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3 Eye-Opening Tips for Perfectly Subtle Personalization

AcxiomOctober 06, 2014

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of marketing personalization. However, there is a fine line between personalization that evokes positive emotional responses toward your brand and going too far to incite feelings of embarrassment, hurt and creepiness.

Here are a few examples of over-personalization and tips on how to avoid them.

Mean Girls

Because every advertiser in the world seems to know and for the sake of this post, I will share that I am a plus-size gal. This is a battle I have fought since I was a child and in turn it is a very sensitive topic. Just as I did not want to be called out for my size as a teen, I do NOT want to be marketed to solely from a plus-size perspective. If I receive a communication where this is the focus, I cannot delete or ignore it quickly enough.

The brands that get it right with me NEVER use the word PLUS in their marketing messages. They group communication around women’s fashion together. They come at me with the latest trends or sales for ALL women without delineating between sizes. I am very capable of navigating the filters once I click through to the site. This approach evokes feelings of inclusiveness. I feel like the fashionista-wanna-be that I am as opposed to the chubby, insecure teen I used to be.

Similarly, while these characteristics may accurately represent me, I do not want to be called out as Sasquatch, middle-aged or four-eyes.

Takeaway: Take extra time when planning messaging around socially sensitive segments. What does personalizing to this level gain vs. risk?

She’s Expecting

Pregnancy is another extremely sensitive topic. Pregnant women are a valuable segment to marketers. When done correctly, brands can woo pregnant women to become loyal customers. However, the line is even finer when messaging to this segment.

Even when dealing with close friends, I sometimes observe comments and changes in behavior that might lead me to assume pregnancy but to go so far as to ask that friend is a big social no-no. What if I ask and she’s not pregnant? What if she was but has recently miscarried? What if she is not ready to share this information? It’s just best to err on the side of caution in this situation.

Once a friend has shared her blissful news of pregnancy the next few months are still a slippery slope from a social etiquette perspective. Sadly miscarriages happen.  I know better than to touch a belly unless invited to do so. And if I’ve lost track of time, asking when the baby is due AFTER she’s given birth could be detrimental to her self-esteem.

All this should be taken into consideration by marketers as well. You’ve probably heard the story about Target knowing a teen girl was pregnant before her dad knew. Being a data geek, it was impressive (and a little scary) that they were able to discern this with a high level of confidence based on data. It was the overly-targeted marketing messaging that went too far.

My personal example is that I am no longer able to have children. Somehow lately I am showing up on the “it’s time to plan your next baby” segments. I have received everything from a planning guide from my healthcare provider (who should know better) to samples of baby products in the mail. Thankfully I am ok with my situation but imagine how devastating this misguided personalization could be.

Takeaway: Yes, pregnant women are a highly valued segment for marketers. Use what you know to inform personalization to this segment. Be mindful of the sensitivity of this life event. Maintain a mix of content to gently introduce message, then pay closer attention to response and engagement data. In my opinion, unless you know that you know, it is never a good idea to make a definitive statement around this topic.

The Creep

I think most consumers understand that their data is being collected in some form or fashion. Most probably don’t realize the level of privacy regulations in place to protect data. And honestly with some of the over-personalization happening in marketing today, I can see how hard it is for them to not think big brother is watching their every move.

When I owned my small business I had insight into who opened my monthly newsletter, what time they opened it and which product pictures they clicked through to open in my online store. Imagine if I had called one of them and said something like, “Hi Barb! I see that you opened my newsletter last night and clicked on the olive jars. You must really like those but I see that you didn’t buy them. I also saw on Facebook that you lost your job last week so you probably can’t afford them. Want to host a party with your friends and earn those jars for free?”  How creepy (and insensitive) would I be? I’m pretty sure Barb would hang up on me and then tell all her friends about the negative experience.

This example seems extreme, but I see similar marketing activities on a daily basis. I also see the negative light it sheds on our industry.

Here’s an example from a fellow marketing friend, “Sponsored ads for products I’ve looked at really give me the creeps. I’ve spent much of my career in the CRM space; I think targeting is fantastic when appropriately done; and sponsored ads for the items I’ve viewed are creepy! I reached the breaking point with one major retailer and asked them to stop. I unsubscribed from sponsored ads through every company they used to deploy them. …And guess what: now they’re again filling my facebook timeline with pictures of that watch I looked at. Go away, creepy marketer!”

If this is the sentiment of someone who understands how our business works, what must those who don’t have that inside information feel?

Takeaway: Personalized retargeting works for some audiences and completely creeps others out. Consider refining business rules for retargeting to avoid overdoing it. Test and learn to better accommodate your audiences.

Bottom line, personalization when done well is highly effective in building trust and loyalty with customers. It’s important to know your customer to inform personalization but also to have good judgment in knowing how far to go. Just because you know doesn’t mean you should show.