#82 The person in personalisation (with David Mannheim @ Made With Intent)
Dan, Dara and Bhav are joined by David Mannheim (founder of Made With Intent and author of The Person In Personalisation) to talk about the world of personalisation and his new book ‘The Person in Personalisation’. They talk about Disney’s failed personalisation app and lack of personability, how personalisation is not CRO and the flaws in thinking as such. They also discuss if brands can truly form personal bonds in an era dominated by AI and automation.
David has a new book called “The Person in Personalisation” which you can purchase online here.
See David’s most embarrassing secret – his Take Me Out appearance that he spoke about at the beginning here!
Intro music composed by Confidential – check out their lo-fi beats on Spotify.
Enrolment is now open for September’s cohort of the GA4 Immersion 6-week cohort training with early bird pricing!
- The Duality of AI: David contemplates the pros and cons of AI in facilitating genuine brand relationships. While technology has its merits, does it dilute the human touch?
- Understanding Brand Relationships: A thought-provoking discussion on whether humans genuinely form relationships with brands or if it’s merely a simulation of connection.
- The Role of Authenticity: David’s personal journey of self-awareness and its impact on brand communication.
- Rapid Fire Insights: From busting myths to envisioning the future challenges for brands, our rapid-fire segment offers quick yet deep insights into David’s thoughts.
Quotes of the Episode:
- “Retention is almost like repeat purchase, which I do all the time from Amazon, but that doesn’t mean I’m loyal to them.” – David
- “Moving from quantity to quality is probably the main measure.” – David
- “AI does make, what is intended to be a personal process, inherently more impersonal.” – David
The full transcript is below, or you can view it in a Google Doc.
[00:00:15] Daniel: Hey Bhav, hey Dara, how’s it going? It’s bloody hot and I’m sweating. I’ve just spent an hour on this podcast. I don’t know about you guys, but I am really hot and I need to escape.
[00:00:24] Bhav: I had to close the window, Dan, I had to close it because there’s so much noise outside, so I cannot wait to crack it back open again.
[00:00:30] Daniel: Me too, it’s a good job this is an audio medium only because I don’t think anyone would be watching us right now. We’ve just finished our recording with David Mannheim, what an amazing guy to talk to. And I know it sounds kind of obvious in hindsight, but what a personable guy. I think my favourite part of that, and I think the one takeaway I’m going to take away and probably remember forever, is this idea that personalisation is not an arbitrarily defined thing, and it’s much like ‘creativity’ or ‘entrepreneur’, that it’s actually something that you don’t often have to define those other terms. And people often ask you to define things like personalisation. And when he phrased it that way, I kind of understood it a lot better actually, and understanding how now in hindsight silly asking him to define personalisation was, but it’s so clear in hindsight right?
[00:01:09] Dara: Does it just mean all of those things are made up?
[00:01:11] Daniel: I think it is. I think maybe everyone’s just not done a good job defining them enough yet.
[00:01:14] Dara: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, if you can’t define it, it’s not real.
[00:01:16] Bhav: Him and I are good friends we go back a long way and I think one of the things I like about speaking to him is that even though I constantly hold his feet to the fire about personalisation, he still brings the same energy, the same passion, the same purpose to those conversations. And I think, you know, I do it sometimes just, you know, just because I like to be a little bit confrontational and, you know, have my views on some of these topics, I’m not doing it just for the sake of it. I think at the same time, the fact that he can always stand his ground and give clear insights, well researched insights, back up his arguments with, you know, really great examples, that’s the thing I always take away whenever I speak to David, not just on this call in general, is how much passion and purpose he brings to what he’s doing.
[00:01:56] Dara: I get what you’re saying. It’s kind of a healthy bit of challenging. It’s not like you’re out and out disagreeing with everything each other is saying. I found that quite interesting and enjoyable listening to the two of you, kind of back and forth because it’s not like you’re miles apart on some things, but there’s just a nice kind of, there’s enough of a difference that just makes it a little bit of a challenge and then, and then surfaces some more information. And like you said, David’s very capable of backing up what he’s saying with some kind of research and examples as well so.
[00:02:24] Daniel: Something that I’ve been thinking about during our conversation as well is the rise of AI, large language models, things like ChatGTP and the fear of the unknown. But also fear of losing jobs and like what jobs will survive, the automation of AI and things like that. What it fully reminded me of is the importance of human being. And I’m not talking purely from a personalisation experience or perspective, which is about, you know, creating brand personalisation, but actually just like the interpretation, thinking back to kind of like our jobs in the world of analytics and data and saying, well, data’s data. That’s great, that’s the ones and zeros. Like you can be fed the same data and have completely different or opposing or semi opposing thoughts about the same thing. And I think this is where the analyst, the kind of the marketer, the analytics professional. I don’t see that job disappearing to the automated world because actually we’re in the world of numbers. But actually the most important thing we have is our common sense, our humanity, our opinion and perspective on things. And I think that conversation just highlighted that to me in many different ways actually.
[00:03:21] Daniel: Really enjoyed this conversation, it was fascinating. I’ve got so many notes, so I’m going to start writing them up and digesting them. Please stick through to the end. He’s got some great views on almost everything to do with personalisation and yes, we do try to challenge that in every way we can. But other than that, enjoy the episode. Oh, guys, is there anything coming up for you guys you want to tell everyone.
[00:03:39] Bhav: So CRAP Talks will be coming up as per usual. I’m trying to be better at sequencing, so we should then have one every two months from now until the end of the year. So if you are around in London, it’s usually towards the last Tuesday of the month. Do come along, meet and ask questions. You know, we’ve had David speak at the last one. If you missed it, you know, you missed a great conversation. But we’ll have some great speakers lined up for you in the future.
[00:04:00] Daniel: And is that London or is there Manchester on the cards again?
[00:04:02] Bhav: There will be Manchester, but I’m specifically talking about London here.
[00:04:05] Daniel: Well, enjoy the episode. Yeah, one of our favourites for sure. And yeah, see you on the next one.
[00:04:10] Dara: So, welcome to The Measure Pod, David Mannheim.
