From watching personalized, top-recommended Netflix shows on our home screens to getting a twenty-percent off coupon to buy the dress you left in your online shopping cart, today's connected consumer expects personalization to be the rule--not the exception. Various studies have shown that we can attribute the appeal of personalization to two things:
An innate desire for control
As a mechanism to cope with the information overload of the 21st century
Let's take a closer look:
We Want to Be in Control
When you hear the words "personalized experience," you're probably thinking that in one way or another, you'll be getting something that's been thoughtfully created with your particular needs and wants in mind rather than receiving a standardized product or service. When brands allow you to customize something -- whether that's a cell phone case, a wine bottle, or a domain name -- there's a feeling of being in control, of getting something on your terms. (This was the key insight behind Burger King's pioneering and phenomenally successful 1974 ad campaign, "Have it your way.")
We Want Affirmation and Options
It's no secret that human beings like being in control, and customization caters well to this desire. But what is this desire for control really about? A sympathetic look reveals it as an attempt to be affirmed in our uniqueness and to experience the feeling of being free -- that is, of having personal choice. As long as this doesn't come at the expense of other people's dignity and freedom, the desire to feel in control is a wonderful thing. Savvy brands are attuned to these human impulses, understanding that customization is a way to positively affirm the individuality of connected consumers while also expanding their options.
Take, for instance, the way that both individuals and brands are increasingly seeking premium, business-optimized TLD's. (Which stands for Top-Level Domain and refers to the ending of a website's address: .com being the most familiar example.) Brands large and small are now insisting on greater choice and customization when it comes to their TLD's, spawning the appearance of .Co, .Shop, .TV, .Agency, and most recently, .Inc.
Long overdue and received with instant and widespread enthusiasm, .Inc -- with its deliberate homage to the abbreviation for incorporated -- puts connected consumers who "mean business" in control. Whether that's by clearly cueing an online user that they're headed to a business website, or through further personalization in the form of domain hacking (.inc/credible being one of many creative options), .Inc is the latest example of how customization is winning the day.
We Selectively Attend to What's Personally Relevant
Given we're now living in a world awash in trillions of bytes of data and are regularly hit with a tsunami of environmental stimuli, we've learned to filter the noise based on its personal relevance. (Though to be fair, connected consumers are often overwhelmed by the ocean of data they find themselves in, and are actively looking to brands to help them navigate it.)
As human beings, we're naturally attracted to what is most relevant to us--and our brains have evolved to reflect this. Our brain's reticular activating system -- also known as the RAS -- is intricately involved in the process of selectively attending to stimuli based on what we have been environmentally conditioned and personally primed to deem important to our survival and wellbeing.
In other words, we all have an inner filtering system for making sense of incoming data, automatically assigning it varying levels of importance based on our past and current experience.
The really interesting thing is that this phenomenon -- also known as "selective attending" -- occurs below the threshold of our conscious awareness. By the time we even become aware of something, we've already "chosen" to pay attention to it without being aware that this "choice" has occurred. This is known as "the cocktail party effect."
The cocktail party effect and its application to marketing
Say you're at a party, chatting with a close friend while surrounded by dozens of other people having their own conversations. You're immersed in your own lively discussion, having no conscious awareness of what anyone else around you is talking about. Suddenly, your ears prick up as you hear your name or some other word that piques your curiosity. We've all had this experience and it demonstrates how, without any conscious effort or choice, we selectively attend to our environment for information that's personally relevant.
When it comes to marketing, the importance of this principle is obvious. If you're a new mom driving down the road to the grocery store to pick up diapers, your attention is almost certain to be captured by a billboard announcing the grand opening of a local baby boutique. On the other hand, you're much less likely to pay attention to, say, a billboard advertising a monster truck rally. Why? Because you've selectively attended to the billboard that's most relevant to your personal interests and concerns.
We Want Brands to Be Listening...For the Right Reasons
Brands that have their finger on the pulse of this phenomenon take the time to find out exactly who their customers are and what's personally relevant to them, taking pains to demonstrate that they're listening. As long as they're listening for the right reasons (not just for profit but for the sake of doing right by their customers, their employees, and the world at large), connected consumers will naturally reward them with their loyalty and advocacy.
Want to learn more about how to make personalization work for your brand? Check out the research study, Marketing to Gods: The Definitive Guide to Reaching, Engaging, and Retaining the Modern, Empowered Consumer.