tools have become available for businesses of all sizes to make use of this technology. In fact, customers of these businesses are also responding positively to their personalization efforts, resulting in more revenue and profitability.

The Most Common Personalization Myth

  1. Personalization means addressing your customers by their name

    We are a bit harsh on this one. This myth should not have lasted this long. Personalization is more than having your customer’s first name in your emails or newsletters. It is definitely more than just knowing their location and purchase history for targeted ads/product recommendations. True personalization requires you to add context to the information that you already have and that begins by understanding your user’s behavior signals – the pages they visit the most, the device they use, the frequency of their visits, their real-time behavior, and many more.

Work Your Way Out of the Myth Mesh

Myths don’t do any damage as long as you view them from a distance. However, the simple-minded solution of shrugging them off out-rightly doesn’t work either in many cases. Therefore, a better path is to educate and inform yourself about them as much as you can. 

Is personalization just the latest fancy marketing trend? Does it even work? – The answer is – it works and your audience seeks it. According to Janrain & Harris Interactive, nearly 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when the content (e.g. offers, ads, promotions) has nothing to do with their interests. And in-house marketers who are personalizing their websites and can quantify the improvement result report, on average, 19% uplift in their sales. 

That said, businesses must ensure their personalized experiences remain helpful to consumers and should not be obtrusive and creepy at any point in their journey. Customers love such experiences. 

Find how personalization can be done for your brand, here.

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Written By: Ritu Poddar