Are Marketers Getting Too Personal?

  • 31 May 2019
personalized marketing

Personalization is becoming a buzzword in the marketing industry. As organizations gain greater access to data collection and marketing automation tools, they naturally turn towards hyper-targeted marketing strategies in an attempt to better connect with their customers.

For many marketers, this unparalleled access to customer information and targeting tools feels like the dawn of the golden age of marketing, but there are consumers on the other side of the exchange who are left feeling differently. Facebook’s move towards a “clear history” feature and encrypted messaging are a sign of the recent pushback the general public has shown towards personalized marketing.

Smarter HQ (a marketing automation platform that works with large national retail and travel brands) found that while 72% of consumers only engage with marketing messages tailored to their interests, 63% of consumers stop buying from brands whose personalization experiences appear to be creepy.

So where does that leave marketers?

On the one hand, nearly ¾ of consumers believe brands aren’t delivering the level of personalization they expect, (RedPoint Global) but on the other hand ⅔ of consumers have ended relationships with brands that became too personal.

How do we go about determining whether our marketing tactics have regressed into creepy uncle territory?

Smarter HQ claims that these marketing tactics leave consumers feeling creeped out by brands.

  • AI website chat pop-ups
  • Push notifications based on product browsing
  • Push notifications to repurchase items
  • Push notifications making product recommendations based on prior purchases

Conversely, consumers in the study had positive impressions of these personalization tactics.

  • Email promotions with discounts on desired products
  • Promoting new brands and products with ads and emails
  • Website and email product suggestions based on past behavior
  • Website graphics that encourage replacing products

This study reveals two key trends.

  1. The channel and method that personalized communication comes from impacts the perception of the message’s creepiness.
  2. Consumers feel more positive about the experience when they perceive an interaction as being helpful rather than forceful.

While all of this seems logical and aligns with many of our experiences as consumers, this take on the situation doesn’t get at the heart of what contributes to desirable and undesirable personalization.

The underlying factors present in this study indicate that forceful forms of engagement incite a feeling of creepiness. Conversely, subtler tactics that give the consumer the ability to choose to engage with the brand in a personalized way, lead to positive brand perceptions.

However, there are instances where consumers welcome highly personalized brand interactions even when they know that their data is being used to sell them something.

When you take the experience offline and imagine what the in-person equivalent of these experiences feels likes, the true differentiator becomes clear.

What kind of relationship do customers expect to have with your brand?

It’s creepy if the man behind the checkout counter at your local gas station says happy birthday and hands you a card. It’s even creepier if you’ve only been to that gas station once and you have no idea who this person handing you the card is. At the same time, it can be just as disorienting if your own mother doesn’t remember your birthday.

Our perceptions surrounding personalization derive from our relationships and behavioral conditioning.

If we love our local coffee shop, we go there every day, and we always order the same thing, we are left feeling offended when the barista doesn’t remember our name. We secretly hope the staff knows our drink order by heart. We expect certain service providers to remember us and our preferences. We plan to have more interactions with brands like these in the future and we go into the experience with the intention of forming a relationship.

We don’t expect to have personal relationships with products we perceive as temporary solutions or with brands that feel like strangers. Brands who build trust with prospects and customers over a period of time are more likely to be perceived as helpful rather than creepy.

While there are channels, methods, and levels of helpfulness that can contribute to perceptions of personalization, the nature of the relationship, and consumer expectations are the main factors contributing to the acceptance of personalized communication.

The next time you are faced with the option to deploy personalization tactics in your marketing efforts remember these four key takeaways.

  1. Build trust and familiarity before you introduce personalized marketing tactics
  2. Use optional rather than forceful communication (email vs. pop-up notifications while browsing)
  3. Try to create value through your personalized outreach
  4. Be thoughtful about the nature of the product/service you offer. Try using more of referral based approach rather than a personalized repeat sales approach for products or services that your customers perceive as temporary or a one-time solution
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