The Wrong Personalization Assumptions Can Sabotage a Sale

Yes, personalization in marketing is a good thing. But it has to be done right. You’ll find some important lessons in this Epic Fail attempt I received.

A contact on LinkedIn sent me this note:

Hi Shel, I am starting a new business and am looking for business owners, who would allow me to test our solutions to grow their customer base. If you would be so kind to review this 30-second video and let me know what you think. It is for the real estate industry, but the concept is universal. Thanks! <URL>

It was a link to a personalized video that wanted access to my Facebook account but didn’t require it. I clicked on “proceed without Facebook” and watched her 38-second video. Then I wrote back thusly (she has not answered my two questions so I’m taking that as a no):


Well, I’m going to give you a detailed response and make a blog out of it. (May I use the sample video in my blog? And do you want to be named?) I think there’s a good future in personalized video marketing. But this example had major problems both in the underlying assumptions and in the implementation of the technology.


The video assumes that:

  • Everyone wants a big house in the suburbs, with a big yard and a big garage
  • Everyone is white and Christian and heterosexual
  • Anyone would call a Portland, Oregon phone number to buy a house in Massachusetts

As a result, it comes off as generic and not really personalized. Right now, I live on a farm. I grew up in New York City and lived for 17 years in a small college town. If I were a real estate prospect from any of those three communities, or a person of color, or (as I am) a non-Christian, I would dismiss this video as irrelevant, and actually be offended that a “personalized” video was so out of touch with my particular reality. Using the name and community is not any more personalized than a mail-merge on a mass mailing.

Real personalization would draw from a video clips library of people who looked and acted like the families of the actual prospect, and show a home search that reflected the character of the prospect’s own community—and, if the prospect were actually doing a home search, the types of houses s/he was looking at.

And the whole advantage of using a real estate agent is in things like familiarity with the market and a personal touch. This is why even the big national RE franchises have local offices in each community they serve. Giving a number from 3000 miles away is a huge disconnect and makes me uncomfortable.

You also assume that you can call it a 30-second video. It was 38 seconds plus probably another 15 while the video was assembling itself. You could accurately say “less than one minute.” 30 seconds is misleading.


  • Load experience
  • Geotargeting

Where a personalized video really shines is in creating the idea that the video was created just for the individual who gets to watch. I admire the honesty, but staring at a long pause with a note that it is creating the personalized video removes that illusion. We are all aware that computers are doing the work. Some other kind of splash screen saying that the video is loading and perhaps telling three points to pay attention to in the video might be a better user experience.

And the geotargeting was not only off, it didn’t match the video contents. For some reason, it thought I’d be looking at houses in East Longmeadow, a working-class/lower-middle-class suburb of Springfield a good 30 miles from here. But the homes shown in the video were more likely to be found one town over in Longmeadow, a much wealthier town.

A fancy house that you'd find in a wealthy suburb—mistargeted to me

A fancy house that you’d find in a wealthy suburb—mistargeted to me. Photo by Margan Zajdowicz,

I personally am very happy where I live and have no interest in buying a home in either of those towns—but I understand that I am not the prospect for homebuying, but for using personalized promotional videos. I actually like the idea, though I think the library of personalized clips for my business would be far too complicated and expensive to assemble, as it would get into things like climate change solutions for manufacturers, retailers, restaurant owners, etc.

Green/social change business profitability expert Shel Horowitz shows businesses how to turn poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance–??while making a good profit. An international speaker and bestselling, award-winning author, his 10th book is Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

Posted in Advertising, Demographics/Psychographics, localism/locavore, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Technology Tagged with: , , , , ,

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