Facebook has been deciding what to show at the top of your feed for years. LinkedIn shows me crazy stuff from people I worked with five years ago that I have no interest in on my homepage. Google thinks it knows best and will deliver personalised search results. Twitter has recently got in on the ‘I know what you like most’ game, rolling out an update that ensures the posts Twitter deems important will appear on top of your timeline, even if they are older.

Twitter defines it as “Tweets you are likely to care about most.” The service isn’t revealing the specific formula, but says it will be based on factors such as accounts you interact with most and specific tweets you engage with. I have not been a fan of telling Twitter that I don’t care what I missed ‘while you were’ away, so I imagine this will probably annoy me too. #firstworldproblems

Personalisation in marketing - While you were away

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On the other hand, I subscribe to a number of B2B publications who send me daily email updates. While some of them have very broad options when letting me choose the content I want to receive, some of them are brill, and only send me news on the exact niche I am interested in. I’m likely to read, share, and blog about it. The more generic industry content (unless the story is huge), is not only less likely to keep me engaged, but is also more likely to end up in the bin.

Personalisation online is nothing new and for the most part, it works well. Retail is an area where personalisation can deliver huge benefits for both the consumer and the retailer – when they get it right.

Personalisation in marketing is fabulous… most of the time

Sometimes, getting a personalised message from a retailer I subscribe to, follow, or buy from is great. They have a pretty good idea of what I like, and tailor their offers to tempt me.

They also have a whole host of demographic information on me. They know what kind of content I respond to best, what device I use to open my emails, and probably a load of other data about my shopping habits to boot.

This benefits me, and the retailer. Or does it?

Recently, I tried a new feature from Topshop called My Topshop Wardrobe. The idea is to take a quiz so Topshop can build you a personal wardrobe of products to choose from based on your responses. It’s fun to do and the UX on both mobile and desktop is brilliant.

Personalisation in marketing - You're the Rebel Girl

The trouble was, I completed the quiz, and then hated the majority of items they presented me with. Perhaps this is something I need to keep revisiting to further refine my options? Maybe I’m too picky?. In essence, this level of personalisation is a great idea, but after not finding a single item I liked first time round, I’m beginning to think that trying to ‘find my style’ may not have worked in Topshop’s favour. It seems there are only a few ‘types’ I can fit into, which determine which of the predefined ‘You’re the whatever’ emails they send out after completing the quiz.

But think of the wealth of data Topshop now has about me. They know my age, height, weight, which colours I hate, the cuts of clothing I like to wear and which shoes I can’t walk in. The possibility for highly relevant targeting is staggering if they have the tech behind the scenes to deliver recommended products straight to my inbox based on the information I supplied them with – particularly if they can integrate this data with my purchase history to see when I am most likely to convert.

Plus, if Topshop continues to understand what I do and do not like, the chances of me making a purchase from them increases significantly.

Or does it?

When it comes to shopping, I’m probably about 50% ‘impulse buyer’, and 50% ‘browser who might buy something but is actually just trying to fill the dark and desolate void that is life with stuff’. I usually have a vague idea of what I want to buy, but on occasion (like most people), I’m just a bit bored, or want to treat myself. When I am in this mindset, I am not interested in a retailer harping on about what I should be buying from them. Just let me look already.

Not only do online retailers risk putting off their buyers by assuming too much, placing them in a ‘demographic bubble’ based on the data they’ve gathered about shopping habits and preferences could limit the number of products they’re exposed to. Similarly, retailers who focus on promoting certain products to certain consumer types may overlook other consumers whose data doesn’t quite fit the demographic. The failure to effectively target the consumers retailers think they know so well may actually cost them sales.