In 1970, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori introduced the concept of the “uncanny valley.” In designing robots to be more human-like, he observed that people respond positively only up to a point.
Then there’s an “uncanny valley” where the “almost-human” design seems creepy and people experience “revulsion.”
If you watched the 2004 movie The Polar Express, you may have experienced the uncanny valley in its animation style, which one reviewer described as “a wee bit horrifying.”
We’re in an age of the “uncanny valley”, as attempts to engineer “almost-human” experiences is all around us now and GenAI appears in more aspects of our lives.
Personalization has long been in the uncanny valley. Marketers have always chased the holy grail of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. But much of today’s personalization falls flat, stymied by data collection, siloed companies, and misguided assumptions. Bad personalization can be worse than no personalization.
Technology promises a new era of personalization, increasingly dubbed “hyper-personalization”, fueled by real-time data, AI, and predictive analytics. The shift from error-riddled (and privacy-violating) third-party data to zero-party or first-party data can help.
But it will take more than technology to bridge the uncanny valley of personalization. Applying the newest tools with an outdated mindset won’t give people what they want. At worst, marketers will just be able to annoy people more efficiently.
While chasing the future, brands too often miss the basics. We develop “funnel vision,” seeing our customers only as purchasers on a path to purchase, not as complex individuals with lives that have nothing to do with our brands.
In engineering human-like experiences, we sometimes forget the actual humans.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: