The Power of Personalization

OK, so what could I possibly have to say on this topic that would be considered fresh or inspiring? “Personalization” today, after all, is akin to “paradigm shift” in the ’90s. But I did have an experience recently that gave me a whole new appreciation of the power of being personal.

My husband, Paul, and I decided to run a race about two hours away from home. The last time we did something this ridiculous, we had a good friend who showed up and cheered us on at various points along the route. It meant more than she will ever know.

This time, we were far enough away, and not entirely sure we would finish the race, so we didn’t ask—and didn’t want—anyone to show up and witness this physical and mental self-inflicted torture.

When we picked up our number bibs the day before the race, we noticed our first names were printed on them right above our numbers. We remarked at the time that it was a nice touch and didn’t give it another thought.

The first half of the race was actually really good. We were making great time (for us), able to carry on a conversation without passing out, and generally in decent spirits. Then, at about mile 18, I hit the wall. Hard. Like really, really hard. Paul was going … “strong” would be an overstatement, but certainly he was going, and fairing a bit better than I was. At this point I was calculating how big of an embarrassment it would be if I didn’t finish. How much it would kill me if I really did quit. How deeply I could dig to keep myself going, knowing that was my only option.

And then we heard it. All of a sudden, as we turned a corner onto a side street, someone yelled, “Way to go, Paul!” We looked at each other in utter bewilderment. Then we looked around and verified there was no one there we knew and decided it must have been a fan yelling to someone else. About five minutes later, we heard it again. The third time we heard it, we finally figured out what you have surely deduced already: Spectators were reading our bibs and personalizing their support. It’s not unusual for people to yell and cheer for strangers in that last stretch of the race, but the personal aspect really made the entire experience quite different. Every time we heard, “Keep going, Paul!” or “Looking good, Paul!” or “Great job, Paul!” we both grinned from ear to ear. It was truly amazing! There was only one problem: No one was cheering for me.

Maybe I looked unapproachable, maybe Paul is cuter, or maybe people just didn’t like my spandex running outfit, but rightly or wrongly, we decided that it must be because my name is so much harder to pronounce. “Paul” is pretty easy. It’s hard to mispronounce that name, right? But “Adryanna” is a four-syllable head-scratcher, not for the faint of heart. I was OK with this. Really. I got it. But I didn’t quite share in the adrenaline rush Paul was getting every time he heard his name called out by complete strangers. The easy name. Personalization about as basic as you can get. Like printing your first name on the outside of an envelope or at the top of an e-mail. Good stuff—don’t get me wrong—but pretty basic.

Then someone took a chance. Paul and I both confirmed we heard someone yell something that was pretty darn close to the pronunciation of A-d-r-y-a-n-n-a. Paul and I burst out laughing. Woot!!! I got one! And before we crossed the finish line, I got another one!

The fact that people went to the effort to cheer us on in a personal way was motivating, without a doubt. The fact that two people went the extra step to muddle through my name  was inspiring, and it helped me find that little something extra I needed to finish the race.

So personalization, to me, has taken on a whole new meaning, and I will never underestimate the power of being personal.

Adryanna Sutherland, President or the Cincinnati marketing agency, gyro