Mythbusting: The truth about personalisation


Bri Axon

Bri Axon


An assumption is a thing that is accepted as being true without proof. And the problem with assumptions is that after repeated exposure they have a canny knack of weaving their way into becoming an accepted reality – this is called the illusory truth effect.

Personalisation is a victim of the illusory truth effect. There are now so many accepted ‘truths’ about the impact, implementation and definition of personalisation that getting to grips with it is really hard.

So here’s the bottom line. There are two types of assumptions that are applied to personalisation: positive and negative. Both are equally untrue.

Positive Assumptions

Positive assumptions are those that overplay the hand of personalisation. An example?

“If we get personalisation right, it’ll solve all our marketing problems”


Personalisation is not a panacea or silver bullet. It is simply the action of designing or producing something to meet someone’s individual requirements. No more, no less. The act of doing this will certainly have an impact, and we work with clients that have the tangible benefits of giving their users an experience that reflects their needs and wants. What we don’t have is a magic crystal ball for devising a personalisation strategy, implementing it and bolstering revenue, reducing attrition, acquiring new customers, improving site stickiness, increasing market share, creating a more cohesive brand, eliminating waste, cutting costs etc all at the same time. If there were an off the shelf approach to personalisation we would all use it, unfortunately it does not exist.

Another common positive assumption is that personalisation is easy once you have the right data, the right technology and the right budget. Sadly, again not the case. You can have all the money, all the bells and whistles and all the insight in the world and still your personalisation will fall flat.


Because personalisation is a strategy. If you aren’t clear on the objectives or in fact what personalisation means for your business, then it simply isn’t going to provide the return on investment.

Negative assumptions

Negative assumptions about personalisation are those that drive negative perception; they include:

  • Personalisation contravenes data protection
  • Customers find personalisation creepy
  • Personalisation is best suited to customer retention, not acquisition
  • Personalisation requires a Single Customer View/large volumes of customer data/ sophisticated technology/a large budget
  • Personalisation is a long term project

These are very common as they provide validation to not personalise. For example, if asked why they are not investing in personalisation a marketing team can answer with impunity “customers don’t like it because its creepy, and its difficult to reconcile with GDPR.”

Conversation closed.

However, in reality, personalisation aligns with GDPR and data protection since it seeks to give customers better user experience and greater control. Moreover, when done correctly it is not weird or creepy. And this again boils down to the definition of personalisation. To repeat it is the action of designing or producing something to meet someone’s individual requirements.

Therefore, what it’s not is retargeting – ads that follow you round and round the internet, its not using someone’s data inappropriately to make bold decisions on their behalf.


Other common barriers to personalisation are the perceptions that personalisation requires huge amounts of data, huge investment, a long time frame and a sophisticated tech stack. This is not the case. As outlined above personalisation is a strategy and therefore works around the resources of an individual business. It is not a one-size fits all approach. There are many ways that you can personalise your customer experience and what works for one business will be very different to what works for another.

What I am interested in is your experiences of personalisation. Does the above sound familiar? Is the illusory truth effect hampering your customer experience? What other assumptions have you come up against?

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