This month we are hanging over the balcony with the fractional CMO and marketing strategist that I always enjoy chatting to, J. Robert Slaughter, who has nominated ‘personalization at scale’ for the drop into the watery demise that is our special place in marketing hell.

When we went backstage with fractional CMO and veteran sales and marketing strategist J. Robert Slaughter and asked him what marketing snake oil he’d like to fling into the Rockstar Swimming Pool, he seemed spoilt for choice:

Ah, so much marketing bullshit. So little time.

He’s right because, despite 20 visits to the penthouse balcony, and an unhappy pool guy tired of scooping out everything from agile marketing to the bloody goldfish, we seem to have hit upon an inexhaustible topic. After a short deliberation Rob settled on the marketing doublespeak that is:

Personalization at scale

Should we oblige? It sounds so impressive, seductive even, a worthy marketing goal, a conflation of the old one-to-one marketing ideas of Peppers & Rogers of the early nineties, with mass media advertising powered by marketing technology neatly packaged in a phrase that anyone in the C-suite can understand. So fantastic in fact that in 2016 McKinsey called it the holy grail.

But is this something new and wonderful that we need to pay attention to, or is it just simply standard marketing best practice, powered by modern data and tools, gilded with bullshit and sold as a new idea to raise consulting rates and make the rest of us think we are missing something?

A dip into the McKinsey article would suggest the latter, and when you strip it down they suggest the following:

  1. Look at the data
  2. Listen to customer signals
  3. Put a team together
  4. Focus on the processes and technology

Who in marketing is not doing this?

Like my friend Rob, I’m skeptical of these things. Every new shiny marketing practice, channel or doohickey seems to create distractions and silos, the talk of war rooms, dedicated teams, specialized agencies, tools (etc., etc). When actually the whole organization, from marketing to the product and customer service that’s provided need to be customer-centric, relevant to the market and part of a narrative of a consistent brand story that a consumer can trust.

It also, weirdly, could be missing what the consumer actually wants. Mostly they want convenience, relevance and to trust the seller. Rushing into Personalization (with a big P), especially ‘at scale’ with all its pitfalls, risks of getting it wrong, creepiness (etc.) could get in the way, destroy trust and convenience.

I once had to regularly fight with the digital experience of an airline that despite using it every week, on occasion would be convinced I was German. Despite clicking on the little Union Jack, it was often unconvinced of my preference, choosing the wrong ‘customer signal’ (I was in Germany) to personalize the experience. Presumably at scale.

Personalization is a huge topic that we have been discussing for all of the 15+ years I’ve been in the marketing technology industry. Yes, we are heading toward a more personalized world, but no, it is not the holy grail.

If you are relevant, consistent in your execution across all channels and trusted, people will bring you into their word, build a tribe around you and personalize their lives to you. (Apple, anyone?).

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be doing the things that are suggested by the ‘Personalization at Scale’ evangelists and ninjas, it’s just we need to remember that today, this is just marketing.

As we peer over the balcony at the deep water below, we are reminded we must be consistent to our own guiding mission statement for the Rockstar CMO Swimming Pool which says that it is Our special place in hell for all the crap, bullshit acronyms, empty fads and snake oil of marketing and execute on that.

Mr Slaughter, you are right. Goodbye ‘Personalization at scale’.


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