Blog post

The importance of personalized recommendations

We’re all at war for attention

Every moment somebody is watching Netflix is a moment she is not watching TV, shopping, reading news, listening to Spotify, sharing on Instagram, … and vice versa. In the war for attention, every consumer-facing company is your enemy and some of them are among the most powerful organizations on earth.

A shift from access to relevance

Ten years ago, when choices were scarce, it used to be sufficient to provide good content or products to earn consumers’ attention. It is not anymore.

Today, consumers are overwhelmed by many good choices. As a result, they flock to those companies offering uniquely relevant personalized recommendations, right away.

Who’s winning the war for attention?

It’s fair to say that Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify have turned the retail, video and music industry upside down. What’s the common thread between these winners? Recommendations have for a long time been a  core component of their product.

Many others hesitate

And while the disrupters are accelerating their efforts in relevance technology, getting ever further ahead, many other companies hesitate, which, in the end, will probably have catastrophic results.

It would be too easy to complain that everybody should move faster. Instead, it is much more productive to identify what’s keeping so many from improving in the area of relevance and to find solutions for those roadblocks.

The irrelevance paradox

One common roadblock preventing many to move on with recommendations is the fear of showing certain users irrelevant recommendations that will scare them away.

This is paradoxical because it is the lack of personalized recommendations that are already today pushing people away, to spend more time at more personalized services like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Youtube, etc.

The comfort of control keeps many from doing what is right

The irrelevance paradox is rooted in the fact that personalized recommendations imply a certain loss of control. When everybody gets exactly the same experience, it is an irrelevant experience for many users, but at least you know exactly what experience every single user is getting. And having this control provides a comfortable, reassuring feeling. And it is this comfort of control, that is keeping many from doing the right thing.

Gradually create comfort of relevance

The solution is to start with a personalized experience that only deviates slightly from previous one-size-fits-all experiences, prove their value and create buy-in in the organization like this. This way, you can gradually increase the level of personalization and show that increased relevance comes with increased value. You will be able to replace the comfort of absolute control with the comfort of absolute relevance.

Low hanging fruit

Typically, one can distinguish three types of one-size-fits-all experiences:

  1. Most popular lists
  2. Most recent lists
  3. Manually curated lists

It is most obvious to start with the first two, most popular and recent lists, as they are already automated. Consequently, you can move to curate automatically-generated recommendations, where manual curation is blended with personalized relevance.

Measuring success

There is only one convincing way of measuring success: A/B-testing. Everything you do should be A/B-tested to make sure you can absolutely prove the value.

Start yesterday

Every day, people increase the time they spend on Netflix, Instagram, Youtube, etc.

Therefore, you are losing an increasing amount of attention to these relevance-first companies on a daily basis. Since a gradual step-by-step approach will take time, you better get started yesterday.

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