Does Personalization Work?

I believe in the power of personalization. I think that we’ve all seen it work in the real world. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever really see it work online. I’m beginning to believe that software is trying too hard – trying too hard to reach a grand conclusion from insufficient data and trying too hard to unify a mass of conflicting data. And I’m beginning to wonder if the answer lies in personas not personalization.

Do successful sales people actually remember all their customers as individuals, or do they internalize a set of personas that are associated with their customers? I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s much closer to the latter than the former. And that reconstructing automated processes to leverage buying personas would be a win.

Let’s take a look at some of my reading habits. I’m a big fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe and Alexander Kent’s Bolitho. Doesn’t affinity matching apply to genres as well as titles? I would think that there is a good chance that a fan of napoleonic military fiction would also be a fan of contemporary military fiction (Harold Coyle, Larry Bond), military science fiction (David Weber’s Harrington), and fantasy military fiction (Eric Flint and David Drake’s Belisarius). But I don’t recall seeing any evidence of that in my Amazon recommendations.

Of course, that’s quite a bit more work. Since it requires real domain knowledge, it’s not something that you’ll be able to buy from your local software vendor any time soon. And the margin on book sales might not justify the investment. But if you’re a small book seller being forced out of business by the big boys, there may be an opportunity there.