Last Updated: November 24, 2020

“Hi, Joe. That’s a venti half-calf latte with skim, no whip, right?”

Going out for coffee has become somewhat of a sophisticated art form…or maybe more of a complicated science. It’s progressed from “Black or cream and sugar?” to a myriad of combinations of strength, sweetening, dairies, and toppings. It’s also become a heated competition for the coffee drinker’s dollar. The baristas who have become experts in remembering the names and java formulas of regular customers boost the reputation of their stores above the competition.

That personal touch of remembering a customer’s tastes and preferences is called one-to-one marketing. It’s become an effective and widely used form of marketing, although it’s usually a computerized database—not a person—remembering the customer’s personal preferences. Many online retailers and retail stores have developed sophisticated systems of tracking the customer’s clicks, visits, and purchases in order to create a unique marketing plan for each one of them. (See also Closed Loop Marketing)

What is one-to-one marketing?

One-to-one marketing (also sometimes written as 1:1 marketing) is a strategy that relies on getting to know the individual choices made by a customer, and then tailoring marketing outreach to each customer differently based on those choices. It’s an approach that is not used to get the customer’s attention, but to keep their attention and their business.

There are two basic types of 1:1 marketing:

  • Personalization – the company learns the personal preferences and tastes of each consumer and customizes its marketing plan to them. is known for perhaps the most successful 1:1 personalization strategy, recommending products based on past purchases and interests.
  • Customization – the company doesn’t learn the preferences of each customer, but instead gives the individual customer the ability to customize the product to their own tastes. A good example of this strategy is a computer retailer that offers a basic platform of a laptop and then gives the customer the ability to tailor many of the laptop’s features (processor, memory storage, loaded programs) to their own tastes and needs. Many online news websites use the same strategy by allowing visitors to pick and choose the types of news stories (international, political, financial, etc.) they want shown most prominently on the site.

1:1 Marketing Strategies

  • The Personal Touch: Few things make a bigger impression on a consumer than personal attention and appreciation. The best coffee shop baristas know what Joe’s order is the minute he walks through the door, and that keeps him coming back. Investment bankers are expert 1:1 marketers. They get to know their clients’ personalities and investment preferences and priorities, as well as what level of risks they’re willing to take.
  • “Suggestions for You” Marketing: Online marketing companies like Amazon and Netflix have become masters at collecting, storing, and interpreting customers’ click history on their sites. They take that information and create a specialized marketing plan just for each customer, with recommendations on the next book to read or the next movie to watch.
  • Preferred-Customer Marketing: Many retailers now offer a no-cost “club membership” to consumers. Club membership gives the customer incentives in the form of lower prices or frequent-purchase rewards. In order to earn those incentives, the customer must check-in with their membership ID. This allows the company to track all items purchased during each visit. Once retailers know each customer’s shopping patterns and preferences—that a particular club member buys a lot of cereal and prefers Cheerios, for example—they can send out personalized coupon mailers to that member with savings on Cheerios and other preferred items.

Who implements one-to-one marketing?

As Internet shopping has become more and more prevalent, so has one-to-one marketing. Customers returning to the sites of online retailers where they’ve previously made a purchase will many times find a “Suggestions for You” message waiting for them. In addition, they may receive a follow-up email with those suggestions for additional purchases.

Amazon, Netflix, eBay, iTunes, and many other online retailers have developed sophisticated 1:1 marketing systems that follow and track each customer’s every click, recording and categorizing every purchase to develop a personalized customer profile based on those click patterns and purchases. (See also Personalized Marketing)

With that data, the companies then develop marketing plans that are different and specially written for each customer. It’s essentially a computer-database barista welcoming you every time you the visit the site with a personalized suggestion for what you might like to purchase.

Putting the "P" in PC's:

Michael Dell began selling customized computers from his dorm room in the early 1980s. By 2001, the company he started had gained the leading share of the global PC market. Dell was a revolutionary company in terms of one to one marketing. Its success was founded on the principles of customization, allowing each customer to tailor their personal computer to their own personal needs and preferences.

Internet retailers aren’t the only 1:1 marketers, however. Even large, seemingly impersonal retailers—such as grocery-store chains—have developed methods of designing personalized marketing plans to build loyalty.

How is a one-to-one marketing plan developed?

The key to developing a successful 1:1 marketing plan is to create a data system for learning and remembering the tastes and purchase patterns of each and every customer. Methods for doing this will vary based on how the company interacts with its customers.

