Sorting out the difference: Personalized versus personal

I recently had a coaching session with an entrepreneur who is a former chiropractor. He told me this story that provides a great illustration of the difference between personalized versus personal.

When he was a chiropractor, he was treating three children in the same family for a chronic pain problem. Over the course of months he got to know the family well and learned that the family loved to read. Every night the mother would read stories to her children.

He learned that there was a printing service where you could buy customized books that inserted the child’s name into the story. He thought this would be a meaningful gift for these children who had been his long-time patients, and of course the family was very touched by the gift.

“I’d say those books cost me about $50,” he said. “But the gesture moved the family in such an emotional way that it brought me many referred clients. They passed on the story of the books I bought for the family for many years. I didn’t buy the books to get more business, but it turned out to be a smart business move.”

Personalized versus personal

Many businesses claim that they get personal with their customers but what they really mean is their connections are “personalized” because the customer’s name is at the top of the email salutation.

Personalized is cut and paste.

Personal is unique and custom.

Personalized doesn’t require any knowledge of the customer.

Personal reflects an understanding of a human being.

Personalized doesn’t elicit an emotion.

Personal creates an emotional bond that may lead to reciprocity and new business benefits.

Marketing is about emotion

Selling based on price or discounts is what happens when there is no emotion attached to a product. Great marketing helps connect some positive emotion to a product, service, or person. In many cases, that means getting personal, not just personalized.

The ability to personalize today is so prevalent, you could argue that it has become impersonal!

In this case study, my friend was no longer a service provider, he was a legend because he paid attention to his human customers. He was an empathic marketer.

Getting personal can’t be automated. You have to do the work. But if you want to turn your customers into your marketing department and carry your message forward, it’s well worth the effort.

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for {grow}, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Originally published at on May 20, 2019.

Keynote speaker, strategy consultant, Rutgers University marketing faculty and author of 9 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Cumulative Advantage.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store