One of the most popular refrains from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz is for Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to reach the Wizard in the Emerald City. Today’s consumers are also receiving cryptic messages but are empowered to select many different paths along their long, winding road. To meet this roving customer, marketers need to stop just offering another brick in the road, only giving every customer the same place to “step.” Personalization makes content easier to find for consumers when it is useful and unique.

Consumers can see through superficial personalization and they say it leaves them “jaded” (70 percent) and “numb” (63 percent), according to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study. This means marketers must know the difference between Toto and Dorothy to avoid “mass market” personalization.

Today’s Customers Are Dorothy and Toto

The marketing of yesteryear is exactly like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz—a dull black-and-white where everyone sort of feels the same and the entire landscape looks the same. The advent of data analysis hit marketing like a tornado and plopped us down in the realm of bright, vibrant color.

The customer came along for the ride and has enjoyed the benefits of data so much they’ve moved beyond being just simple Dorothy on a quest. Customers are now part Toto, always moving forward toward the goal, but taking lots of detours and running in a few circles as they move down the path.

Our goal as marketers is to be Glenda the Good Witch and give the customer exactly what they want before they fully know what they need: those ruby slippers. Glenda knew exactly how to give them and got the size perfectly right. How do you do that?

Know Your Kansas and Your Oz

The most important piece of knowledge Glenda had is who Dorothy was. Glenda gives Dorothy the ruby slippers after their introduction and initial information exchange; that’s the point you need to provide customers with the best product, offer or service.

This personalization approach of what I call the “known customer” requires them to willingly give a little bit of information. Customers are proving more willing to do this, and marketers are finding it to be more successful.

Another recent marketing study has found that 68 percent of US marketers plan to use more personalization because of its ability to deliver higher ROI and response rates. This is shifting to real-time efforts and 77 percent of North American marketers categorize it as a high priority, according to a DMA study.

To make this more effective, 45 percent of marketers say they need better data. Acquiring this comes down to giving customers a fair trade between content and personal information while using what’s already been given.

Your audience is more willing to trade if existing, basic-level personalization is smart enough to avoid products and services they’ve already decline. If your visitors tell you they’re in Oz, you’ll only upset them if you pitch goods for Kansas.

Getting Your Pretties

Meeting what the customer thinks he wants and pairing your offer to meet his need involves taking a page from the Wizard’s book. His final gift giving is the culmination of the three main steps for proper one-to-one personalization.

  • Understand Your Customer. Ask for information, watch them and strike up a conversation. Constantly engaging means you know what your consumer is looking for, what they have, and what they need—not what you think they need. Know if they’re looking for a heart, brain, courage or just a faster way to go home.
  • Design The Customer Journey Across Channels. To help your customers move through your funnel, you need to define the journey and the potential roads your customer can take. Think of this as laying down the golden bricks to give your customer a guiding road. Focus on creating a consistent, relevant, and easy customer journey.
  • Act in Real Time. The big secret to the Wizard’s ability is to act at the moment of truth—in his case, it’s when everyone would believe him. Delivery requires understanding where the customer is in their journey at this very instant and serving up the right offer to the right audience at the right time.

Luckily, marketers don’t have to use the Wizard’s sorcery to succeed because cross-channel campaign management technology can provide insight into knowing your audience and turning that data into action across the customer journey

This is just the first step on our journey down the yellow brick road of personalization. As we head to the Emerald City, we’ll dive deeper into the three personalization aspects above, look at real Adobe case studies that highlight these tips in action, and get anecdotes from marketers we meet on our US personalization road show.


Great piece. The hardest part of understanding the consumer I feel is they can always be better understood. Add that onto the fact that, especially in this digital age, consumers are always changing. It makes for quite the challenge!