The Myth of One-to-One Marketing

“One-to-one marketing” is a great catchphrase, but in practice it has always been a myth unless you’re talking about a salesperson working directly with a customer.

When the concept was first popularized in 1993 by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in their book, “The One to One Future,” the phrase was a marketing rallying cry: Traditional mass marketing was losing its impact; it was time to narrowcast, to speak to consumers one-to-one. Peppers and Rogers have built their company, 1to1 Media, on that foundation.

That was early Internet times. The technology wasn’t there, but the wake-up call was prescient: address your customers in a way that makes them feel as though they are being personally catered to.

I argued then (mostly in speeches) and still maintain that it is an illusory tactic. Making people feel as though your message was crafted just for them is a bit of legerdemain. Useful, but not really one-to-one.

Why not one-to-one? It isn’t cost effective. Despite the tools at our disposal now, one-to-one can rarely be implemented other than literally person to person. It’s too expensive to set up systems to truly be one-to-one responsive. Even when it seems obviously do-able.


  • I hadn’t been on Spotify since the first few weeks it was introduced. So I created a new account at the free level — knowing I’d be getting ads — and started listening to classical music. Mostly opera. The ads I got: Madonna. You would think that with all Spotify knows about my listening habits, they’d be the logical ones to craft one-to-one messages. Given the frequency of those Madonna ads, they clearly didn’t have many advertisers to choose from. You’d think they’d create house ads…but how many would they need?
  • Our children are 26 and 29 years old. I haven’t bought children’s clothes at Lands’ End (or much of anyplace else) in many years. So why is Lands’ End — a company I shop regularly — sending me promos for school uniforms? And while we’re on the subject, why didn’t my customer history follow me when I changed my preferred email address? Now the better discounts go to an old mailbox, while the new address gets less favorable offers. (Which raises the further question of what better rates lurk that I don’t know about.)

Apart from the fact that it just doesn’t make economic sense to have every sales effort tailored to every individual based on their activity on a site or in-store purchase history, many of us have multiple family members logging in and browsing/purchasing, which understandably confuses the vendor’s system.

Netflix has sought to solve that problem by establishing separate accounts family members can use. While Netflix’s recommendations for my wife and me still often reflect other family members’ viewing preferences, it’s a start. Maybe Netflix is still drawing on older selections prior to setting up the separate accounts. Meanwhile, Amazon used to be dead-on with books recommended for me (especially in more arcane subject matter), but not so much anymore.

I’m hardly the only one mystified by the lack of coordination between viewing/purchase history and the recommendations I get. Joe Queenan wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal recently, “Those Recommendations Don’t Compute.” I don’t expect one-to-one, but we should all at least receive loosely relevant when it’s online. The expectation online is different than, say, with a newspaper — a medium I still enjoy browsing precisely because I get to see things I wouldn’t search for or otherwise see — or even TV, where the expectation is still mass-targeted ads (destined to change eventually as well for all but the biggest event-viewing experiences such as the Super Bowl, where the ads are content in and of themselves).

On the plus side, my friend Andy tells me he got a promotion from Pandora pointing out that he’d listened to 800+ selections in a particular genre. The music network then suggested Pandora lists he should check out, and they were indeed relevant. That said, he summed up the concern many of us have about moving our listening from physical to online media: “maintaining the continuity of ownership.” That, however, is subject for another day.

Awesomeness Seeks to Bridge ‘Connectivity and Commerce’ For YouTube Stars

“They call themselves ‘creators,’ we call them ‘influencers,’” says Dreamworks/AwesomenessTV’s Jim Fielding. Dreamworks owns Awesomeness, which is a marketing engine for young (often very young) makers of YouTube videos. There is also an Awesomeness social media community for the tweens and teens that marketing engine targets.

Fielding, who spent more than a decade with Disney Stores, including four years as President, and then served as CEO of Claire’s, knows his audience — and old media types like me are decidedly not in his sights. Fielding’s mission: “Connectivity and commerce,” he says — to help those “creators” establish strong direct relationships with consumers as well as a strong retail presence.

From a viewer perspective, Awesomeness is an umbrella for YouTube channels that cater to these demographic groups. The nomenclature is awkward, though: Awesomeness refers to its social media offering as a network while it prompts those coming to its website to “Watch our channel.” But the “channel” is an aggregation of 91,000+ existing YouTube channels as well as those generated specifically by Awesomeness. And again, admittedly, I’m not the target, but I find the AwesomenessTV interface confusing for trying to find a specific creator’s work unless they happen to be featured. (Much easier to get there directly through YouTube.)

