Toward a Personalization Bill of Rights

The last thing I want to do is write yet one more article on personalization and how it is supposed to be the Holy Grail of e-commerce or marketing or sales or service. To be honest, I perceive the current attempts at personalization to be extraordinarily immature and, in some cases, a bit offensive. But I do have a few thoughts on the topic that I think may be valuable. So please bear with me.

First of all, let’s get the term defined. Lots of definitions abound, but for our purposes, let’s say that personalization is the intelligent use of data and technology to create, sustain, and serve individual relationships with customers, suppliers, and business constituents.

So if we accept that personalization offers us the opportunity to create sustainable and valuable relationships, the question then becomes: How? How do we move beyond our knee-jerk reflex of using the Internet as simply a powerful direct-marketing vehicle and actually construct meaningful interactions?

Good question, isn’t it?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Constitution

I recently had a conversation with three or four folks about privacy, freedom of speech, the government, the Constitution, and the Internet. The central focus of our discussion was the framework the Constitution provides in a rapidly changing environment. The Constitution, we argued, was a porous document meant to be interpreted, not a strict guide to building or managing a democratic nation.

(By the way, spending an evening arguing the Constitution is admittedly not the best way to generate new business, but it’s an interesting way to spend an evening, nevertheless.)

Now, lots of people (many of whom who are formally trained in the law) are having this very same conversation (perhaps none more notable than Lawrence Lessig, author of “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace” and professor at Stanford Law School).

As we build infrastructure and write software, we are essentially making decisions about how we choose to treat information and what value we place on privacy. Certainly, the market or the courts will challenge some of the decisions made if they are not in line with the law or the tolerance of the business or consumer markets.

Regardless of that inevitability, though, the particular framework we are choosing to develop will stay with us for quite some time and will guide the manner in which we can engage our customers.

(Warning: segue ahead.)

In thinking of that conversation over the course of the past few days, I began to think about the Constitution as a framework versus a set of rules, and how that concept might prove very advantageous for developing a personalization strategy. The Constitution provided a guideline, and within that guideline we have chosen to develop and enforce laws to encourage or discourage certain kinds of behavior.

Developing a strategy for personalization means developing a framework that will shape your company’s future. Think of the goals of your marketing efforts. Even better: Think of the goals of your entire organization. Consider those goals to be the core of your personalization strategy.

For each goal, determine specific customer behaviors that you would want to encourage or discourage to help you reach that goal. Use these as the basis for determining business rules. That is the tricky part.

Specific rules dictating the desired relationship need to be determined in order to construct a personalized interaction. That may sound easy, but quantifying the impact of each action a user takes is extraordinarily challenging. Add in the complexity of multiple channels, latency, and decentralized data management, and the task becomes even more difficult. But, while difficult, both the process and result are tremendously beneficial.

It is these definitions these rules or laws, if you will that will serve to define how we choose to engage our customers and other business partners. It is these rules that will drive personalization. These laws can be continually changed as their effectiveness in encouraging behavior is measured and analyzed.

What Are We Thinking?

The Founding Fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution in such a way that it enables us some 200 years later to continually reinterpret its core values and develop new laws accordingly. I doubt many of us are thinking that far ahead. Are you?

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