Tue Dec 15 2020 Michael McQueen

In the 20th Century world, personalisation was a luxury only some could afford. After Industrial processes took over and assembly lines made cheap mass production possible, the personalisation of a product was not in high demand, and when it was required, the price reflected its uniqueness.

In today’s world, however, personalisation is essential for thriving businesses. Driven by increased consumer empowerment, a digital world of instant customised gratification and global access to competing companies, businesses must offer personalised benefits to customers if they are set to last. Markets now not only demand competitive prices, but products that meet their precise needs within these competitive prices.

So far, this trend has existed most obviously in the online world. Platforms like Netflix have maximised the possibilities of algorithms and data in order to provide customers a selection of movies and series curated especially for them, based on what they have already viewed. One person’s Netflix feed can look entirely different from another’s. A similar process occurs with Spotify, as the app allows the effective personalisation of music, providing Discover Weekly playlists,[1] recommended artists, and the highly-shareable Spotify Wrapped at the end of the year, which gives users a glimpse of the data accumulated about their listening.

These high levels of personalisation not only satisfy the interests of the customer, but in doing so they secure their attention span, time and the relatively small monthly fee for watching and listening. Personalisation works and companies simply cannot survive without it anymore.

In this digital world, this personalisation is enabled through the collection and utilisation of data. By assessing the habits, interests, occupations, hobbies and identities of consumers, online platforms are able to adapt their products and advertising according to the individual needs of a customer. Typically, this process has been governed by third-party data software which tracks the behaviour of a customer across multiple websites and platforms and sells this information to buying companies like Facebook and Youtube. These companies then provide specific posts, videos and most importantly for them, advertising, which ensures that they hold the attention of their customers. When a site warns you that it uses cookies, this is what it is talking about.

I’m sure many of us have experienced the eery feeling of logging on to Facebook only to find ads that directly reflect our interests and recent searches. Recent data scandals and the increasing information provided by media on the implications of data collection for privacy issues have meant third party software has developed a relatively bad reputation among markets in the last couple of years.

The reality is, however, that this software made possible the personalisation of products and advertising that is actually being demanded by today’s markets. Without data, personalisation is impossible.

So, in what is probably good news for many consumers, 2021 is predicted to see third-party software disappear while the benefits of effective data and personalisation remain.[2] Because of the implementation of harsher legislation surrounding data, businesses will now need to source their data through first-party and zero-party software, rather than the third-party data which they previously relied on.[3] In order to determine the needs and interests of their customers, businesses will need to create a picture of their customers’ identities and shape their curation of marketing accordingly. This requires detailed understanding of customers and comprehension of how these identity traits affect buying behaviours.

Beyond this, the near future holds more than a proliferation of data sources, but a proliferation of the uses of this data. While the past has seen data used primarily for online platforms where the analysis and use of this information can operate seamlessly in the digital world, the future will see this data begin to affect the physical reality of our world. Our everyday experience of the physical world will be personalised according to the individual.

Thanks to technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality, both of which have made advances in the era of COVID with travel restrictions and physical distancing regulations, adapting the physical world to the individual is now a possibility. Combining this with possibilities enabled by data makes the notion of a personalised physical world a viable one which holds great potential for industries like food, fitness and cosmetics.[4]

One example of this is Tonal, a home gym system that uses the data of its users physiological condition to alter the difficulty of its workouts.[5] It promotes itself as an ‘intelligent home gym and personal trainer’, and thanks to these technologies, this is a marketing promise it can keep as its utilisation of data enables the personalisation of the user’s physical experience.

In public spaces, the capabilities of facial recognition technology mean that their physical world can recognise them and adapt accordingly.[6] For industries like retail and transportation, these possibilities will offer unprecedented value.

Not only will the physical environments and products offered to consumers adapt to their needs, but Augmented Reality technology will mean that individuals will be able to view the real world through their own digital lens. Digital realities will be projected onto physical realities, meaning that the data-enabled online world that is personalised for the user will be the channel through which consumers view and interact with the real world.[7] The coming years will see us moving within an unprecedentedly hybrid world, which is curated according to us.

Futuristic as this may seem, it does not come without its risks. The privacy issues that have presented themselves within the last decade surrounding the use of data and the amounts of information stored by companies about their customers, now have even more drastic implications.

Beyond this, the polarisation of recent politics and public opinion has been attributed by some to the echo chambers created by online platforms that curate information according to the user’s interest and opinions. When this level of personalisation is present even in our physical reality, affecting the literal truth of what we see and how we experience the world, there is potential for these echo chambers to be amplified to a dangerous extent.

Personalisation is a benefit of our modern world, empowered by the utilisation of data and the abundant information that the customer and company have at their disposal. Guaranteeing customer satisfaction, businesses that personalise their products and processes for the needs of the consumer are the only ones that will last the distance. As these digital technologies collide with the physical technologies of our era, like AI and AR, personalisation is set to reach greater levels of possibility and greater levels of risk than ever before.


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 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

To see Michael speaking live, click here and for more information on Michael's speaking topics,


[1] Mattin, D 2020, ‘New World Same Humans #45’, New World Same Humans, 30 November.

[2] Menezes, R 2020, ‘The digital and tech trends changing everything in 2021’, AdNews, 9 December.

[3] Bledsoe, P 2020, ‘The personalisation rule for a data-deprecated world’, The Drum, 16 November.

[4] Mattin, D 2020, ‘New World Same Humans #45’, New World Same Humans, 30 November.

[5] Mattin, D 2020, ‘New World Same Humans #45’, New World Same Humans, 30 November.

[6] Mattin, D 2020, ‘New World Same Humans #45’, New World Same Humans, 30 November.

[7] Mattin, D 2020, ‘New World Same Humans #45’, New World Same Humans, 30 November.