In the case of online retailers like Amazon, data is collected by capturing the consumers’ general information and connecting it to records of all of the items that customer has viewed and purchased. This creates a unique profile for each customer.

When the product or service is purchased in person, building a system of data collection requires more work and creativity. More and more, companies are using some form of a customer ID card to help develop a database that can be turned into personalized profiles.

The Kroger chain of grocery stores, for example, encourages shoppers to sign up for a “preferred customer club” card by offering lower prices to customers who use the card. Customers sign up for the card by giving their basic contact information—name, address, phone number, email address—and then every time they make a purchase, they “swipe in” with their card, which allows Kroger to record, store, and categorize every grocery item purchased by each club member. With that information, the company develops a 1:1 marketing plan for each customer and sends them coupons and promotions for items that they customer frequently purchase. (See also Scientific Marketing)

Some businesses also develop 1:1 marketing plans that allow each customer to customize the product themselves, based on individual preferences. Instead of collecting and storing information on each customer, the customer the essentially designs their own product. The coffee shop equivalent would be serving the customer just the coffee and letting each one add their own sweetener, milk, and toppings. Self-serve yogurt shops are a recent trend that has taken this approach, providing a variety of flavors and toppings to choose from and letting the customers build their own customized cup of frozen yogurt.

What types of careers work with one-to-one marketing strategies?

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Specialist

What do they do?

Salaries of Careers in 1:1 Marketing

  • Conversion Rate Optimization Specialist
    Median pay: $44,000
    Top earners: $61,000
  • Market Research Analyst
    Median pay: $53,000
    Top earners: $73,000
  • Senior Manager, 1:1 Strategy
    Median pay: $98,000
    Top earners: $147,000


Conversion rate optimization is the process of marketing to visitors of a website and “converting” their visit into a purchase of a service or product. Effective CRO analysts will be familiar with website design and infrastructure, and specialize in making recommendations for online structures to support personalized, one to one marketing plans.

Education and Skills

In order to be considered for a position as a CRO Analyst, candidates will generally be expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in marketing, finance, or statistics and have 1-3 years of related experience.

Market Research Analyst

What do they do?

Market research analysts research, analyze, and report on the consumer data that has been compiled in order to help inform the 1:1 marketing strategies. Effective market research analysts have a strong familiarity with the different types of research options, expertise in gathering and analyzing data, and excellent communications and presentation skills.

Education and Skills

Most market research analysts have earned a bachelor’s degree in business, statistics, or one of the social sciences and have 1-3 years of related experience.

Senior Manager, 1:1 Marketing Strategist

What do they do?

The senior manager provides strategy insight and presents new ideas on multiple 1:1 marketing campaigns. This role is also generally responsible for evaluating the success of different strategies and campaigns and must have the ability to garner consensus across all parts of the organization.

Education and Skills

Senior managers will need to have broad-based experience working in many levels of different marketing projects. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marketing or communications is required, and some positions will require a master’s degree. Candidates for the position of senior manager of strategy will be expected to have at least 10 years of marketing experience.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Any company that uses one-to-one marketing strategies extensively will value employees with a background and education in collecting and analyzing consumer data.

Marketing schools help students gain that background by providing general and in-depth courses on statistics, data analysis, and economics. These courses help students understand how to organize data on website traffic and purchasing patterns, as well as how to translate the raw numerical data into a storyline that describes a customer’s spending habits and product preferences.

Additionally, students will also take extensive courses in marketing principles and strategies, which are critical to determining the best approach to take in developing 1:1 marketing plans. Marketing courses also often require classroom projects using real-world scenarios or offer internship opportunities that allow students to do work alongside professionals in the field that gives added relevance and impact to their coursework

For more information on how a marketing degree can help you become an accomplished 1:1 marketing professional, contact a range of schools that have a marketing program and request details on the courses and internship opportunities they offer.

The Power of Personalized, 1:1 Book Marketing

The chart below shows annual book sales in billions for the two biggest retail store chains (Barnes & Noble and Borders) and the biggest online book retailer, Amazon.

In 2002, the stores combined for about $7 billion in book sales, compared to Amazon’s less than $2 billion. By 2007, however, Amazon’s 1:1 marketing approach and the ease of using its site propelled it to even with Barnes & Noble and well ahead of Borders. In 2010, Amazon’s $6.8 billion in books sales was more than Barnes & Noble and Borders combined.