One-to-One Marketing: You Need to Personalize to Survive and Thrive

Kevin Duong - September 16, 2019 - 0 comments

You might know it as one-to-one marketing. You might know it by one of its many other names, such as individual marketing, personalized marketing or relationship marketing. No matter what you call it, you’ve definitely experienced it before. And you should definitely utilize it for your own business.

Here’s the definition of one-to-one marketing according to Harvard Business Review:

It’s the willingness and ability for a company to change its behaviour (i.e. marketing plan) towards an individual customer. This change arises from both what your customer has conveyed to you and what you know about them.

The key takeaway here is the last line. There are, of course, some things that your customers will clearly convey to you. Other things are implied. Then, there are things you need to infer or even predict. How efficiently and effectively you can do this rests on your communications, strategies, technologies, to name a few key components.

There are two main types of one-to-one marketing:

Types of one-to-one marketing:


For this approach, the company has a specific and separate marketing strategy for each customer. They leverage their technology, and in particular, their troves of customer data, such as spending habits and personal preferences. Then, they align these with their own offerings to create a personalized marketing plan.

Let’s use an example. If you’ve ever bought something online, you’ve probably seen something similar to this:

On my eBay page, you’ll notice that after the items they’re trying to promote (to presumably everyone), they have a “Your Recently Viewed Items” section. This tactic is a perfect example of the famous phrase, “past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.” If you were interested enough to click into a particular product for greater detail, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re interested in buying it. Or, you actually did buy it. It’s also useful for people who put off the purchase, perhaps to think about it some more. So when they log back in, it’s (one of) the first things they’ll see and potentially complete the sale.

A second common tactic is the “Related Items” carousel of products:

eBay recommended these to me based on the first collection of products above. The vast majority of My Recently Viewed Items were Kit Kat chocolates. Thus, their train of thought was that I might be interested in other chocolates made by Nestlé, who makes Kit Kat. Spoiler alert—some of these did interest me! (As an aside, you can see why some people call me “Kevin The Kit Kat Connoisseur!”)

There are a couple more commonly used related personalization tactics. “Frequently Bought Together” is one that Amazon, among other retailers, use well, quite frequently. The objective here is to try to cross-sell some more items into your cart.

Then, there’s also the “Goes Well Together” recommendation. This one is something that clothing companies do to help you try to create a matching outfit. However, these two tactics are not as personalized as “Recently Viewed” and “Related Items.” This is because some of the data is based on external parties (other customers, a predetermined catalogue, etc.).


Of the two approaches, this one is less personal. The company’s role here is to offer enough options that will cover what their customers are seeking. Thus, it is not as individualized in its offering, since the company cannot say that Product ABC was specifically for Jane Smith.

Let’s go back to retail again. Here’s another purchase you’ve probably experienced—buying a new cell phone. Once you’ve decided on the exact model you want, then you’ll be presented with the option to customize it further. You’ll select the storage size that fits your needs. You’ll choose the colour that catches your eye. If you’re buying an iPhone, you might want to make it even more eye-catching with a laser-engraved name or message. And finally, to be safe, you might decide to purchase that extended warranty plan too.

Customization can, of course, still satisfy your buying demands. However, inherently, the options mean that the marketing strategy was less individualized compared to personalization.

Why you should use one-to-one marketing

Your customers crave it

As we’ve detailed in a previous post, customers have a deep desire to feel like they’re “wanted” by the companies trying to get their business. In fact, almost 80% of customers are only willing to consider brands that understand and care about them. So the impetus for increased personalization and one-to-one marketing is greater than ever. Companies’ ability to fulfill this will also surely spur increases in customer loyalty.

Customers are open to helping out. As you’ll see from the graph below, customers are increasingly more accepting of providing their personal information. What do they want in return? More personalized offers, experiences and recommendations.

Your business will see the results

There’s one thing these three bars below have in common—they are all signs of incremental revenue. And it’s revenue that would not have otherwise existed if the companies did not personalize. The last bar is probably the most important of the three since it shows the true power of personalization through the lens of lifetime customer value. It can be tough at times to secure a single sale. So to be able to secure subsequent sales demonstrates why more companies should do one-to-one marketing.

(Chart via Business Insider)

On the flip side, failure to personalize can have adverse effects on your business. An Accenture study revealed that 33% of consumers who abandoned companies in 2016 did so due to lack of personalization.

Plus, companies won’t have to keep such high inventory levels to appeal to as many people as possible. One-to-one marketing will inform a more driven and focused approach. You will be able to focus on your offerings that are eliciting the most engagement and feel confident in dropping those are not.

When one-to-one marketing goes too far

“Too personalized”

The key component of one-to-one marketing is, of course, your customers’ data and personal information. So you should definitely be cautious when employing this marketing strategy. There is a line between offering an experience that’s catered and creepy.

A cringe-inducing instance of this was Target’s pregnancy predictor. Target developed a highly accurate algorithm that predicted which female customers were pregnant. Then, they sent them personalized offers, particularly for products expectant mothers would purchase.

This turned to horror for one Minneapolis-area family. A father found these personalized pregnancy coupons in the mail addressed to his teenage daughter. He stormed into a store screaming. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

It turns out Target’s algorithm was indeed accurate in this situation.

And it’s also safe to say that Target was off the mark here with their over-intrusive one-to-one marketing.

Not personalized enough/Too much content

A study from Chadwick Martin Bailey, entitled 10 Facts About Why and How Consumers “Like” and Subscribe, contained some transferrable insights that you can apply to one-to-one marketing. 

As the graph above illustrates, the overwhelming reason why people unsubscribe from email lists is that companies send them too many. In this age of too much information, this is undoubtedly a prominent problem for many people. There’s a fine line between staying fresh in your customers’ minds and bombarding them too much of the time.

Then, the third reason, “the content wasn’t what I expected,” is also applicable to one-to-one marketing. This could imply the initial offering differed drastically from what was actually delivered. And from a personalization perspective, it could mean that the company did not target their customers accurately enough, leading to unmet expectations. (FYI, here are some tips on targeting your audience more accurately.)


The trends point to personalization and one-to-one marketing becoming more mainstream than ever. Two primary factors will drive this. The first being consumers’ desire for personalized experiences and a feeling of wantedness. The second, from the business side, is companies feeling they need to match this demand. At the same time, they’ll want to distinguish themselves from their competitors who are not personalizing. There are a lot of opportunities they can capitalize on, as only 22% of consumers feel companies truly tailor experiences for them. Although there are some potential pitfalls (which we’ve pointed out), the potential benefits more than make one-to-one marketing a strategy worth pursuing

P.S. One-to-one marketing can cost a considerable amount of money, time and effort, especially if you’re thinking of implementing a new data management platform or CRM. For a more cost-effective way to try one-to-one marketing, try happylane, our Free personalization tool.

Free is the most cost-effective you can get, which is the monthly “price” for our Standard Plan. It won’t take up of your much time either since it takes only 30 seconds to copy our code onto your website. And there’s minimal effort needed to use it since our intuitive interface makes navigation a breeze. Then, with our easy-to-use editor, all it takes is a few clicks to personalize your website for all your different leads, visitors and customers. Change your images, titles, text and even CTAs to tailor-make a unique experience for all your target audiences.

Try it for yourself today.

Related posts