This week AdWeek featured a piece of content giving marketers advice on how to do personalization right. It described that four essential mistakes lead brands to getting personalization wrong: 1. listening to the wrong signals, 2. still relying on personas, and not what the piece calls living profiles, 3. not establishing trust, and 4. being afraid of being creepy (i.e., too much personalization). 

Point 2 caught my attention - the claim that there is the possibility of building a living profile of a person; something better than a persona. It caught my attention because what it implied was that if we only watch and track someone's actions closely enough, we can really know somebody. 

For brands and marketers that would be the holy grail - truly, deeply, really knowing your customers. And over decades we have made great strides in our ability to collect information about our audiences - from demographics, to psychographics, to purchasing behavior, to online search behavior, to mobile micro-moments. Collection of data points about audiences has been constantly refined and consistently increased. It remains, however, to this day a collection of impersonal data points devoid of a full understanding of a persons history, private life, relationships, and emotions. 

So, what does personalization actually mean and can we ever get it right? In essence, what we do to create personal experiences and recommendations is rely on a set of data. We collect data points and like a mosaic we set them together to form a picture of a person. Today, we have more data points than marketers of the past. Our mosaics are more detailed, nuanced, and fluid as new information comes in. It is a picture, however, and because we can never really know all our customers - and the nuances of their lives - it will always be incomplete. Personalization will come ever closer to delivering the right communication, right experience, or right recommendation to each individual; yet, it will never be personal.