The majority of "cool" personalization on the web is “Outcome Centric.” That is to say, the personalization algorithm and supporting resources (i.e. technology, content, imagery, etc) are there to improve the business goals (i.e. ecommerce revenues per user) of the site. Think about the first time Amazon recommended a book to you based on what "similar" visitors bought. Amazon was basically making the recommendation to get more visitors to make purchases, make purchases happen faster, and to get customers to purchase more books per session. And it worked.
But there is a WOW factor to personalization that is important to consider. In the late 90s and early 00's many site owners wanted a "Welcome back JENNIFER_SMITH" in the header of their site. This served little to no immediate business benefit. But it was cool. It told the user, I know something about you. The problem back then was that the personalization stopped there.
Today sites have a great opportunity to use personalization to let the user know - I know something about you, I know what you want, AND I will help you get it. While Outcome Centric personalization might inadvertently tell the visitor it's about me, “User Centric” personalization actively tells the visitor- it's about you.
Some examples of purely User Centric personalization are:
- Personalized financial education materials (i.e. homepage promotions, site content, emails) on a bank site based on visitor type (i.e. students, newlyweds, parents, retirees, business owners, etc).
- Personalized weather recommendations based on visitor location (i.e. it's gonna be cold today, be sure to carry a jacket).
- Personalized recommendations on an ecommerce site to let the user know what products to avoid (i.e. visitors like you returned this item a lot)
- Personalized rate comparisons for products the customer is looking for even if there are better rates from competitors.
- Personalized content recommendations based on content that a visitor has already viewed.
Often times User Centric personalization will also serve business needs (think Mint.com). For example, while helping a visitor find the right book on Amazon may serve visitor needs, it certainly also helps with book sales. But consider the impact on brand perception and loyalty that User Centric personalization drives. Amazon's brand has a confident reputation for being the most efficient sales platform. Buyers feel more confident in making the right decision on Amazon.com than on other sites. While Outcome Centric personalization is tempting because it directly contributes to higher conversion rates on business goals. However, for sites like Facebook, Amazon, and Weather.com the brand equity that User Centric personalization creates, could drive superior results.