[00:04:13] David: Thank you.
[00:04:13] Dara: So we always kick things off rather than me doing a really bad job of introducing you. This is your chance to give your origin story so you can go into a lot of detail or a little bit of detail, it’s up to you. But why don’t you just tell our listeners a bit about your journey, what’s got you to where you are today and what you’re up to these days.
[00:04:31] David: Sounds like when you say the origin story, I should start from the beginning. 1987, May the sixth. It was a dark Tuesday night. No, it wasn’t. I never know what to say to these things. People often come and talk about their career and their experiences and demonstrate some kind of authority and what have you. And you know, my whole thing, being honest with you, Dara, is all about putting the person back into personalisation. So I feel like I should be personal, in that respect.
[00:04:55] David: I am a big Manchester United fan, I have a wife and two kids, five and two, and I find parenting the hardest thing in the world. I don’t know how everyone else finds it, but goodness me, it’s so hard to discipline your kids. Isn’t it like that balance of too hard and too soft? And, you know, understanding how that impacts their future and their mental wellbeing. So yeah, that’s probably one of my biggest challenges going through my head right now is just parenting. How else can I make it more personal? What’s my most embarrassing secret? That’s probably the most personal thing I can do. I was once on a TV show called Take Me Out, 12 years ago. And I, yes, I did get a date for those interested, but only just. There you go, there’s me, there’s my origin story. There’s me being personal for you.
[00:05:36] Bhav: I’ve seen the episode, by the way, only two lights were left on by the end. So by the skin of your teeth, David.
[00:05:42] Dara: Disney killed off most of those lights, didn’t it?
[00:05:44] David: Oh, you’ve seen it as well, Dara. I didn’t think, you knew this.
[00:05:47] Dara: Oh, yeah.
[00:05:48] David: Well, it’s been 12 years. I feel like not a lot of people know it, I don’t think, but I feel as though I might as well out myself.
[00:05:55] Dara: I was waiting for the right moment to tell you that I knew about it and I’d watched it. This is as good a moment as any really.
[00:06:02] David: I remember when Brainlabs were looking at acquiring us at User Conversion. Somebody told them, and I think they’re a bit scared of like saying, so this is a thing? I thought you were a professional David, clearly not. How did you find it, Dara? Because I’ve worked very hard to knock it down the rankings over the years.
[00:06:23] Dara: You must have told me or somebody told me because, and I mean I would say this now that I’ve been asked, but it’s not like I was stalking you trying to find out as much as I could about you because I can’t think of why I would’ve been doing that. So I think somebody must have mentioned it to me. And this was before I knew you, Bhav, so it wasn’t you that told me. So somehow I found out and then I googled it and found the video. But somebody must have mentioned to me that you were, that you were on it.
[00:06:47] Daniel: Well, I did because I saw your fireside chat at the last CRAP Talks. And yeah, you mentioned it there, or at least you gave enough of those very unsubtle hints that led me straight to the video which I then immediately googled and then watched later on, on the train home. So, yeah, again, it’ll be in the show notes for everyone else.
[00:07:03] David: And it’s often the cool one that’s not seen, if you look at the number of views it’s often the bad one where my mum destroys my social life. Is this what we’re meant to be talking about? I wish I wouldn’t have started to talk about personal stuff.
[00:07:15] Daniel: It is, exactly. Well, it’s on brand, it’s on theme, David.
[00:07:18] Dara: And it’s a lot better than expanding on the Manchester United thing because I know they’re a football team and that’s about as much as I know about them. So this is far more interesting. Right now I’ve got the really hard job of somehow segueing that back into a topic that we’re actually, we’re going to cover. So I’m going to ask you the obvious question first, which is, what is personalisation? So within the context that we’re talking about it, how would you define personalisation?
[00:07:42] David: I don’t think that there’s a definition. I think this is why people become unstuck. I actually think there are plenty of definitions out there, all kind of have a very similar sentiment, you know, kind of right place, right message, right time. But for me, personalisation is, there’s a few things. Number one, it’s akin to asking what is creativity or what is leadership, or what is entrepreneurship? These are more conceptual concepts or ethereal things, rather than needing a strict definition. If I were to ask you what is creativity, I think all three of you will come up with a very similar sentiment, but what it means to you is different. So not to labour on semantics, but I think having a definition strikes to me as needing a dictionary definition, and ironically, one that is very generic in nature.
[00:08:26] David: Really the question that I would like to be asked, I’m not asking you to reframe it at all, is what does personalisation mean to you? So, In that light, what does personalisation mean to me? For me, it’s all about relationships. Believe it or not. I feel the more personal we are with individuals, with each other, the more we can foster and garner a relationship. The notions of familiarity saying the word Dara over, over, and over and over again. Understanding, you know, the fact that you don’t like Manchester United, some level of acknowledgement or football in general. So what I’m doing there is using personal information about you in order to improve our relationship. So this is, for me, it’s a relationship marketing communication principle, rather than anything else.
[00:09:11] Daniel: I have a question there, David. Thank you, David. That was a great response, David. And you see, I’m trying to use your name multiple times to be personal. As you’ve drawn my attention to it, I now feel obligated to do it. But the thing with this, and my biggest thing when it comes to personalisation and obviously not spent as much time as you have obviously around this material, but it’s this level of like uncanny valley where if you do it badly, it’s almost seen intrusive or odd and or more off-putting than if it’s done properly. And I would love to get your thoughts around like, you know, where is that line? Is that just a bad application or a definition that someone may be misconstrued of it? Because we’ve all had like personalised emails or ads from a marketing perspective or from an onsite perspective where you see like some kind of personalised banner that’s just using stupid stuff like your first name or something and it goes wrong or they’ve gone too far, but not quite done it well enough. And it’s this, like I said, this uncanny valley stuff. So where does personalisation fit in, like from that perspective? Because I get the theory of it, of it being nice and being personable, but like in practice it often doesn’t come through that well right.