Semantics and my own navigation challenges aside, the channel signs creators with existing YouTube followings and uses its marketing expertise to propel them to higher levels of viewership. Licensing can become part of the package — that’s part of where Fielding figures in — though as in other entertainment realms, the creators often retain those rights for themselves, or their managers/agents/parents/lawyers or other handlers.

Still, the power of that umbrella is considerable. “Discovery might have 300,000 viewers for a very successful video,” Fielding told me at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas last month. “We put a video up yesterday that had 1.5 million views in three hours.” Awesomeness adds 24-32 “pieces of content per week, plus longform” videos. Awesomeness also creates videos for brands looking to engage its audience of tweens and teens.

While many see the shelf-life of these videos as extremely limited, Fielding points out that search can bring viewers back to old episodes. He cites as an example “Life So Rad,” a series created for retailer Kohl’s. When the third season went up, viewers sought out the first two seasons, which they found even though those older shows were no longer highlighted on the site.

That can be a blessing and a curse, since the fashions a Kohl’s might be featuring in a season one episode probably don’t exist by season two, let alone season three. Still, it signals that much sought after level of engagement.

Among the more successful of Awesomeness’s stars are:

  • Amanda Steele, who started posting YouTube videos when she was 10 and is now 16. Her subjects: beauty and fashion.
  • Ingrid Nilson, who has been making videos for seven years, was a judge on Project Runway, and has three million YouTube subscribers and at 26 is earning 6-7-figure endorsement and other marketing fees.
  • Tyler Oakley, a humorist, author, and gay rights advocate who used his social media celebrity to raise $1 million on his birthday for The Trevor Project, an L.A. non-profit that provides a safe haven for LGBT and questioning youth in times of crisis. On the more “commercial” side, he stages pajama parties on college campuses, where $250 VIP tickets include meet ups.

The company will support a new “creator” by backing production of 6-12 episodes. “If there’s the right engagement we’ll do more,” Fielding said.

Fielding sees the biggest threat to these celebrities’ longevity in how long they will be willing to produce two to three videos a week. “Most of them started by making selfies,” he notes. The more visibility they get, he adds, the more sophisticated the production values get and the more time it takes to produce even 2-3 minute clips.

The bottom line, says Fielding: “The fans will tell us when [the Awesomeness creators/influencers] aren’t relevant.”

Contact: Jim Fielding,

What I Learned At Licensing Expo 2015, Part II: Beyond ‘Device-Agnostic’

The younger the consumer the less he or she cares which device they watch or listen to. It’s been apparent for several years now that they don’t think in terms of computer, stereo, smartphone, TV, radio, etc. They want their content on whatever device is convenient at the moment.

But they also don’t think in terms of film or a game or a traditional TV show or a Netflix or YouTube or other video. It’s all entertainment to them, a fact that is underscored by the way PBS Kids emphasizes digital games for its preschool shows; movies deliver trailers a year out and prolong the life of a release through, again, games and other online extensions; or TV shows extend their season with mini-episodes online.

All of this is cause for a wholesale re-thinking of how all forms of entertainment are marketed — let alone how entertainment consumption is measured.

A complaint that came up repeatedly at Licensing Expo this year from toy companies, movie studios, TV and video networks, and other IP owners, and which I’ve heard from people in music and other entertainment sectors as well, is how difficult it is to measure the popularity of a given movie, TV show, music recording, game or other piece of “content” across even the major platforms.

Whether YouTube or Netflix or Amazon or Facebook or Twitter or Spotify or… the owner of a piece of intellectual property has to go into each platform’s analytics  independently, with no shared interface to simplify the process.

For marketers that means learning a host of analytics systems when all they really want is “the numbers” and probably aren’t statisticians. For large companies with dedicated departments that’s not a big issue. For anyone else (and that includes most companies), it is a very big issue indeed.

Is there anything out there that aggregates this wide range of user data across platforms?

Advertising That Thinks Differently

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post captures the significance of a powerful Starbucks ad honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an op-ed piece today.

Advertising By Invitation

Two emails from Land’s End this morning. One to the email address I’d been using for 20 years; the other to the new one I attempted to switch my account to.

Subject line for the message that went to the old address: “Ends today: 25% off your order, for best customers only”

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Subject line to the new address: “Ends today: 20% off your order”

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The content of the body of the emails is identical, except for the amount of the discount.

We invite companies to advertise to us when we sign up for alerts on their websites, or make purchases and don’t opt out of promotional messages. What an incredible opportunity we give those advertisers.

Just don’t try to change your email address or you’ll mess them up.