The promise of one-to-one marketing has failed. Why? Because what was – and still is – called marketing personalization isn’t really personalized at all.

While content marketing has been around in various forms for ages (check out this nifty infographic), the wave really began to crest in 2011, and it was around this time that the CMI, marketing rags, and marketing-tech leaders like Adobe and Hubspot really ramped up the mass personalization rhetoric. All claimed that personalized content was the future, it was critical, and if you weren’t personalizing you weren’t marketing. While they were absolutely right about the need for one-to-one marketing, they still hadn’t cracked the code.

Mass personalization, hyper-personalization, call it whatever you want, but the promise of one-to-one marketing failed. Why? Because what’s typically called marketing personalization isn’t really personalized at all. Most of the tactics used for mass personalization are really just a bad joke – a bait-and-switch – and the punchline is sitting right in front of us. Look carefully at the word “personalization” and you’ll see why – it’s hidden in plain sight:


As long as “persona” is at the core there’s really nothing individual about marketing personalization at all.

Marketing tech, evangelists, and futurists who promise a future of individualized marketing, personalized marketing, and one-to-one marketing are still largely talking about groups.

Personas, segments, or archetypes, it really doesn’t matter which term or approach you use – as long as you’re grouping people together based on demographics, stages of buying cycles, or any other top-down and assumption-based methodology, you’re simply not marketing to the people in your audience as individuals. Full stop.

So how do we get to true one-to-one marketing?

Top-down, demographic-based segmentation is marketing from the Mad Men era. Today, artificial intelligence can mine, analyze and interpret our customer and audience data and make granular, scientific inferences about individuals – their behaviors, interests, motivations, and even the way they think and make decisions. Simply put, assumptions aren’t needed when you can evaluate everyone as an individual. The promise in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is that they can give marketers exactly what they need to truly understand every audience member as the individual they are. With ever-increasing volumes of user generated content and social data being created by the millisecond (note: I’m still looking for an accurate number of how much is being created and at what rate, so if you know hit me up @jkreindler), social media users and audience members are endlessly generating and leaving behind what amounts to NLP gold – linguistic crumbs that when analyzed can explain who they are – and exactly how they think and make decisions – giving marketers just about everything they need.

From language leave-behinds to customer psychology

Now bear with me because I’m side-stepping for a moment – and for good reason – but we’ll get right back to one-to-one marketing in a second:

Social Psychologists will tell you that people tend to be very consistent over time in the way that they process information and make decisions. When it comes to decision-making style, everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of “analytical” on one end to “emotional” on the other. Analytical decision-makers need lots of information to make informed decisions – they aren’t impulsive – they do their homework and take their time to think things through in order to make the best choice they can. Emotional decision makers tend to make quick decisions, often waffle a bit and are more likely to suffer from buyers remorse.

Ok, and now let’s get back to one-to-one marketing:

By understanding the way each person makes decisions, you engage them with content (or more specifically an ad) that speaks to the exact way they process information and make decisions. Here’s an example of two Tesla advertisements, each one caters to a very different type of decision-maker:

Analytical ad vs. Emotional ad

Now what if you could size up each and everyone in an audience and understand their individual decision-making styles?  This is the beginning of true one-to-one marketing. Combine this with other measures that determine their emotions, their interests, whether they’re family-oriented and more, and suddenly you have an incredibly specific understanding of who each audience member is, what’s important to them, how they make decisions – and exactly how you need to engage them.

So long generic soccer moms!

So while segments like Soccer Moms have been used for ages, we no longer need to rely on generalizations. Every soccer mom is an individual; some are analytical decision makers, some are emotional decision makers, and most lie somewhere in between. Yes, the future of marketing is still one-on-one engagement, but to get there requires a bottom-up approach based on scientific understanding of individuals. We simply won’t get there by making broad generalized assumptions about groups.

And this is where NLP and AI-based emotional intelligence comes in. By analyzing the linguistic crumbs the individuals in an audience leave behind on the web – on social, in comments, surveys, forums, anywhere really – we’re able decode and understand them as the individuals they are – with no assumption-based segmentation required. And this is what one-to-one marketing is all about.

So next time you hear someone mention marketing personalization, let them know they’ve got it all wrong.

Oh, and one more thing

Give our thinking style app a try – feed it 300 of your words and it’ll tell you how you make decisions. Ping us on Twitter and let us know what you think.