The First Step in Personalization? Selective Exclusion. (a.k.a Hiding)

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be in Orlando for the 2nd Annual eTail Connect conference. Last year’s event was a great one, and I had some fantastic discussions with other people in e-commerce, and to say I’m looking forward to this year’s event would be an understatement.

As the date nears though, I’m starting to get my thoughts together for the panel I’ll be participating in: ‘Walking The Line Between Personalized And Intrusive – Mission Impossible?’ It’s a pretty straightforward question, but it’s one definitely worth discussing, especially as we as marketers try our best to provide customers with an optimal experience, but without moving into the “creep factor” realm.

In my opinion, there’s one simple way to take a step toward personalization without ever risking going there. That’s through what I call “selective exclusion.” Basically, that means a form of personalization where you don’t particularly provide content specifically chosen for a specific user or group, but instead you use the knowledge you have of the customer to get rid of noise or otherwise unimportant information. In other words, use what you know to give customers less of what doesn’t matter.

Here’s a simple example of what I’m talking about.

Let’s say a band like Beyoncé puts a new album out, and Musicnotes has all the sheet music for the album. It’s something big and I’d want to promote it heavily … but I also know that I have a large segment of users who only play classical music. Their preferences state they only play classical. Their buying behavior also only shows classical. So you have a few options.

  1. You could promote the Beyoncé music to everyone, even the group of people who only like classical.
  2. You could selectively target the content to only show up to people who like similar genres to Beyoncé.
  3. You could just not promote it at all because you don’t want to annoy your group of classical musicians.
  4. You could add a promotion to the site for Beyoncé, but simply hide the promotion (or use default content) for the classical customer.

Of course, #4 in this list is the solution that I am recommending in this scenario, through my concept of “selective exclusion.”  The point being, you may not have something in particular to promote to your classical customers, but instead of showing this Beyoncé promotion to them and diluting the value of your page by presenting them with messaging that is of little value to them, you can just skip it altogether.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something worth keeping in mind. In my experience, the more “noise” you put in front of a customer, the less likely they are to be able to complete what they came there for in the first place. Even worse, if you continue to put irrelevant content in front of them they may start to think that is the only content or products you offer, and soon start to find a place that specializes in the kind of product they look for.

Of course, in a perfect world we’d always present every customer great products and content that are specifically matched to them. But that takes resources – resources many of us may not have available (or that simply aren’t cost-effective). Yes, there are many tools out there that make this easier, like Monetate or Adobe Target – but they still require us to make decisions and the promotional materials … and that doesn’t even start to address the amount of variations you could get into at a true 1:1 level of personalization.

What’s most important is that you don’t send your customers on wild goose chases or distract them with information that you know will be irrelevant. Instead of thinking of personalization in simple logic terms of “If customer is X, then promote Y” think “If customer is not X, then don’t promote Y.”  It allows you then to easily handle the instances where “if customer is everything but X” much more easily.

Just remember, if it’s not relevant. Keep it hidden. Not every customer needs something special just for them, but every customer does need you to know when it’s best to say nothing at all.

You should totally share this.

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