[00:10:11] David: So I actually wrote quite a lot about the uncanny valley within my book and then I ended up taking it out. It felt like it didn’t quite fit with the overall flow and narrative. And it’s an interesting concept, right? You ever see Princess Leia at the end of Rogue One? How that, that deep fake kind of, it was really poor and then it evolved to Luke Skywalker in the Mandalorian and then further in the Mandalorian season two, if you remember how good that Luke Skywalker was then. Dara, you raised an eyebrow as if you don’t know what we’re talking about. So I found the concept of the uncanny valley really, really interesting and creepiness in general. And when you said, how do I feel about it, one of the reasons why I took it out is that creepiness is all subjective. What is creepy to me is different than creepy to you and Bhav you’ll have a different level as well. And I looked into a few concepts around this, so I looked into transparency. How transparent should we be with users or individuals about the level of data that we’re using?
[00:11:04] David: And generally, I found the answer, unfortunately to be the typical marketing answer of it depends. Too much is a bad thing, too little is a bad thing. There is a just right section, but that just right section is so, because we’re all subjective individuals it varies so much. So it’s more of a range of just right, rather than being too much, too overly transparent and overly opaque. I found that fascinating. I also found it fascinating the difference in the data inputs. So there’s explicit data and implicit data. You know it’s the implicit data that often gets you in trouble, unfortunately. So if you’ve heard of the famous example, back in, it was like 2011, good 10, 15 years ago, of Target trying to understand where the individual was A if they were pregnant, and B they could actually identify to what trimester they were pregnant within. This was a good 10, 15 years ago, just by using implicit cues ie, what products they’ve bought, what products they’ve seen before, etc, etc.
[00:12:00] David: They got in a lot of trouble for it, and the only thing that they did, interestingly, that people fail to end that story with is instead of sending that individual a load of baby products, either A, suggesting that they might be pregnant or B, telling them that they are, that they know they are, is that they made the fact that they knew more opaque instead of just sending, say, nine baby products, they sent five with a lawnmower, a washing machine and something else. So they were still using all those data inputs, but their communication was just a little bit more, well, less transparent, should we say. And they, of course, weren’t transparent at what they were doing about the individual with their behaviours.
[00:12:40] David: So there’s a few things within there that don’t unfortunately answer your question. All I know is that there is an uncanny valley and the issue with the uncanny valley is that there’s a just a too much and a too little and a just right, but the just right is so individual for everyone that I don’t think without asking for explicit data permissions that people understand about and that they care about, I would just always advise on being more transparent than not, generally speaking.
[00:13:05] Bhav: Just to add to that though, David, if you find yourself in a situation where you are asking users to explicitly give you information about themselves, do you think companies will fall into a trap where most people will probably say no, rendering the whole concept of personalisation, not impossible, but something more difficult if you’re not collecting all of that information. And you know, you mentioned creepy. Maybe not creepy is the right word, but potentially around the side of ethics, do you think it’s worth making people aware of the fact that, you know, we are collecting like industries, companies are collecting data for the purposes of making more targeted experiences, more personalised experiences?
[00:13:41] David: Well, a hundred percent. But I think that there needs to be some kind of value exchange, some reciprocity there. It’s almost like we’ve become so what’s the word that I’m looking for? Like, so entitled as retailers or as brands to collecting this information. The wild, wild west days of the cookie. That we are now expecting that we just turn around and say, oh, yeah, we can do this right? We did it 10 years ago, we did it five years ago. We can just have this information, right? And things have changed obviously as you know, there needs to be some level of value exchange.
[00:14:09] Daniel: Is that even possible though? So I’m just wondering because we’re in an era now of the cookie banner, whether that will change over time, I’m sure. But at the moment, it’s this kind of like, It’s like anything, like who reads the T&Cs, even if at the bottom of those T&Cs, there’s a great value exchange of like you know, a signed blank check, for example. But most people aren’t ever going to get there to truly convey the value of, or the value exchange there, to be able to collect that data, to be able to provide that back. Do we even have the mechanisms to do so if you are not one of the big five brands, for example, where people are almost like brand loyal, I’m just wondering about everyone else. It just feels like hard to convey that value exchange to be able to start this journey.
[00:14:44] David: I don’t understand why you wouldn’t need to be one of the top five in order to create a value exchange with users. Look, let’s talk about cookie banners for just one second. Let’s just strip it back to like where we are now. We can all appreciate that cookie banners are shite, they have very little thought in them. And the reason why is that they’re guided by principles, by regulators who I think understand the long-term principles of what it is that they’re intending to do, but the implementation of that has been so poorly executed. It feels like, to me, very akin to how the government created that shitty 1 billion pound app for the pandemic. You know, like, I understand the principles of it, but the execution, implementation of it was so minimalistic that it rendered it useless. And I feel that’s where we are with cookie banners at the moment. The lack of thought, the lack of empathy, it’s just a tick boxing exercise. And I was actually part of a study panel the other day which asked the question “is ethics within branding a necessity or a luxury?” And I found that like a really difficult question to answer.
[00:15:50] David: Generally the typical marketing answer of it depends came into force as it does with everything. Panels never tend to give you their true opinion, do they? So yeah, so I see that evolving over time, but I wouldn’t understand why the top five would not be, or outside of the top five would not be able to offer some kind of value exchange. Why would you think that? Is it a resource question? I don’t think it is.
[00:16:08] Bhav: I mean, from my point of view on this one, having worked for three companies, which had every opportunity to personalise, and they did, you know, to some extent I worked for MOO, Gousto and Photo Box. They capture a lot of information that’s been voluntarily given to them, uploaded photos, what recipes you’re selecting and your business details, your, you know, your image, your company logo, things like that. So for them, personalisation makes sense. It’s right for the taking, the value exchange it’s clearly recognised because once you’ve uploaded your banner, once you’ve uploaded, uploaded your family photos, you know, whatever, you’d have to keep doing it over and over again.
[00:16:41] Bhav: So you save yourself the hassle, and there’s the value exchange of being able to quickly create products and purchase them without having to like, redesign your business logo or make a business card if you want to order some more. So in those instances, I think it makes sense. I think where it becomes, certainly for me, a bit of a grey area is where is the value exchange if you’re not an organisation and that needs that type of information to really personalise the product.
