Tue Jul 06 2021 Michael McQueen

When seeking to understanding their customers over the years, brands and organizations have had little option but to rely on blunt instruments and generalized patterns. The valuable work of marketers, analysts and strategists centred on segmenting society into broad groups based on gender, ethnicity or geographic location. These groupings would then inform how products and messaging could be tailored for relevance. In the modern age of data analytics, however, it is not only possible to understand and target an audience of one but it is increasingly becoming the expectation.

From online shopping to online dating, the digital age has introduced people to a range of options that previous generations could only have dreamed of. For every option that is swiped left or scrolled past, there is an array of others waiting that may or may not be better suited to our personal preferences.

With such an array of options, the demand for personalisation is greater than it has ever been. The businesses that have done the best job at gaining popularity in our current era are those that have balanced their product range with highly specific consumer personalisation. We only need to look as far as Netflix and Spotify for our cases-in-point, both platforms offering personalised recommendations and options based on the activities of the user. Spotify has especially capitalised on personalisation, with its recent initiative titled ‘Only You’ that relayed to users the data of their listening habits, personalised playlists based on this information and a collection of shareable infographics breaking their listening down. With the punchline, ‘Nobody Listens Like You’, this move epitomised the personalisation strategies that are continuing to prove so effective in our era.

Beyond the world of entertainment, online shopping has evolved to make thorough use of personalised marketing. Many of us, I am sure, have had the experiences of shopping for a product online and then seeing ads for these very products across multiple other platforms. And I am also sure that for many of us, the marketing has worked.

The stats all say the same thing. In one recent survey, 75% of online shoppers said they expect their experience to be a personalised experience.[1] According to statistics gathered by Forbes, ‘91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them’. In a clear indicator of the growing value of personalisation against other priorities such as privacy and independence, ‘90% of consumers are willing to share personal behavioural data with companies for a cheaper and easier experience.’[2] It is becoming increasingly clear that consumers are willing to forfeit both money and data for a more personalised version of shopping.

Emerging digital innovations are giving us a glimpse at what the future of our online shopping might look like. Combining personalisation, AI and the highly addictive online feature of endless scrolling, THE YES, an AI-powered shopping app developed by Julie Bornstein, may well be the way of the future for e-commerce. Users scroll through items of clothing that are sourced from multiple online retailers, and then have the option to tap ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to the images, similar to platforms like Tinder. AI then accumulates data on the user and begins to curate increasingly personalised options for each individual, based on their tastes.[3]

Beyond online retail, entire industries are altering their processes all the way up to the level of product development. The beauty industry has made moves in this area, recognising the nuanced differences between individual skin tones and sensitivities. The South Korean beauty group AmorePacific recently launched an AI-driven cosmetic tool called The Lip Factory. Incorporating a mobile application called Colour Tailor, this new initiative allows customers to design and purchase their own bespoke lipstick colour. By examining the users’ facial features and complexion, the Colour Tailor algorithm generates a customised lip colour drawing from a broad spectrum of 2,000 colours.[4] Many other makeup, skincare and haircare companies have made similar moves, offering consumers the ability to specify their hair or skin goals and needs and receive a product formed specially for them.

In a similar vein, Nestlé have developed a new product range called nesQino which allows customers to create personalized superfood drinks. The nesQino range incorporates a range of base materials for smoothies, oat shakes and milk shakes along with a series of superfood sachets. These allow consumers to create over 20 different flavoured health drinks based on their mood or health needs.[5]

Personalisation holds enormous promise for wellness and nutrition industries, particularly as awareness of varying nutritional needs and differences in food sensitivities are becoming increasingly commonplace. According to Dr Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutritional science at Tufts University in Massachusetts, our genetics will become a key driver of what we eat by 2028. Described as ‘personalized nutrition’, Blumberg points to a near future where a simple genetic test will inform what we purchase and when. These tests will be able “to tell you what kinds of fruits, what kinds of vegetables and what kinds of wholegrains you should be choosing, or exactly how often,” he says.[6]

In a slightly ickier indication of what personalized nutrition could look like, consider a technology launched at the 2021 international Consumer Electronics Show called Toto. This ‘smart toilet’ analyses a user’s faecal matter and then recommends foods and nutrients that may be lacking.[7]

All trends and developments are pointing in the same direction. Businesses that are looking to survive within a bourgeoning marketplace, growing populations and developing international consumerism need to be identifying the individual amid the masses. Products, marketing and customer service need to be adaptable to the needs of the single consumer as corporations evolve to meet the person through personalisation.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 9 books. His most recent book The New Now examines the 10 trends that will dominate a post-COVID world and how to prepare for them now. 

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[1]  Arora, A. 2020, ‘E-commerce: How consumer brands can get it right’, McKinsey & Co., November.

[2] Morgan, B 2020, ‘50 Stats Showing The Power Of Personalization’, Forbes, 18 February.

[3] Burgess, M 2021, ‘The AI that fashion is using to reinvent itself’, Wired, 7 May.

[4]  Magloff, L. 2021, ‘Custom lipstick designed and dispensed via AI’, Springwise, 25 January.

[5]  2020, ‘Nestlé Introduces nesQino For Customisable Superfood Drinks’, European Supermarket Magazine, 28 April.

[6]  Farrimond, S. 2019, ‘The future of food: what we’ll eat in 2028’, Science Focus, 17 May.

[7]  Kan, M. 2021, ‘Toto's Wellness Toilet Will Analyze Your Poop’, PC Mag, 12 January.