May 3, 2018


Netflix Has Adopted Machine Learning to Personalize Its Marketing Game at Scale

Here's how you can humanize marketing strategies.

Imagine having a conversation with your financial advisor. He can tell by your tone of voice or facial expression if something makes sense or if you disagree with something, and he can adjust accordingly. But wouldn’t it be odd if your advisor started making suggestions that were completely irrelevant to your financial situation? It would also be troublesome if he offered suggestions that you’d already discussed in a previous conversation or, worse, had already acted on.

You would be beyond frustrated to have such an experience when speaking face-to-face with an advisor -- or anyone trying to help you -- yet for years, we have accepted such lack of personalization as par for the course online.

How many times have you encountered such an irrelevant experience? I can think of many examples. Business-to-business (B2B) technology sites have suggested that I download a whitepaper I just downloaded. Retail sites have sent me emails recommending women’s shoes when I have never shown any interest in women’s apparel. I’ve seen retargeted ads across the internet that show me products I viewed at some point but quickly decided weren’t right for me. Once you start noticing these unpersonalized experiences, you spot them everywhere.

In the last couple years, though, a few forward-thinking companies have changed our digital expectations. The mass adoption of services like Netflix and Spotify have created a new expectation in the mind of the consumer -- one-to-one personalization. The technology that Netflix and Spotify are using to create truly personalized experiences is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) called machine learning.

The term “machine learning” sounds highly technical -- and it certainly can be -- but its applications can be highly valuable to marketers. While you don’t need to know all of its technical intricacies, it does help to have a general understanding of the concept. To explain what machine learning is about as it relates to one-to-one personalization, let’s start with an approach that preceded it.

Rule-based experiences work in marketing -- but on a very limited basis.

It might help to more firmly establish how machine learning differs from other marketing strategies first.

The way that most marketers have delivered personalized experiences in the past is through rules and segmentation. Segments are created manually when a marketer decides to group customers, site visitors or app users by some predetermined criteria.

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