[00:17:04] Bhav: So let’s say, for example, if I picked something arbitrary, like Screwfix, right? It’s not a sexy brand. There’s no need for them to really ask for any more information. It’s a very classical ecommerce business model. If they suddenly started doing personalisation, for me, I’d be a bit concerned in the sense of, well, why do you need this information? You know, like, what are you going to do with it? What value am I going to get in return for you having this information? And I think it’s those types of brands where, what you’re trying to do even then, you know, in those instances you are trying to create a barrier of entry that’s low, sorry, a barrier of entry that might be a little bit high to begin with, but the barrier to exit as a customer is also high because you’ve got all of your media on their platforms.
[00:17:44] Bhav: For something like Screwfix, I know if I opt, you know, give them any information, the value is for them, I don’t see the value for me. So how do brands who don’t have that immediate personalisation visible make it clear to customers what their value exchange, you know, what the value exchange for the customer would look like?
[00:18:00] David: Well, there’s a couple of things there. I disagree with the connotation that I don’t see why Screwfix would want to personalise. So just on that for just one second, I think any brand should want to be more personal. For me, that’s a communication principle. Personalisation in it’s like, in the societal rhetoric that we’ve got at the moment is just a notion of recommendations. You mentioned before about products, about Gousto, about MOO, about Photo Box. We’ll come on to Photo Box in just a second and MOO actually, because I think that’s slightly different. But if we take Gousto as an example, you know, their notion of personalisation is recipes that relate more to your purchase behaviours and that you will like more, i.e. recommendations. And I think that’s generally where the societal rhetoric of personalisation sits nowadays, which is we want to provide information that’s slightly more relevant to you. I understand that, I get it. And what is the benefit of that to the customer? To save time. You even mentioned it in your narrative just then, and that is also the benefit for MOO and Photo Box, which is when you upload photos, you want to repeat that action again, and therefore it saves time.
[00:19:02] David: Now, Google did a survey just two, three years ago that said what are the three main benefits to personalisation? Number one was save time. I think number two was seeing offers and discounts. Number three, was seeing relevant products, which is by virtue, just number one again, just reframed differently in my opinion. When I was speaking to some people, there was Dr. Phil Marsden. He explained personalisation as only having one benefit. He called it convenience technology, it only gives you the information of saving time.
[00:19:30] David: Now, I disagree with that. I do think that personalisation for me is a branded communication principle that allows you to be more personal, it creates a deeper relationship. So when we talk about a value exchange, really the question should be, do people, do visitors, do customers want a deeper relationship with some brands? I gave away the answer, and I think the answer is, only some. And I think it’s those that try harder, that work more, that make more of an effort that you’ll want a relationship with. Think about Starbucks as an example. You know, it’s Howard Schultz that turned around and said, we’re not a coffee company, we’re a people company that just so happens to serve coffee. I think Gousto do a similar switch on that, don’t they? As a data company?
[00:20:13] Bhav: Yeah, we’re a data company who happens to sell food.
[00:20:15] David: Yeah, it does sound good, to be fair, I’ll give them that. But yeah, for me, it’s all about people, it’s all about creating that relationship. So, I don’t know if that probably gives you an answer because I probably don’t know the answer. But when it comes to a value exchange, I think us as humans deeply want a relationship with brands just as we do as humans. The question is, we only want it with some brands, not all brands. I don’t want a relationship with my car insurance people or my bank, but I want a relationship with Disney and Manchester United, for example.
[00:20:43] Dara: But you do want convenience with those other ones, don’t you? So do you see this as being almost two different categories of personalisation or maybe you wouldn’t even call the former personalisation, but I agree with you and I think I’m the same in terms of the brands that I’d interact with. There’s somewhere I am happy to give them a bit more information about me because I do want to have that kind of deeper, maybe I’d use that word a little bit, more cynically, but maybe I’m still aware that there’s a you know, there’s a commercial, it’s a commercial relationship. It’s not going to be a particularly deep and meaningful relationship, but I do want to feel like I’m a bit more part of that, of that brand.
[00:21:15] Dara: And then there’s other companies where I literally just want the time saving. And Screwfix might be a good example, where if they could present me with recommendations based on what I’ve bought, then that’s going to save me having to figure out, what bracket do I need to go with this? Or what power tool do I need to to kind of screw this into the wall or whatever. So there’s a lot of companies where you want that convenience. And then there’s others, and as you say, they’re very few and far between where you would want to kind of share a little bit more. So are you seeing those as two distinct categories or are they still all just part of this overall?
[00:21:47] David: Yeah, I think they’re still part of this overall, I think we focus more on one than the other, recommendations, convenience, because it’s easier to attribute and it’s more immediate. No one wants, you know, no market in their, in their right mind wants to wait around for years and years and years to be able to understand some kind of benefit to what or attribution to what it is, what they’re doing. I think to the point earlier, that some of us might not want relationships with certain brands, but brands should all want relationships with customers. There’s been far too much research in academic studies in the past 10, 50, 20 years about how for goodness, the world of advertising works, how human psychology works. We talk about brand intimacy and one of the cornerstones of brand intimacy or the, you know, being intimate and empathetic within the brand to consumer relationship is the notion of personability. How personal are you? How more like a human are you as a brand than a brand are you? Give me a relationship. Brian Tracy spoke about the psychology of selling is all about relationship marketing in 1986.
[00:22:49] Bhav: David, is relationship marketing the same as personalisation? And I know you say it’s personal, right? And I don’t disagree. And I agree with you about your last sentiment around every brand should want a relationship with their customer. A hundred percent. I agree with that. Brands can be personal without doing personalisation. And I think about brands like Ben and Jerry’s, Oatly, these are some of my favourite brands, I feel like I have a dialogue with them, even though they’ve never reached out to me directly. They’ve never personally spoken to me, they’ve never had any personal.
[00:23:15] David: Why is that?
