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How Personalized Recommendations are Truly Getting Personal

Updated on April 30, 2013
Personalized online recommendations can make you feel like somebody’s watching you.
Personalized online recommendations can make you feel like somebody’s watching you. | Source

Sometimes you might get ads on the sidebar of your Facebook page that recommend either pages or products the site seems to think you’ll like, when really they don’t appeal to your interests at all. I’ve gotten plenty of these, including several ads for hardware store discounts just because I once made a little Google search for a store that could make copies of my keys. It was ridiculous. But now I find that most of the ads are relevant to my points of interest, and some ads I see all over the Internet actually, you know, work on me. It’s becoming clear to me that personalized recommendation technology is getting better.

It can feel downright creepy when you see all of these ads appearing on sites, ads that seem to be at the hands of some guy in a dark room somewhere who’s been monitoring your every online move. The truth is, though, there isn’t a single person who’s watching you. They don’t need job positions filled for Facebook ad spies, as that’s what personalized recommendation engines do.

How Does It Work?

You might be familiar with Pandora. Now, this is an interesting music program, because it has taken part in a project known as the Music Genome Project. No, it’s not some musical creature creation process involving the infusion of human DNA with sound waves, but rather it’s the attempt to connect every person to their favorite music, before they even listen to it. People listen to artists in a genre, and perhaps subgenres of that, and are given recommendations for other artists, allowing users to listen to a radio station playing only this specific genre.

Personalized ad recommendation technology works in much the same way. Using a Customer Intelligence Engine (CIE), certain sites can gain information about your purchases and browsing interests, and display relevant ads based on what you’re interested in. Amazon is a perfect example. Even if you don’t have an account on Amazon, the site will make recommendations based on what you’ve been searching for. Not only will it recommend what it thinks you would like, but also what others who share similar interests enjoyed. So, really, it’s also connecting you with other users.

Why is It Good?

The main reason personalized recommendation technology is so cool now is that it’s connecting consumers with companies in a much more personal way. It eliminates the hassle of having to search for a product you want every time you go shopping online. You may even realize you want something as soon as you see the ad, causing you to jump on a discount you otherwise may not have known about by the time you decided to look for the product. It’s extremely convenient to be able to look at the side of a webpage and be reminded of a product or service you’ve had in mind. This is why it’s actually a really neat part of company operations. It keeps businesses from having to search far and wide to weed out the customers who are actually interested in them, not annoyed by their advertising campaigns.

In a way, product recommendation gets rid of the salesperson part of marketing altogether. Businesses connect right to prospects from the companies’ own sites to users’. What’s even better is that the more you look for a certain product, or buy it, the more the CIE learns to cater to customers’ interests directly.

What’s more is that with personalized recommendations, it shows that the company associated is actually listening and garnering influence from the customer instead of pushing services or products on people that really don’t want them. Businesses can even adjust their marketing strategies based on the information about their curiosities and purchases, offering the occasional discount for products people are more likely to buy. I even found some personalization technology engine services out there that offer platforms for the CIE.

That’s the thing about this technology: it benefits the customer as much as the company behind it. I learned a lot about it because of my own association with product recommendations. I’ve done plenty of online shopping, actually finding myself inspired to search for more of a certain something I was interested in, and wanted to know exactly what was behind it (though I knew it couldn’t possibly have been a single person assigned to watch my computer). I’m sure the businesses were content, as it was really easy for me to find what I wanted with a simple click on an ad. It saved me time in shopping and it saved them time in selling. As long as the customer comes first, that’s really all I care about, and if businesses are motivated to listen to the “wisdom of the crowd,” as it’s called in the marketing world, then I’m not so worried about them trying to manipulate me. If anything, it makes me feel like I’m more in control of the business, helping let them know what us consumers want from them.


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