This is part of my series of blog posts where I define common terms that are related with mass customization. Also see the definitions for mass-customization, co-creation and design your own/ create your own.
When people speak about personalization, they can mean a lot of different things. It can be the engraving on the back of an iPod, it can be becoming part of a Dilbert comic strip by including your face in it (hence making it personal), and it can be the algorithm with which Amazon determines which book recommendations to serve you -based on your previous purchases. Even the fact that yelp uses your Facebook account to show you better matches is virtual personalization. It really is its own big topic, but I wanted to touch on it since it’s an important topic, too.
There is so, so much potential in virtual personalization, and it’s a lot easier to change a digital product (such as a Dilbert comic, or a website presented to you) than a physical product during production. Knowing that, I think it’s a pity that not more companies have embraced this - especially since many of them already collect the data. They just don’t know what to do with it, and maybe technology hasn’t quite caught up with the data yet, either. Another concern is privacy, a concern that, I think, will become less and less prevalent as teens with different privacy standards become a larger share of consumers.
One of my favorite examples of virtual personalization is Hunch. You can just use your Facebook profile to inform Hunch, but ideally you answer a few questions about yourself (e.g. what kind of laptop you use, or which party you vote for), and based on their data about a large number of people and their preferences and how these compare to you, Hunch recommends products, websites, activities and much more to you. It’s a surprisingly accurate tool, and they are using it in innovative ways - e.g. by integrating with gifts.com. I think that more companies should integrate with Hunch (they have an API) to deliver more meaningful recommendations to their customers. As a matter of fact, especially customization companies should leverage Hunch to help guide their consumers through the millions and billions of options that custom on-demand production brings with it.
Finally, some companies leverage virtual personalization as a marketing tool. Remember the frappuccino website from Starbucks? You don’t actually get your custom drink at the end of the process, but you engaged in a meaningful way with the brand, and Starbucks gains valuable data everytime someone creates a concoction.