True Personalization Means Putting Big Data In Consumers’ Hands

Henry Headshot 1 May 31 2014

Henry Lawson is the CEO of autoGraph, the pioneer in consumer-powered marketing with offices in Seattle, London and New York.

Digital marketing industry experts all agree that personalization is at the top of every top marketer’s mind. But most marketers know that they aren’t quite there yet, limited by bud­gets, time, or skillsets.

However, the barrier on the path to true personalization is not organizational. It is cultural, based on the outmoded belief that the classic form of digital marketing—targeting—can derive relevance signals from data and create useful audience segments. It is limited, delivering a good but not earth-shattering uptick in response, because this model is missing the element most critical to personalization: the consumer’s perspective. 

Beats Music takes a radically different approach to personalization, turning the classic digital marketing funnel literally on its head with a ‘Curate and Expand’ model. Beats’ approach is based on the belief that personalizing an art form requires genre experts to ‘DJ’ algorithms. Applying this logic to digital marketing personalization would start with the experts on consumers to curate their algorithms: the consumers themselves.

Against this context, it’s clear that the tenets of classic digital marketing are stuck in the old-school ‘Gather and Distill’ model—collecting as much consumer web data as possible and applying powerful algorithms to figure out audience segments, rather than understanding the person that technology is designed to serve.


Well-intentioned digital marketers swear by the tried-and-true way of distilling Big Data: testing. That’s sound classic advice. But A/B and other types of testing try to figure out what a person wants from a big data set, whereas in a model that lets consumers tell marketers what they want first, testing becomes an exercise in built-in inaccuracy, if you will—testing which pieces of lateral content will provide a person with serendipitous discovery.


Talk to any big company marketer and they’ll tell you that the majority of their budgets go toward web analytics. Why? In the ‘Gather and Distill’ approach, surveillance is the business model that throws good money after bad. Giving consumers the power to drive their data is the direct way for marketers to find those truly personal needles in the haystack that big-data algorithms completely misunderstand, and a way for organizations to drive cost-efficiencies.


Democratizing digital personalization efforts across the organization has the potential to scale efforts and cross-pollinate ideas. But true personalization requires democratizing the job of direct algorithmic guidance to consumers. Then the army of personalization experts that marketers think they need becomes moot.


Top marketers believe that adding location data is the missing link to achieving personalization. But marketers better do this in a way that shows personal respect to consumers by protecting their privacy. Otherwise, the promise of location data will never be realized.

For top marketers who are serious about driving response rates beyond what audience segments can do, following the ‘Curate and Expand’ model could prove to be the signpost to the digital personalization Holy Grail.

AutoGraph (formerly known as nFluence) helps people realise their interests while protecting their data privacy, which has been shown to increase response rates by 10x. AutoGraph is a multi-award winning technology that engages over 90% of users. The company is headquartered in Seattle, and has offices in London and New York.

Amy Fawcett

As Digital Producer, Amy keeps the website, blog, and social channels up to date so our members know what’s going on at WTIA and in Washington’s technology community. Learn more about her here.

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