The Monday Stack: Personalization is Not Always Smart

A marketer’s life is hard enough without The Monday Stack calling out examples of non-smart personalization (at least I didn’t say “dumb”), but it’s such a frequently experienced phenomenon that it needs to be aired.

As regular readers know, DMN hit Boston last week for eTail East. Personally, I left my hotel booking until late in the day, meaning that the conference hotel had no availability. Not in DMN’s price range, anyway. So what did I do? Well, TV advertising still works, so I said to myself “Hotel? Trivago.”

And the Trivago search engine worked. I found a hotel less than ten minutes walk from the conference, within budget, and booked it. This was maybe a week before the conference started. What do I then get every time I go online? Ads from Trivago re-targeting me with Boston hotel suggestions.

As it happens, I do need to visit Boston again a couple of times this year; but there’s still something numbingly banal about sending me personalized commercial messages for a product I just bought.

But let’s dial it up a notch.

At the weekend, I bought a tape cassette player. Not an everyday purchase, I think we can agree. In fact, I probably last bought one more than ten years ago. Am I going vintage? No, it’s just that I recently re-discovered a large cache of cassette tapes, many unlabeled, and I was curious to know what’s on them. And portable cassette players, if you can find them, are not expensive: So, why not?

I did find one online. Even better, it was available for pick-up that same day in a local store. I went ahead and completed the transaction. This is an important point. There was no cart abandonment here; there was an end-to-end transaction on one website (followed by receiving some confirmatory emails).

Later that same day, re-targeting was at work. From the same vendor, I start seeing ads for other cassette players. I might be ready to buy another cassette player around the year 2027. If I had researched cassette players, but not bought one, the ads would make sense. But given that the most idiotic technology ought to realized I’m no longer in market for the product, the re-targeting is…okay, let’s say it, dumb.

Mountains out of molehills? I don’t think so, because trivial as my experience is, it illustrates how a smart idea can go wrong in practice. Look at how amazing this experience was — up to a point. The technology identified me correctly from mobile web activity. It understood what I was doing on the vendor’s website. It found me again — on Twitter, as it happens — and sent me what was unquestionably a precisely personalized, contextual ad, for a product I wanted.

Or rather, a product I had wanted until I’d bought it some hours earlier, as the technology should — must — have known. This is nearly brilliant. Nearly. Let’s go the rest of the way, guys.

Monday Stack logo by Hilary Allison

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