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Blog 145: Customization vs. Personalization

Updated: May 12, 2022

Do you know the difference between customization and personalization? Do you personalize enough? Is your lack of personalizing costing you and your business?

The obvious difference between customization and personalization is that one of them has the word person in it.

Customization is the action of modifying something to suit a particular individual or task -- breakfast, pants, curtains, call backs, appointment times etc. Whatever it is begins as a generic offering and is altered to get as close to what you want as possible.

Personalization is the action of designing or producing something to meet someone’s individual requirements.

Here it is in action: You come to visit me in Ottawa, Ontario Canada in the summer for one of my Experience Economy weekends. We have breakfast at my neighborhood diner, John’s. Tony comes to the table and asks what he can get you.

You place your order, as we say, and he brings you exactly that. That’s customization.

Then he looks at me and says “Hey Den, the usual?” That’s personalization.

See the difference? One of them is about the product. The other is about ME, and how I feel when Tony SEES me – and when I say SEES me, what I really mean is KNOWS me. Personalization is at the heart of the Experience Economy. We PERSONALIZE services to turn them into EXPERIENCES.

This is getting kind of cosmic …

So the other day I read an article by Aarron Spinley about the neuroscience of personalization in marketing and I learned something cool about what happens to us physically when we experience ‘personalization.’

Our brains are physically affected. They change.

Certainly, we feel personalization – we can’t see it because it happens on the inside, but feelings are by definition transformations, right? You feel different, you are transformed from who you were before the experience.

As it happens, personalization actually affects us physically too.

When you hear your first name shouted out in a parking lot by a stranger, you turn to look to see if they mean you. That’s because you’ve personalized that name to mean you; it isn’t just a sound. “DENNIS” is everything that I associate with my sense of self. You are your name, and for an instant, your brain and body respond to it. Your senses perk up, whatever you were thinking is interrupted, your breathing and heart rate alter a little … until you figure out they are calling to someone else who shares your name.

Your brain was shifting for a moment before it figured things out.

That’s how personalization works – it alters your brain.

Scientists call this brain movement “neuroplasticity” (which was the name of my backing band in college).

Neuroplasticity is the process of new physical pathways getting formed in our brains whenever we experience and learn something new. And when those new things are personalized simply by using a person’s name, they notice and remember it better. Teachers have long known this. “Dennis, you did a good job” is a lot more reinforcing and memorable than simply saying “Good job, everybody.”

Let’s get back to the neuroscience for a minute. There are a lot of lab studies that show how brains fire when people are wired up to measure different kinds of information being given to them. When that information is personalized so that it causes an emotional reaction, it stimulates more parts of the brain and is stored deeper into memory.

That’s the biological explanation of how personalization changes your brain.

There are marketing studies that show that using a person’s first name in the text of a email sent to remind the patient of an appointment, will decrease no-shows by 57%

“Hey, Rachel, just a reminder you have an appointment with Dr. Green this Thursday at 2pm”.

But get this -- it didn’t work when their first and last name are used. A first name is emotionally personal in a positive sense. A full name, it seems, is not. “Dennis Moseley-Williams, we look forward to seeing you next week at your appointment.” That isn’t emotionally positive, we have learned to associate this with feeling like a number. My name is me; my full name is a customer.

Using a full name in marketing is seen by the recipient as being transactional and not personal. With no emotional connection, it’s easier to dismiss – even worse, resent – along with all the other dismissible or resentful bits of information we get every day.

Remember, there is a hierarchy of information. The noise is at the bottom and the truly useful and transformational material is at the top.

So knowing that a first name can improve an open rate, what might greater, more consistent personalization achieve when it comes to client relationships? Well, that all depends on the approach.

Up until the digital age, marketing was frequency and reach. Radio, TV and print advertising campaigns. Maybe a little target marketing within those sectors but still, frequency and reach and the biggest budgets won.

The problem is, while the digital revolution has offered the opportunity for greater client engagement, too many people are still thinking frequency and reach, focusing on clicks, counting hits, likes and something known as ‘flow through.’

What they should be focusing on is personalization and experience. It is, after all, everyone’s best marketing. Nothing brings in clients faster than an existing client singing your praises. That’s just the way it is.

Where to start? By personalizing your strategy. Quit trying to be another excellent advisor, or anyone I have met before or anything I have seen or heard before.

Start being you. Tell your clients (and remember to use their first name) why you do what you do, why it is so essential to you, why you feel so passionate about it and what change it helps people create.

Start there and pay more attention to the work we’re doing over here.

So to summarize: You need to be a source that influences your clients’ neuroplastic brains so they’ll relate to and remember their interaction with you on an emotional, personal level. How do you do that? By knowing what they care about and doing it regularly through content and experiences.

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