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Me, myself and I: The rise of mass personalisation

Key takeaways

  • The trend towards the personalisation of customer experience is increasing as consumers face expanding choice.
  • Brands can deliver on their promises and improve customer experience by personalising their offerings.
  • Personalisation efforts have to be synchronised, thoughtful and backed up by technology.

Who am I?

Identity is no longer set by society’s hierarchical roles. Once a cobbler, a farmer, a nobleman or queen based on occupation, social standing and historical whimsy, today, our identity is something we choose through our everyday decisions. It is, as sociologist Anthony Giddens argues, biographically constructed and continuously reconstructed as a ‘reflexive project’ of the self.1 We choose who we are via preferences and identification.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the current trend towards ‘personalisation’ is resonating with consumers. Coupled with rising expectations of the customer experience, a desire to trust organisations we associate with, and an abundance of choice in products and services, the personal experience is becoming essential for businesses to connect with and differentiate themselves to their customers. 

Personalisation offers business a way to deliver experiences, and do so as individual expressions of its brand promises. It can forge close associations between a company and its customers, increasing feelings of affinity with a brand’s offering or personality, and enable the perception of relevance to an individual and their identity. But without the right technology and ways of working behind it, attempts to personalise can fail to deliver, fail to reduce complexity, or even worse — drive customers away.

The me in media

Nowhere is the movement towards personalisation more obvious than in the entertainment industry. Where once a family would gather around the television at a set time, now consumers are faced with endless choices. Not only can they select what to watch or listen to independent of each other, they can decide where to do that, on which device to do it and at what time. 

PwC’s latest annual Global Entertainment and Media Outlook highlights how media is becoming progressively personal and increasingly digital. Individuals are able to construct their own worlds through on-demand services and unbundled offerings. In turn, companies “are tailoring their offerings and business models to revolve around personal preferences, leveraging data and usage patterns to pitch their products not at audiences of billions, but at billions of individuals.”

This is aided by the rise of technology geared towards active individualised consumption. Smart speakers are consolidating their position as the central device in the smart home, with ownership set to rise at a 38.1 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), hitting 440m devices by 2023. With 5G rolling out with its exponentially improved functionality and 100x faster speeds, media and entertainment will be easier, more convenient and cheaper to access than ever, making video gaming, VR and streaming music and video likely areas of growth.

As consumers transition from passive to active consumption they are, “moving towards the creation of a new type of personal space at the centre of their own carefully selected universe of media choices and experiences, one which is continually informed and shaped by AI and algorithms that recommend new content to them.” 

Too much of a good thing

Personalisation, and its close cousin customisation, however, is not confined solely to the E&M sector. Health and fitness trackers provide activity and diet recommendations tailored to individuals. Travel services such as Uber, Google Maps or frequent flyer schemes have embraced personalised arrival times and favourite journey routes. Online shopping has had a measure of personalisation, such as via Amazon’s product recommendation system, for many years. Wish lists, tailored offers and custom preferences for clothing and other consumer goods are essential with the sheer volume of items for sale on large ecommerce sites. 

And therein lies a problem — high-volume brands, be they physical goods or online libraries — have an advantage in personalisation as customers have a greater ability to pick and choose exactly what they want. But if the customer cannot easily find it, the brand risks alienating them, creating confusion or even alienation instead of a one-to-one connection.

For example, PwC’s latest Consumer Intelligence Series report, A new video world order: What motivates customers?, found that more than one-third of consumers (36 percent) believed content on streaming platforms needed to be easier to find. And only 21 percent thought their streaming services knew what they wanted to watch better than they did. Many thought the same recommendations were being shown to them over and over, and despite their popularity, half said they would cancel a subscription if it was too overwhelming (had too much content) or inconvenient (not enough ways to overcome poor discovery).

Picking up good recommendations

Developing a good personalisation engine is therefore key for businesses that want to deliver personalised experiences. To achieve this at scale, it is necessary for organisations to deeply understand their customers — what they need, want and how they behave. This means having plentiful, robust data, and using it to create customer segmentations that can scale from macro oversight of the market down to the level of the individual customer.

Second, the personal experiences themselves must be right. Micro-interactions across channels will add up to a holistic personalised experience that customers will remember. This has to be done thoughtfully, though. Magic moments should be carefully selected and validated via behavioural response through test and learn experimentation and control groups. The wrong message in the wrong format will be seen as bad customer experience and one misstep is enough to make a customer to say goodbye.

Technology and analytical skills are critical. Mastering the right combination of tools is important to be able to unify the personalised experience. A single source of customer truth will be needed so that machine learning can make accurate predictions, and all systems should constantly be tested and evolved. 

Finally, the best technology and intentions will mean nothing if the business and its employees aren’t unified to the shared personalised goal. Teams should be cross functional and if possible, agile, in order to ensure the customer experience is synchronised in an increasingly fast-paced environment.

Know your customer so they can know themselves

As the Outlook observes, “The personalisation wave, fuelled by technology and evolving customer behaviour, shows no signs of abating. If anything, it will likely be amplified by the forces of [exponential] technology, scale and aggressive investing and competition.“

By knowing customers, and using their data in increasingly sophisticated ways — geared towards understanding the individual — businesses will be able to differentiate themselves. In some instances, this will mean disrupting themselves and the exploration of new business models. In nearly all cases it will mean building capabilities within the team and looking at new ways of working.

Ultimately, if the individual customer is kept at the heart of every decision, from customisable user experience interfaces, accurate recommendation engines or magic moment customer interactions then a brand will be able to deliver on its promises: building trust, loyalty and its bottom line.


Dr Amy Gibbs

Amy is the Editor in Chief for Digital Pulse, PwC Australia



  1.  Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford University Press, 1991.