[00:23:16] Bhav: Because I think their communication, right, but I don’t feel like it’s a personalised experience. So I guess my question is, does personalisation have to be a one-to-one experience or can it be a one-to-many experience if you identify who your core demographic is and talk to them in a way that’s personal?
[00:23:31] David: Yeah, so yes is the answer, I think so. Because I still think it has the cornerstones of being, being familiar, some level of acknowledgement, having a, what you call a more informal tone of voice basically. Have you ever heard the story of Innocent of it? Sorry, rather of Innocent Drinks and the creator of that tone of voice because it’s a really good story.
[00:23:51] Bhav: It’s been a while, refresh my memory.
[00:23:53] David: And so the creator of that tone of voice, I’ll send you an article after this, is cited as regretting his decision to work with the owners of Innocent Drinks because he has now created a Frankenstein where every oat milk or tin of beans in everybody’s cupboard, kind of shouts some kind of informal, inauthentic kind of punctuation at the consumer. Like, hey, stop looking at my bottom, that type of thing. And he’s cited as being the creator or the owner of that because he did it for innocent drinks and unfortunately it’s just become homogenised and therefore inauthentic. Clearly you don’t seem to think the case with Oatly, but maybe I’m just old and cynical, who knows? So the answer to your question is yes, I think that can be the case, but it’s just as long as it has some of the principles of understanding what being personal is.
[00:24:39] David: For me, Bhav, I don’t know whether those examples are authentic. Just to the point of the innocent drinks guy. I think their attempts at it, and therefore I think, you know, kudos to them, good for them. Just at the same way that I think saying “hi first name”, whatever it is in an email, is an example. It’s a step forward in the right direction of trying to be personal. It just so happens that it’s not sexy enough to be considered personalisation.
[00:25:01] Daniel: We can’t not talk about the technology that facilitates a lot of this personalisation. And I’m thinking it’s like your example there where the kind of the, the replacing of first names in emails, the personalising experiences, like a banner or a layout on a website, or maybe even in your banking app. You know, the top three actions on the list when you log in compared to other things, but, the thing about being personal, especially if you’ve got customers of even hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people, like, you can’t literally be personable with each of those because the machine is having to kind of facilitate an illusion of personability, which maybe wasn’t the case in the twenties where everything was one-to-one communicated. There was no self-checkout, there was no internet, and you kind of spoke to human beings, and you could teach personability and impose like a personal part of the brand. But when we are rolling out a level of personalisation, now let’s, let’s take the email example. We are using a tool which does see people as cookies, as tech, as ones and zeroes.
[00:25:58] Daniel: And I’m wondering if that’s ever going to get to a point of being truly good or truly personable from that context. I know I’m stuck on the first name example in an email, but pick another technology and it’s the same thing there. We’re still at the limits of the technology and the technology isn’t thinking as effectively should I put it that way?
[00:26:15] David: I don’t think it’s technology that limits us from personalisation. I think it’s the humans behind the technology that limits us from personalisation. I feel like I’m quoting some kind of obscure Scott Galloway quote or something. I’m sure he said something about, it’s not AI that’ll take our jobs, it’s the humans using AI that’ll take our jobs. To be fair, he said that after I wrote my book, but hey, I mean, he’s not read my book either, but so I feel it’s not so much the technology that’s limiting us, there’s a lot of people that I interviewed that suggested the same conversation as well. It’s more humans, the technology certainly there. And to your point, I don’t think it has to be one-to-one in order to be considered personalisation. I remember speaking to Emma Travis at Spiro, and she spoke of, you know, the mythical maturity scale of one, one to all, one to one, one to many, one to few, just sitting in between.
[00:26:57] David: And she spoke of like, it’s all optimization. You just get more and more specific with your optimisation, I subscribe to that thought. I think really it just gets more segmented the more you go down here. And there is for reference, a difference between segmentation and personalisation. There’s a really good explanation that ThoughtWorks used where they describe that difference as basically being the absence of context, a unique context of the individual or of the user group, perhaps their intent or perhaps where they are in their, in their journey in order to be more personable with them. Because otherwise, you know, those are like the cornerstones of being appropriate, is it not? You know, it’s very frustrating when we see social proof, which is often my go-to example, as being splashed about everywhere. And that’s a good example of optimisation for reference or a test that most people will do where you say like 10 left in stock or buy now because there’s only five people looking at this and it feels so inappropriate to the majority and only gently persuades the few. And I feel that difference in context is the difference between segmentation and personalisation.
[00:27:59] David: So that being said, to your point, that’s why I see personalisation as more of a communication principle rather than sitting on that maturity scale of one to all, one to many, one to few, one to one. So if you are, so you are saying, are you going down the wrong path? I would just say it’s whatever your definition of personalisation, what it pertains to. Because for me in that instance, I feel that personalisation is probably often seen as a different purpose, where it’s usually commercially driven, hugely for the purpose of optimising your conversion rates or getting more dollars in the back pocket and okay, that should be the long term goal for most businesses, that’s the only way they grow, right? It’s business 101, but there’s relationship marketing that sits above that. How you achieve all those things is all about being closer to your customers. We spoke about customer centricity now for what appears to be 50, 60 years.
[00:28:51] Bhav: I have to ask David, why is personalisation so important to you? Like who hurt you?
[00:28:56] David: There’s three reasons, you choose whichever, if you want me to go into all three, I can do but there’s my love for Manchester United, which I feel has been tainted. My love for Disney, which I feel has been tainted. My, I think wealth of experience in CRO, which I also think has been tainted, which would you prefer for me to talk about?
[00:29:15] Bhav: I want to hear the third one, but I’m also open for Dan and Dara to potentially weigh in.
[00:29:20] Dara: I’m keen to know how you feel Disney do on a personalisation front, but maybe that could be a slightly, yeah, I didn’t want to, all of them, do all of them.
