Minimising the Cost of Personalisation

Tarun Durga
3 min readJul 11, 2022

Offering personalisation and ensuring privacy are equally important for digital businesses. But they are frenemies, often existing in a toxic relationship with each other.

Personal greetings, timely context, recommendations based on interests, network, history and geography, preemptive nudges, customised offers — Customers don’t just want personalised experiences, they expect them.

This brings with it the need for privacy and fears of data violation, fraud, misuse of information, hacking and constant surveillance. When someone buys online, they pay twice — once with money and then with personal information. We are heading to a world of zero-anonymity. It’s not always bad, but it needs to be conditional — on parameters set by customers. And that’s where the conundrum lies.

Like everything else today, the choice between privacy and personalisation is not binary. We live in an “&” world. We don’t need to choose between the two, we need to solve for their coexistence — privacy & personalisation need to work together. Here are some ways to think about this medley.

1. Everything is Branding

Brand image is a factor of how our customers feel about our products and services, and what our employees say about the way we operate. Information is everywhere and credibility walks a thin line. It is critical for organisations to create a “values-implementation playbook”, clearly outlining how ethics and values can shape every aspect of business — from making and selling our wares to engaging with customers and employees.

2. Privacy is Omniscient

Just like personalisation, privacy needs to be built into the lifecycle of our platforms and services. Privacy control cannot be an afterthought. It needs to run across the whole architecture of our offering. Privacy is more than a technology layer, it needs to be ingrained in the organisation’s mindset. Respect for privacy needs to be practiced across all functions.

3. Designed for Consent

Nobody reads the dense privacy statement, but that’s often the only checkbox we offer our customers. We need it for sure, but it should also be conveyed upfront with empathy and clarity. Let’s also add thrift to this — a consent architecture that informs customers without overwhelming them. This can happen as an outcome of good intentions. Too many push messages requesting consent can cause anxiety.

4. Being Data Wise

While most customers want personalisation, they are uncomfortable disclosing certain kinds of information — financial and health details for instance. It’s important to think creatively about using a smaller data-set in the widest possible way. We need to think in terms of inferences — get smarter at drawing conclusions rather than asking directly for sensitive information.

5. Pricing for Personalisation

While we take what we need, we should also give generously — at the right time. This is not a gift, it’s a fair transaction. Let’s assume that personalisation can be bought in degrees — and information is currency. We need to now play the long game, marketing the value one gets for the price that is paid. This way we give our customers the agency to choose how far they want to go with the amount they are willing to share. Freedom of choice and trust are great outcomes.

Personalisation and privacy can work together and strong ethics can lead to profitability. Customers today are aware of the risks of privacy breaches and broken trust, but they also want what they want. The risk appetite is high, and we need to respect it, as we service it.

Then again, do we really need to dish out hyper-personalisation? Why not leave some room for serendipity and discovery? Why not leave some holes in the algorithm? Businesses are run by humans, and humans thrive on exploration and diversity. We need to make our good and bad mistakes. Let’s not take that away from the human experience — but that’s a story for another day.

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Tarun Durga

I help people think clearly about the problems they want to solve & more creatively about the options they might not have considered. I also draw obsessively.