Have you ever been in a store making a purchase when an employee asks for your name and email address as if it’s part of the transaction? I have, and my thought (before I usually say no) has been, “What gives you the right to my personal information?” Everywhere, companies are either asking for, demanding, or simply buying our personal information.
Why Brands Have Embraced Personalized Marketing
Marketers do this, albeit sometimes clumsily, because it’s more difficult than ever to capture the attention of consumers. With messages coming at them from mail, TV, computers, smartphones, and tablets, consumers barely have time to process the flood of information that comes their way. Marketers use personalized content that’s relevant and engaging to break through the clutter.
Experienced direct marketers have long known personalization works. Simply put, consumers like getting offers that fit their needs. The types of data used for personalized marketing can vary, depending on the industry. For example, insurance companies will speak to a recipient’s location, organizational memberships, driving record, and the availability of local agents. Comparisons are made to specific competitor pricing, which conveys a sense of credibility. Personalized marketing goes beyond messaging to make use of relevant imagery, often using photos that resemble the target audience, or other images the recipient may relate to such as a local city skyline.
Our clients’ personalization efforts are only limited by the data that we have and our ability to apply it. In direct mail, the use of variable data printing and dynamic content systems allows us to speak to consumers on a 1:1 basis. On the digital marketing side, sophisticated email, database, retargeting, and recommendation platforms drive real-time, personalized communications.
Where Should We Draw the Line?
With these technological advances come the inevitable questions about privacy. When does the use of data become too personal and too intrusive? Can the use of personalization cross the line into creepy? Yes, it can. So how do we avoid the appearance of being Big Brother?
We do this by staying away from the use of data that most recipients would find overly personal—family information, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and other potentially sensitive topics. More general information, such as name, location, or purchase history, is more acceptable. For example, insurance companies can easily find out what car you drive, but generally avoid displaying this information in direct mail or elsewhere—at least until you apply, when this information can ease the application process.
We should use personalized marketing in a way that is beneficial, and not “obvious.” For example, instead of retargeting and continuing to follow consumers with online ads after they’ve already made a purchase of that product, marketers can use data to offer additional products that would be appealing. Netflix does this by displaying movies and TV shows on the customer’s home page that are similar to past shows they’ve watched. They are able to leverage personalization, but not in an overtly intrusive way, with these recommendations. In direct mail, this could mean a relatable offer or specific savings over competitors. Doing the analytical work to produce the segmentation and predictive analytics for this approach takes more effort than simply sprinkling in personal information, but it pays off.
How to Put Consumers in Control
How can your brand ensure you’re staying in consumers’ good graces with your personalization efforts? Where possible, give consumers a choice across multiple channels to opt in or out of your communications. Be clear about the data you’re collecting. No one in a store should be demanding a customer’s email address, but rather they should request it in exchange for a tangible benefit. This way, no one is surprised when they receive an email. And remember that the more information you ask for, the more resistance you’ll get, so limit your requests for personal information to what you’ll actually use.
Ultimately, personalized marketing should be about using information to make relevant offers to customers—not just sending out communications packed with personal information. Using personalization the right way gets results and avoids creating the wrong impression with customers.
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