[00:29:30] David: I will try and do the last two then very, very quickly. So the whole Disney thing, being honest, it’s less personalisation and more, more branding, more relationship. But I’m a huge Disney fan. I’ve been every year of my life, I’ve been 35 times, we’re going again in October. It’s an inordinate amount of times. And yes, I’m an incredibly uncultured person Dara, I don’t care. I feel I’ve seen it change over the years to the point where I could go in a park and the next year and be like, that signs changed or that door’s been painted a different colour. And over the years, I can see how overt they’ve made it where it’s literally nickel and diming the guest, you know, a soda’s now $4.29 it used to, I remember where it’s $2.50 excluding the exchange rate. A theme park ticket was $3.50 in 1971, and now it’s $179. The increase in that, just for reference for quick maths, is 3,800%, and in that same time period, including inflation, rent, wages, and the price of oil has only increased by a 1,000%. There’s a really nice graph somewhere on TikTok I think.
[00:30:29] David: So I feel like my relationship with Disney’s been tainted because I’m seeing, you know, they call, they call us all guests, but I’m really just seen as a number and what really put the nail in the coffin is that they tried to release their personalisation products. Their very first, called Genie+, and they announced this before covid. And it was meant to be your perfect day, like your perfect itinerary design just for you in an app. And what eventually happens is that they released, they released that. And instead of it being your perfect day, it was actually everything that they wanted to upsell to you. And no word of a lie. You know, you go to Disney now and you will pay for rides that you’ve already paid for. You used to be able to get three rides free and now you have to pay for those three rides free. Oh, but those don’t include the two rides per park that are the best rides that you actually want to ride on. No, you pay per person per ride separately for those.
[00:31:18] David: There’s one example. And in terms of the CRO piece, obviously I held a CRO agency for a number of years and yeah, I advertently say it was an accident. I never really wanted to own it. But I just felt rather frustrated at the need to realise immediate revenue over and over again. I felt rather frustrated at this term conversion rate optimization where we are optimising a conversion rate. And I appreciate there’s been a ton of, ton of discussion in that fact, but for some reason we’re never going to get around it because as much as the practitioners want to move away from CRO, the business owners will never move away from CRO. And what they’re doing is they’re optimising a generic metric, and therefore everything that precedes that optimization is also generic. It is a reason why we call product detail pages, PDP or PLP or basket or checkout our homepage, it appears there are only five bloody ways to optimise a conversion rate, and it feels so generic.
[00:32:14] David: It feels like we talk about page experience, not user experience, you know, so there’s that need to move towards being more personable with what it is doing behind changing that end goal, that metric that isn’t conversion rate, that’s not retrospective and aggregated and binary. Did they convert or didn’t they convert? It’s about being more predictive. It’s about understanding that there’s humans on the other side of this screen, that not everybody is a number. So now you have my 2 cents as to why it’s important to me.
[00:32:45] Bhav: Okay, you know I’m going to jump in on this point, David, just because I see the whole world as no, it’s, I mean, you know that I see the whole world as numbers. So, two things on that. First one on Disney, if Disney who arguably are one of, if not the biggest company, you know, the company in the world, can’t get personalisation right, and they focus on revenue, what hope does anyone else have to get personalisation right and do it for the purposes and altruistic reasons of relationship marketing and not for turning a quick buck.
[00:33:15] David: So Disney are the most valuable company in the world. ByteDance are one of the most valuable company in the world who, who are TikTok. They’re a hectacorn which is over a hundred billion, for reference. They do personalisation better than anybody else because they understand context of user, they listen more. They undertake all the implicit cues of which there are hundreds of thousands when you swipe every 10 seconds. I don’t use TikTok, it might be five, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you swipe a lot basically, and they take in all the contextual cues about what you like and what you dislike.
[00:33:45] David: Facebook a very similar for reference, and there’s a study that just got released by Oxford University recently where Facebook now understands your preferences and your lives better than your own spouse, which is crazy. So, I think one of the reasons why Disney moved to that model, interestingly, Bhav, is because of Covid. I think if you look at what the Genie app previously was and what it is now are two different things. I’ve got some screenshots to show if you’re really interested, and the reasons why they moved to that model is because the need to, to realise revenue at a very fast and accelerated pace. To the point, fun fact, when they released Genie+ there was even a piece of Laura Mipsum text at the bottom of the app. It tells you that they absolutely rushed it for a different purpose, basically. Maybe it doesn’t answer your question, but it gives you a bit more context.
[00:34:33] Daniel: It is interesting and I, and I think David I’m coming around. I think if that’s the best I’ve got in an hour of talking to you, I think that’s definitely, I’ve started my process because when you started talking at the beginning of this episode, you mentioned how it’s like the definition of personalisation. It’s almost a silly question to ask because it’s like you don’t define creativity right. My partner is a designer in the branding space and from, from lived experience there, like often when the shit hits the fan, like these are the things that do get cut first. So when that Genie+ app came out, or during Covid, they’re like, we have this amazing thing that we want to do, but we need revenue, we need dollars in right now. And I think the same thing with creativity, if you have to downsize the team, they’re the ones to look for first. And I think maybe that’s a symptom of maybe not being well-defined. And I think maybe analytics and data cut fall into that category too, because it’s so loosely defined and you don’t have an ROI in the spreadsheet next to your line item.
[00:35:25] Daniel: I think, you know, everyone on this call has kind of come across that at some point, I do kind of get that, but what I’m going to do is go back to agreeing with Bhav a little bit and saying that if Disney’s still not, like, if Disney can’t do it, what’s the hope for us. But like if Disney still cut that aspect of their business, this idea of personalisation. It’s not the kind of the same phrase, same question of like, what’s the hope for the average business, but like how, how do you change that? How do you position personalisation in a way that doesn’t get immediately cut as soon as they need to balance spreadsheets or how do you sell the long-term value that this isn’t a one and done, you can’t complete personalisation. Like creativity, you have to evolve and adapt to trends and designs and themes like that.
[00:36:03] David: You know, what is your purpose? Do you prefer to get close to your customers over a period of time, or do you have to realise shareholder value immediately. You know, the Disney in that instance had to realise shareholder value immediately because of their immeasurable drop, all their parks got cut. And that’s actually, believe it or not, of all their sectors, their most profitable sector by far, not their most, not the sector that brings it the most money, but their most profitable sector.
