One of the hottest topics in today's fluid media and marketing morass is personalization -- creating experiences defined by a person's behavior, or desired outcomes, or stated preferences. Yet, so many of us still use the term "user" far too often. It's wrong -- and dangerous for brands and agencies.
I just watched another series of video cast studies, these from Adobe (here) that feature how T-Mobile, MTV Networks, and Martha Stewart Living created cool implementations of Adobe products and services. Nice pieces. But "user" is used all over the place by people who sound like experienced and savvy product, creative, strategy, and brand leaders to describe or define people, consumers, customers, individuals, or even simple human behaviors.
Forrester's Josh Bernoff wrote about why the term "user" is risky years ago. He was right in 2007. Moreso today, however, because digital tools and analytics suites, among other techniques, have progressed so far. The ability to obtain, synthesize, and exploit digital data to construct profiles specific to individual people is no longer an insurmountable problem. It's actually a point of brand differentiation leaders are using to distance themselves from competition. He who truly knows their customer -- and calls her by her name -- will likely win her loyalty.
We should send "user" into the deadpool. It's not just semantics. It's the philosophy behind the linguistic transformation Josh proposed and I'm now supporting. Marketers and advertisers talk a good game about "personalizing" digital brand experiences, but are they really delivering? If we still call people "users", do we truly believe in the vision of personalization? How are we defining personalization in an era of increasing privacy concerns -- do we understand the balancing point?
Most marketers and digital agencies have invested significant financial and human resources in data mining and analytics platforms and software to better understand the landscape in which they do business -- specifically the people they want to connect with. [wire] stone's experience clearly indicates that smart brands are banking future success on developing these skills -- deep, granular understanding at the individual, genetic level, can unlock long-term engagement, affinity, and loyalty. There's little chance they'll get there if designers, engineers, marketers, analysts, or sales teams continue to think "users".
Institutionalizing the culture of "personalization" may become the defining attribute for success in the next digital decade. In the same way that we all want to be treated by friends, family, and profession as an individual, do the same for the people your brand needs to connect with. So throw "user" out with the trash. Make a contest out of it within your company. Fine people who use the term $1 and buy cookies with the bounty.