How to Personalise Your Marketing Without Being Creepy

It's quite the conundrum. Customers want personalised content, but they don't want me to go through their bins to find out what brand of deodorant they're using?! The contradictions are endless. 

Awkward Cbc GIF by Kim's Convenience

Companies are finding themselves on a very thin tightrope, over a very tall canyon, when it comes to data privacy and personalisation. 91% of consumers are actually more likely to shop with brands who remember their previous actions, and provide them with relevant offers and recommendations. 

This is particularly true for B2B buyers, who have an even lower tolerance for irrelevant or off-target marketing than B2C customers. 

So much so, that 80% of senior B2B marketers use personalised content to some extent. 49% even use personalisation technologies to support their ABM strategy. 

The benefits of personalised content, and content experiences are clear. These can include:

  • Higher levels of engagement, and higher quality engagement
  • Improved customer experiences
  • Higher, and faster, revenue
  • Shorter sales cycles. 

So, it's clear that personalisation is one of the most effective tactics in getting noticed. But alongside privacy issues (50% of consumers admit borderline creepy personalisation is enough to stop them purchasing from a brand), tailoring content requires focus and accuracy.

Getting the creepy-personal balance, well, balanced is absolutely vital in keeping relationships strong and trust high, whilst not wasting your hard-earned money/brain power/efforts/sleepless nights. 

Jean Yoon Reaction GIF by Kim's Convenience

And with 70% of Americans lacking confidence that their personal data is private, and safe from distribution without their knowledge, you've got to be careful. 

If you ask ‘what does privacy mean for you?’ you’ll find that privacy is an individual thing, and it is different for every person […] Some people say, ‘give me all the target ads possible because that will give me the best possible offer.’ While other people will say ‘I don’t want to be tracked that much, please turn it off.’

Chris Babel, TRUSTe CEO.

Have a gander at the graph below, released by PEW research centre. It shows that, after social media sites, and the federal government, companies and retailers are considered the least trusted in keeping consumer data safe. 

Protect data bar chart pew research centre

Right, let's get into the meat/soy-based meat alternative of it all. How do you do personalisation without being creepy? Well, you could try:

Being transparent 

Step one of relationship therapy: keep an open dialogue. Explain what you're doing, and why you're doing it. All you need to add is a little message about what the data collection will do for the interests of the user. You could even try something creative, like Mary Polson's Cookie policy slider:

Mary Polson - Cookie policy slider

Throwing out the Idea of give and take

Some brands believe that as long as consumers see they're getting a benefit from your data collection, they tend to see it as a fair deal. 

In a survey by the University of Pennsylvania, consumers completely shut this idea down, with 91% of respondents disagreeing that “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing.”

55% also disagreed that “It’s okay if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.”

Also keep in mind the 'value' of the data you're asking consumers to give up. Deloitte found that almost 40% of respondents were willing to share detailed health information such as allergies and heart rate, but only 28% were willing to share location data.

Cbc Understand GIF by Kim's Convenience

So, rather than a reward-based give or take, consider the 'give' being consumer control over their data. This means establishing transparency and trust with consumers concerning their data, and rigorously protecting the systems and networks that house the data. And remember: you must adhere to all data protection and privacy regulations.

As we've mentioned just a second ago, it's also important to consider:

Giving consumers a choice

In the same University of Pennsylvania survey (go Quakers), 84% of respondents agreed that “I want to have control over what marketers can learn about me online.” 

As much as possible, give your consumers the clear choice to 'opt-in' or 'opt-out' of personal communication. So, that might be the cookie opt-ins mentioned above.

But you also need to make sure people can opt-out of the data sharing they feel most uncomfortable with. So this can include all of the following:

Deloitte consumer data graph

People are especially unwilling to share very personal information, like location and income, so make sure you're getting permission to use this in your marketing. The more someone remembers giving you permission to engage with them in this way, the less likely they are to be creeped out when you personalise your communication.

Alongside all of this, you have to give consumers the chance to opt-out of other personalised context, including newsletters, text messages, and push notifications. 

Taking context into account

Delta is exploring where the creepy factor lies in all this customer insight. For example, should a flight attendant wish you a happy birthday? What about appearing with a bloody mary because you ordered the drink on nine of your last 10 flights? What if you’re sitting beside your boss this time? 

        – Justin Bachman, Bloomberg Technology 2017

Put yourself into your customer's shoes. Do they really want adverts for that specific rash cream popping up on their work laptop? You have to take into account how public or private each channel of personalised communication is, how specific your message is, and whether it might come across as invasive. 

When, and where, to add a personalised message is vital. IT's not just about what data you use, but how you use it.  For example, email should be treated differently from a website, or a social channel.

But most importantly, you've got to empathise with your client. Any negative emotions they feel when coming across your marketing will be plastered right onto your brand as a whole. Most of all, try to avoid situations like this:

twitter post

Considering what data you actually need

So, this is all about knowing your audience. This will mean finding out what your client's feel comfortable with, and what makes them feel uncomfortable. 

Often, this has a lot to do with age, and digital literacy. Deloitte found that young people in the 18−29 age group are more willing to share personal data (an average of 3.1 on the scale 1 to 5) than those who are 60 years or older (2.6). 

simpson meme

Retail Touchpoints puts it like this:

“In addition to the right pricing, Gen Z wants a personalized experience, and aren’t too worried about privacy.”

But to an untrained eye, a targeted ad can feel creepy. This is because to an older user, who doesn't understand cookies, or why brands use them, it seems as if this data has been collected without consent. 

So, you don't have to use a massive amount of personalised messaging to gain a response. recent study conducted at Stanford Graduate School of Business showed that simply adding a first name to an email had a big impact.

Sahni et al also found that adding the name of the message recipient to the email’s subject line:

  • increased the probability of the recipient opening it by 20%,
  • increased sales leads by 31%
  • and reduced unsubscribes by 17%

But in a study conducted by RichRelevance, one attendee claimed that seeing their first name in an email was okay, but they didn't want to see their name in an ad on the website. It's all about balance.

data privacy creepy cool richrelevance graph