In the early 1900s, psychologists coined the term semantic satiation, the phenomenon when a word or phrase is repeated so much that it temporarily loses meaning. The listener perceives it as repeated meaningless sound.
Try this: say the word beach over and over. Thirty times or so. The word transforms from something that conjures sand, tides, and relaxation into a simple sound. One that doesn’t conjure anything.
The word personalization has been repeated tirelessly ever since we had the notion that we could reach one singular consumer instead of going after the masses. Since we realized we could track websites and drill down geography and time on page. And since we each got hand-held devices that keep track of our whereabouts. Personalization, personalization, personalization. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And now it has become meaningless air.
Segmented email marketing is touted as personalization. (Never mind that a segment, by its nature, can’t be personal.) Re-marketing based on abandoned web visits gets the personalization stamp. A web page that delivers different images to different visitors based on past behaviors is called personalization.
Don’t get me wrong, these are valuable marketing strategies, but they are not necessarily personalization. Consider the following things when you’re wondering if you’re personalizing communication with travelers.
James Taylor once said, “Once you get that two-way energy going, everyone benefits hugely.” In music, in travel, in life, the most exciting things happen when two (or more) voices are working together on something. That’s why family and friends continue to be the go-to for travel recommendations after all these years.
Whether digital via AI or person-to-person, personalization requires a two-way exchange of information. Travel is complicated and a personalized communication about travel — whether before, during, or after — generally starts with a simple request and must build on in-the-moment, relevant details. “I’m interested in visiting Spain with my husband and child,” requires so much more information to be understood. Turns out, this family is not looking to tourist their way through Madrid or Barcelona. The child dances flamenco and they want to see many live, family-friendly shows. Parents also enjoy wine. The brand that helps them discover the opportunities to do both of these things with the least amount of effort will go much further, but the only way to do it is through curiosity, questions, and discovery.
Travelers want to have some of the work done for them. Research and planning have become far too complicated. Personalization has been used to denote a better version of the old one-direction marketing strategy — from the brand to the consumer — and frequently gets conflated with sending “personalized offers.” Though to brands this may seem like a “give,” it’s a “take.” Typically, you are looking to get (#1) a response at (#2) the lowest possible cost to your property. When we reframe personalization as an opportunity to give travelers something that makes their research, planning, booking, and journey better (and this is about more than $ savings, for certain), then we start to look more at the traveler and less at the brand and we begin to finds ways to personalize travel.
Focus on future behaviors. Past travel behaviors can be insightful, but they aren’t predictive. In a few short years, a traveler can go from a single traveler who runs off at the drop of a hat to Vietnam or Chile with a group of friends to a family traveler who, even when traveling as a couple, wants something different than ever before. When once a bustling seaside town would have been desirable, now a quiet, off-beach B&B may be preferable. If we focus only on what we already know, personalization can end up way off target, and so we must focus on learning about what we don’t know.
We need to step back from the term for a bit. Survey and redefine personalization. Embrace that personalization is dynamic, that it relies on information we don’t yet know, and that to get it, we have to be willing to give. When the term regains some important meaning, travelers (and brands) will feel the benefits.
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