Personalisation in media has evolved but still has a long way to go

In recent decades, a significant shift toward individualisation has revolutionised societies globally. This paradigm shift, driven by the demand for personalised experiences across various sectors, has catalysed growth in numerous industries.

The move toward personalisation is evident: Consumers now reject generic products and experiences in favour of those that offer uniqueness and personal relevance.

What ringtones taught us about personalisation

During the era of analogue telephones, each ringtone sounded identical, leading to confusion in offices as people tried to identify which phone was ringing. The digitalisation of landlines brought some customisable options, but the real transformation began with the advent of mobile phones in the 1990s.

Nokia, a pioneer in this field, introduced phones that allowed users to compose their own ringtones with the “composer” feature, marking a significant stride toward personalisation in mobile technology. The early 2000s saw the introduction of polyphonic ringtones, leading to the emergence of a multi-billion-dollar ringtone industry. People eagerly spent money to express their individuality through unique ringtone sounds.

Today, while not as commercially dominant, ringtones remain a tool for personal expression. The evolution from the uniformity of analogue phones to the highly personalised options in contemporary smartphones exemplifies the enduring desire for personal style and customisation.

This shift in consumer mindset has also profoundly influenced media brand loyalty. Modern media consumers are driven not by brand loyalty, but by content and experiences that align with their specific needs and preferences. They curate their media consumption from diverse sources, choosing outlets and platforms based on personal relevance.

Defining the “best” in media

But what constitutes the “best” in media, and how can media houses meet these varied and individualised preferences?

  • Content customisation and delivery: Many news media companies offer content via various platforms — print, apps, e-paper, digital screens on public transport, audio apps, or Web TV. However, the content often remains uniform across these channels, failing to address the diverse consumption preferences of the audience.
  • Innovative storytelling: The digital era has brought innovations such as videos, animations, and podcasts, particularly targeting younger audiences. Notable examples like Mona Chalabi’s Pulitzer Prize-winning visualisation for The New York Times in 2022 showcase the impact of creative storytelling. Yet, there is a need to expand beyond these formats to cater to a broader range of content consumption styles.
  • Personalisation parameters: Personalisation extends beyond format to encompass user motivation, preferred story format, mood, language style, and time availability. A single story might need to be adapted into various formats — detailed articles, summarised bullet lists, podcasts, or engaging videos — to suit different user preferences.
  • Embracing diversity in consumption: People’s interests and information processing methods and capabilities vary significantly. Some prefer in-depth articles, others quick summaries or visual content. Addressing these varied needs requires a versatile approach in content creation and distribution.

Real individualisation in media means creating experiences that adapt to diverse user preferences. For instance, an in-depth analytical piece for one user could be transformed into a concise bullet-point summary or a visually engaging infographic for another.

This level of customisation necessitates a radical overhaul in content creation, curation, and delivery, ensuring each piece of content not only informs but also resonates with the individual preferences and needs of each user. In this evolving landscape, technologies like large language models (LLMs) and generative AI (GenAI) play a crucial role in facilitating these personalised experiences.

This article was also published on the INMA Media Leaders blog.