Using Personalization to Stop Choice Overload

BY Erin Shy, Community Brands

The question of how to get the best out of a database has been plaguing associations for years. We see some organizations treating their data like precious storage, while others see it more as a playground. 

I think your database is like your garage. You wouldn’t want everything just thrown in there haphazardly that it makes it too difficult to find what you need later. As long as you can keep it neat and organized, you’ll be able to navigate. Even if you don’t need some of your data today, you want to keep it with the knowledge that it might be useful in the future, particularly when you are looking to personalize. 


I’m the Executive Vice President of our events solution group, and we once worked with an association that was tracking attendees’ session information of an event they had. They wanted to know who attended what sessions for continuing education credits, which made perfect sense. 

However, they were discarding the information about who left the session early, because that wasn’t information they felt they needed right away. They later found out that if they had kept that information, they could better personalize custom tracks in the future. For example, they could use the data on which sessions an attendee left early in the past to suggest topics that aren’t related to those past sessions. Therefore, you sometimes need to treat your database like a playground to discover new patterns that could be of use to you. As long as you’re not recording data in a way that’s messy and that makes it hard to retrieve it, it can help you down the road, even if you don’t necessarily have a specific idea for it today.


Associations can stop choice overload by staying focused on member needs and personalizing options. There is a famous study from 2000 that found that choice can actually paralyze the consumer, or in our case, a member. The study involved selling jam at a food market on two different days. On the first day, they had 24 different kinds of jam, while on the second day, consumers were limited to 6 choices. The result was that while the first day with more jam flavors generated more interest and more people came to the table, the second day with the much fewer number of choices was more successful. The chance of converting interest into purchase increased tenfold with fewer choices displayed. 

What this shows is that although choice is appealing at first sight, choice overload can really generate the wrong results. If we can focus through personalization and focus their options to what is relevant to our members, we would really get their attention. Whether it is membership options or types of events to attend, if we limit the choices to what they truly need, we have a better chance of accomplishing what our Call to Action aims to do. So use your database wisely and your members (and your staff) will thank you for it. 

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