Swipe left. In a world where the gateway to romance is split-second judgement, first impressions are all that matter.

Research shows the human attention span is up to three seconds shorter than that of a goldfish, explaining the success of trendy dating apps like Tinder. Even in our most personal relationships, millions of people would rather swipe left or right on impulse than spend valuable time on anything less than instant captivation.

That’s why the first moment of exposure is absolutely vital. The typical American sees more than 3,000 ads and touches their smart phone over 2,200 times per day. And across all communication channels—digital, print, phone, face-to-face—the three to seven seconds after a person first encounters your brand or message encapsulate your best chance of appealing to their values and emotions to convert them.

Regardless of the medium, what your audience observes in these first few seconds of exposure determines whether or not they allow you entry into their brain space. More importantly, those precious seconds can forever define a person’s perception of you and your brand. That’s a lot of pressure for a first impression. … It’s also an incredible opportunity, if you use it to establish yourself as relevant on a highly personal level, right off the bat. Here’s the key to nailing that giant if

 

We Are All Special Snowflakes

There are two types of people in the world: me and all the rest of you.

You see, I’m a special snowflake. (We all are, of course. But oddly, when I say it, it sounds judgy to the “other” types of people out there.) I posted something on Facebook like, “We’re all special snowflakes …” and was surprised to receive some controversial responses. So, I’d like to clarify what that statement means to me (and, apparently, to Seth Godin). It simply means that each and every person on Earth is entirely unique. It matters because acknowledging and embracing that fact is your only chance at becoming relevant to an audience of one.

In his Feb. 28 Akimbo podcast titled “I see you” (which I highly recommend, by the way), Seth Godin explains the Zulu word “Sawubona,” which roughly translates to “I see you.” It conveys a much deeper meaning, that the speaker truly sees who you are, where you came from, what you want, what you need … essentially, “I understand you and I accept you.” It’s an extremely powerful message because being understood and accepted is what humans crave. Whether it’s as customers, family members, friends, employees, despite the context, we all want to be seen and appreciated as individuals.

He then goes into the paradox introduced by industrialism.

The whole purpose of industrialism has been to systematize processes to make them better, faster, and cheaper, and for that purpose, industrialism has been vastly successful. For example, Josiah Wedgewood, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, figured out how to produce pottery at scale in a factory without skilled labor, and he saw so much success that he died one of the richest men in the world! Henry Ford, Fredrick Taylor, and countless others throughout history have benefitted from the efficiency brought forth by industrialism.

But anyone who has ever built anything knows how much easier it is when all the pieces fit. So, industrialism demands that people fit in and be part of a system. Thus, we have the tradeoff, the paradox of what it means to be special. It has become the norm for humans to, as Godin puts it, “willingly and willfully insist that the people we are serving, teaching, and connecting with, get their act together and fit in.”

It’s become standard for businesses to communicate with customers in a way that calls for the customer to fit the messaging, rather than the other way around. How could that make anyone feel special?

 

Personalization Saves Lives

In the podcast, Godin explains how during the 1950s, there was an Air Force epidemic of seemingly preventable accidents. Planes were crashing; pilots were dying; something had to be done. So, they hired Lieutenant Gilbert Daniels, a statistician from Harvard, to look at the planes and try to identify the cause of the issue.

What he found was that the pilot seats hadn’t been redesigned in 30 years, over which time pilots had gotten bigger and stronger. So, Daniels used 17 measurements to determine the average pilot size. Based on those measurements, the seat was redesigned, only to reveal that fewer than 3% of pilots would actually fit the “average” seat properly.

Daniels proved that, when it comes to humans, “average” is an illusion. They went on to design the first adjustable pilot seats, which required more work to build but made the entire Air Force perform better. At the end of the day, customization in favor of the pilot saved lives.

Just think of what personalization in favor of the customer can do for your communication, your customers, and your business objectives. The approach of starting with the individual and tailoring the service, product, system, or message to fit that person, rather than the other way around, is monumental. That’s how I believe we should all approach communication.

 

Spam Says, “You’re Not Special”

Spammy messages offer the opposite of relevance and betray the trust of the people who have invited you into their inbox. Expecting a human being to adjust their interests and expectations to fit the content you want to send could be seen as self-centered and somewhat presumptuous, and it certainly won’t boost customer satisfaction or conversions.

That’s why you should start with each individual, looking at what motivates them to take action. What behavioral biases affect their decisions? What topics, products, and activities are they most interested in? Our approach uses various data points to compile each person’s unique and adaptive profile, which is how we assemble the right message with the Best Next Action for a specific individual at each unique touch point.

If spam says, “you’re basic,” then custom-made, highly relevant messaging says, “you are not like everyone else.” One of our recent email sends had more than 47,000 variations.

When tailoring your communication, don’t limit your perception of a recipient based on preconceived notions or assumptions. That means that, depending on the approach, personas could be dangerous territory. While personas can be valuable for creating content, they shouldn’t be used to fully define an individual customer. In other words, don’t place your recipient into a box and seal the lid. Technology such as machine learning can continue to individualize each experience far beyond what persona segmentation alone can achieve.

 

Honor Your Snowflakes

Whether you use personas, machine learning, direct mail, or old-fashioned active listening, you should make it a priority to remind your customers, “Sawubona.” You see them—you know what they need, where they’re coming from, and what makes them unique. You appreciate the nuances that make them special, you are determined to engage them on a much more personal level than they have learned to expect, and you care about providing information that is useful to them.

Be the caring communicator who puts in the effort to fit each customer, not just another company that puts its own needs first and expects the audience to accommodate the provider. We are all special snowflakes, and we tend to feel much better about others who notice.


For more information on tailoring your approach to individual customer behavior, check out our latest white paper: Why Personalization Matters and/or our post How Utilities Can Learn From Behavioral Science.

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