[00:36:27] David: So I think it all comes down to purpose. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s absolutely a need to experiment and to prove some kind of attributable value, and also to prove what does and what doesn’t work. But I also think there’s a need over time to move metrics away from just purely quantity to more quality. You know, one of the best examples that I’ve seen of this is, sorry to say, but in football I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term of expected goals. You know, in a Premier League match in general, there’s an average of three goals scored or less per match. And what people found in the 2000s is that it was very hard to understand how to impact such a rare event.
[00:37:07] David: How do you change or work towards a goal? So there’s a company that called Opt Sports that came along and looked at 16 different attributes, over 300,000 goals. Those attributes were things like the shot of the goal, the distance, the angle, the possession of play, etc, etc. And in so what they did is they actually created what they called an expected goal metric, which is defined to be a quality measure, not a quantity measure. It’s how likely the person is to score, but also just not looking at the number of the chances, but the quality of the chance basically. That is now the world’s most popularised metric in global football, and we linked it to the success of, unfortunately, Liverpool, but Brighton, Brentford and lots of other teams that actually comes from the world of Moneyball if you’ve ever seen that film about Billy Beane with Brad Pitt.
[00:37:53] Bhav: I think that’s a great example. I think the problem with conversion, and I think maybe David, this is where CRO agencies have, and the CRO world specifically maybe one of the things you don’t like about the fact that you know, from the CRO world is that it has this constant focus on conversion is that the ecommerce space is possibly quite a simplistic model, and CRO is, sorry conversion rate is probably the best measure of success. You know, maybe you could go one step further and do add to basket rate as a signal, right? I’ve worked in more complex product organisations where the funnel isn’t a linear journey from homepage to, as you call it, PDP page, to basket to checkout. You know, it’s these multi-touch places within the platform and you get multiple permutations of a customer experience. It’s effectively just a single page, a single page application. But you have so much within that, you know, the different recipe types, the different cuisine types that you might get. You know, are you using it on your mobile or using it on your desktop and all those types of things.
[00:38:50] Bhav: And just like personalisation, CROs may be potentially misunderstood because people talk about conversion. Actually, it’s those leading indicators before conversion that are the ones of value that you should be optimising for. And I’m going to go to when you are answering your questions, the second point, which is around this immediate revenue right away, I think you do need a measure of success, even for something like personalisation. And the reason we’d need it is because, maybe like maybe 30 years ago, 40 years ago when relationship marketing was new, it was cutting edge there weren’t as many companies around then. You could build like brand, like an affinity with a brand. But in this current stage where you’ve got brands popping up all over the place, I can’t even keep up with some of the, you know, like the newer brands for, you know, all these influences and what have you.
[00:39:35] Bhav: So I wonder if maybe it’s just, you know, everything’s going to need a success measure. It’s just, for some products, personalisation makes sense and you’re going to measure it with something like in your, you know, with intent, expected conversion. But certainly in the product space, which is where I spend a lot of time in, you know, conversion is usually the last metric we look at, and it’s just about companies finding the time to look for better leading indicators of what represents the thing they really care about, which is usually money.
[00:40:00] David: I don’t think it’s time, I think it’s purpose. I think what’s more important right now? You know, is it shareholder value as an example, or is it customer value? And I think people lean towards shareholder value because it’s a more immediate form, more attributable. To your point, retention, sorry to Dan’s point, more than anything, moving away from quantity, conversion to quality retention, I think is really important. That’s one thing that I probably learned in all my interviews is that the top five, the best companies that do personalisation including Gousto, by the way, I consider them not to be the best in terms of their execution, but one of the best in terms of their purpose, like the reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, utilising retention as a metric, which is ultimately a quality factor for success over a period of time, rather than a designator for immediate success. And to that point as well, there’s a difference between retention and loyalty.
[00:40:53] David: Retention is almost like repeat purchase, which I do all the time from Amazon, but that doesn’t mean I’m loyal to them for goodness sake, you know? Because they throw things over the fence in a box and they damage whatever’s inside usually. So, yeah, I think moving from quantity to quality is probably the main measure. And just for reference very quickly, Bhav what you’re saying, that’s why the football story really inspired me and there’s a great book called the Expected Goals Philosophy, if you’re interested in it. My new business Made with Intent is designed to do exactly that, but for ecommerce, move it away from these aggregated metrics and move in from conversion to expected conversion. What used to be an expected assist in football is an expected add to bag in ecommerce. What used to be expected possession in football is expected engagement, for example.
[00:41:39] Daniel: A thought that I’ve been having, as you’ve been talking, David, or throughout this whole conversation, let me just ask your thoughts on AI and the rise of AI and how that, for me, I can see as either the opposite of personalisation or it can facilitate and enable that to, to some great length. You just mentioned there, and the reason I ask that is because I thought the whole time how AI automation and things like, you know, Performance Max campaigns and you know, lookalike audiences in within the ads platforms like Google Ads and that lot like that, that is taking so far removed from personalisation that you don’t even know who you’re targeting. Like you, you are trusting in the machine to kind of do that and optimise against an implicit quantitative number which is then, you know, this is the things they’re optimising to. But then you just said there about, you know, looking at predictive numbers, which then has to be based on some kind of statistical model, some kind of, some maybe machine learning, maybe something more basic. How do you see the role of AI in this world and do you see that as more of a hindrance or a help towards this idea of becoming personal?
[00:42:34] David: I really struggle with the answer. I don’t know, because to your point, I find that it both helps and it hinders. And I also get worried about it you know, it is the cynic within me, I think. I think it is just old age, but I think AI does make, it does make a, what is intended to be a personal process inherently more impersonal because obviously you’re moving away from human to human interaction to human to screen interaction to well pretty much robot to robot interaction, what it feels like anyways.
