Make it personal but don’t make it creepy and always ask first. This is the message behind this well researched review of personalization in the online industry. Companies are collecting a lot of information but few are using it well and fewer still are seeing strong results. The second two items likely go hand in hand. There are examples of those that have created strong value from personalization but a key first step is testing. Test your assumptions on what to personalize and your audiences level of comfort with personalization. As with any good product feature make sure in the end it adds value for the user. Doing it just because you can is not the right reason.
I recently heard that Starbucks identified an alternative business opportunity by observing customers. They were sitting for many hours using the space to work and have business meetings. This led them to consider what they’re actually selling or renting is meeting space. It didn’t matter what people were doing in the space just so long as they could use the space. Starbucks was in the meeting space business and they should provide consumables to meet that need. Recently Starbucks has started selling beer and wine in select locations to meet the needs of those that are meeting after the coffee hour. This led me to reading more about identifying adjacent market opportunities. This is the first article I came across and provides some actionable models to build based on patent fillings, technology stacks and keyword research.
Digging back into the archives a bit this article for 2012 examines what personalization can do when it happens at a very local level and the pitfalls from an experience standpoint. From a local standpoint it could be a great thing if personalization delivered on the promise that when I searched for a restaurant in a given area it knew my food preferences and delivered results based on my eating habits. From an experience standpoint do I run the risk of having my personal views reaffirmed because the only articles that are recommended for me are those based on content that I’ve already read. Is this a bad thing, after all this is generally the way we choose our friends.
One of my must reads is Marty Cagan’s blog at Silicon Valley Product Group. Marty has been in the product business for a long time and provides sage advice. In this piece Marty talks about the difference between product vision and strategy. He really sums it up when he equates it to leadership and management, one sets the direction and the other tells you how to get there. A good quote from Jeff Bezos around vision and strategy is to be “stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details.”