[00:42:58] David: But that being said, I feel as though it will accelerate personalisation efforts. And you have seen that in the notions of things like, be more appropriate having creating product descriptions very quickly that are designated for individuals or multiple segments rather than just a generic segment. One of the biggest factors, barriers, within personalisation efforts is the creation of content, for example, which came up, up again in my interviews, and I think that’s eradicated with the help of AI and you know, I don’t want us to use the word ChatGPT but we’ll say it anyways. So, yeah, I don’t know. I really struggle with the answer. I think it helps and it hinders, it does scare me though I will say that.
[00:43:37] Dara: When it’s a larger brand as well. I mean, realistically, how often is it a one-to-one human to human interaction?
[00:43:44] David: I don’t think it ever is, I think it’s a simulation more than anything.
[00:43:48] Dara: If you take that to its extreme then, if you’re a large brand, is there any reason not to as the, obviously once the technology is good enough, why would you ever have human to human contact?
[00:43:58] David: I think it’s about simulating it. I think at least like having designators that indicate that, yes, I recognise that you are somebody with a beating heart at the end of this screen and not just a human to screen relationship. I think that’s one of the most important things. I don’t know, I struggle with the answer, I must admit. And it doesn’t bode much for me trying to plug my book because I’m sure people expect answers.
[00:44:20] Bhav: I mean, I don’t think it needs to be like, David, I don’t think you need to have a perfect answer for this. This is clearly something that you’re passionate about. It’s driven by your own internal purpose, which will inevitably make your book your new company a success because I think your intentions for it are going to be great. There’s always going to be sceptics out there like me, right? You’ve directly in your book, I’ve got a quote and you’ve directly argued it against like, you know, I think, we’ll always have that, and I think that’s okay to be able to challenge each other, on these types of things. I firmly believe in the world, you know, we don’t need a relationship with brands. What we need is relationships with each other and people, and with growing like social media, what you call them, pendulums, and you know, like people are swinging from one side to the other and you’ve got all these massive divides, you know, like having a relationship with a brand is probably the least of my worries.
[00:45:07] Bhav: But I guess if I was to stop being such a dick about it about personalisation, I think it eases the tension and one less thing to worry about if I am dealing with a brand who is nice, who has maybe taken a bit of a white glove service in dealing with me as opposed to that kind of direct number.
[00:45:26] David: There are absolutely thousands of studies that demonstrate the importance of being personable within brand relationship, that us as humans crave brand relationships.
[00:45:37] Bhav: Do those studies still stand the test of time now?
[00:45:40] David: Does Dale Carnegie’s how to win friends and influence people. Or Daniel Kahneman’s book does that withstand the test of time? These are psychological principles. I mean, we’re all mammals, we’re all like.
[00:45:52] Bhav: We’re evolving mammals right?
[00:45:53] David: Well, good point yeah. And we have stimulus that does evolve us and accelerate that evolution. But you know, the notion of psychology, it still remains. We’re all persuaded by rational and irrational fears, or the need for empathy or tribalism or to feel belonging, or collective. I think there are so many studies, I think you and I need to get on a call after this and I’ll give you some reading.
[00:46:13] Bhav: Sounds like a plan.
[00:46:13] Dara: Yeah and I’m going to sadly pull us out of this philosophical.
[00:46:18] David: This is the best bit.
Rapid fire questions
[00:46:20] Dara: I know yeah. We need to do a side, a side episode where we go into all of this in much more, much more detail. David, just before we let you go, we’re going to hit you with a few rapid fire questions and then we’ll wrap up and let you go.
[00:46:33] David: Okay, as long as they’re not Take Me Out related?
[00:46:35] Dara: Maybe we’ll try and work one in just at the end. So what is the biggest challenge today that you think will be gone in five years?
[00:46:44] David: Effort.
[00:46:45] Dara: Ooh, wouldn’t that be nice? What will be the biggest challenge in five years?
[00:46:50] David: The fact that we removed effort?
[00:46:53] Dara: What we do with our time, yeah.
[00:46:56] David: I think like, you know, the concepts of greed and entitlement and loneliness, I think all come to the forefront of my mind.
[00:47:03] Dara: I look forward to five years time where we do the follow up episodes. Okay what’s one myth you want to bust?
[00:47:09] David: That as humans, we have relationships with brands.
[00:47:13] Bhav: Ouch. David, I feel like that was a shot towards me.
[00:47:19] Dara: Alright. If you could wave a magic wand and make everyone know one thing, what would it be?
[00:47:24] David: That’s a good question. Themselves. I think for me, like therapy has really helped me become incredibly more self-aware. And I think it’s the greatest gift we can have, which is to be more aware of ourselves and that will help our relationships with brands and communicate with others. So, yeah.
[00:47:41] Dara: And final one, what’s your favourite way to wind down? You can’t mention Manchester United and you can’t mention Disney.
[00:47:47] David: I really don’t know the answer. It used to be running, but I think it shows by age when I say a good old walk.
[00:47:54] Dara: Nothing wrong with a good old walk. Okay, well listen, thank you again for coming on the show and chatting to us. It’s been really interesting and got probably a bit deeper than we’ve maybe expected at times, which is exactly what we, what we like. So just before you go, where can people find you, connect with you, assuming you are happy to connect on a human to human basis with others who might be interested in doing so.
[00:48:18] David: I love speaking to other people. Yeah, just LinkedIn, I guess. My book comes out probably at the end of July, who knows at this point in time, it should be six weeks from now. And my business is not out yet. It’s not fully launched. We are currently in beta but we’re called Made With Intent. Feel free to check out the website, but yeah, and thank you also, by the way, for not just the opportunity, but Bhav for mentioning. I do feel, second time business owner around. I feel this feels really authentic and purposeful to me and when people sometimes say, how are you enjoying the new business? I often always reply with, I’m really, really enjoying it. Dara, you’ve known me for a number of years now and you knew that, you know, I wasn’t enjoying my previous business because of who it made me and therapy helped me get out of that hole. But being more self-aware, I am really enjoying this. So thanks for the opportunity to speak to you, yeah, I appreciate it.
[00:49:07] Dara: It’s been a pleasure. We’ll include all the links that you mentioned in the show notes. Alright, thank you.