Be cool, not creepy. 9 tips for personalised marketing

Be cool, not creepy. 9 tips for personalised marketing teaser

Date published 19 Oct 2021

If Netflix has selected your evening’s viewing, UberEats knew exactly what you fancied for dinner and you’ve just bought the shoes that have been stalking you all day, then you know first-hand the power of personalised marketing.

And if you’ve hit ‘unsubscribe’ because you’re still being reminded dog biscuits are on special even though your beloved pooch has passed away, or you’ve sworn off social media (again) because you’re seeing non-stop ads for things you think you only glanced at in passing, then you’ve also experienced the downside of marketing that imagines it knows you.

Unfortunately for marketers, it’s increasingly hard to tell where the line is between personalised marketing that’s really quite cool, and the intrusive, eek-how-do-they-know-that-about-me variety. Those creepy communications that can leave you feeling a little icky; a little duped or manipulated even.

There have been numerous surveys in recent years confirming the vast majority of consumers find most forms of ad personalisation creepy and not cool at all. But perhaps the biggest takeaway has been the tendency for brands to overestimate the positive customer impacts of personalisation.

Too many brands use personalisation to sell products, in the absence of improving – and sometimes to the detriment of – the customer experience. And consumers see right through it. 

So what does successful personalisation look like?

Successful personalised marketing, the sort that really does give consumers the warm-fuzzies, has been likened to the village corner shop of old, where the smiling shopkeeper knew just enough about you to offer personal service and make you feel special, whether it was stocking your favourite brand of cereal or popping a few lollies in the bag for the grandkids.

Today, in our increasingly digital world, there are many points in the customer journey that offer potential for personalisation. It can be as simple as knowing the communication channel, device and time of day that your customer is most likely to engage with your business. 

Or it can be meticulously tailored, such as using specific customer data to personalise videos, website pages, email and mobile app content, paid media messages, discount offers, sale alerts, and product and service recommendations. Transactional communications, such as invoices, receipts and shipping notifications can also be given the personal touch.

Since the onset of the pandemic we’ve seen a determined rush to personalised marketing. But in many ways this has only served to highlight the pitfalls. So how do we avoid the pitfalls, while harnessing the power of what can be a formidable marketing tool? 

Here are 9 tips to create a more valuable customer experience while keeping well away from the creepy zone.

1. Know your product or service
If what you sell is highly personal, there’s greater potential to quickly cross the line from acceptable into creepy. Who can forget the cautionary tale of a well-known US retail giant finding out about a 16-year-old girl’s pregnancy before her parents did, simply because the marketing analysts were following the clues in the teen’s shopping-cart?

2. Exercise restraint
Set limits for how much you contact someone and always provide an opt-out where you can. Timely nuggets of targeted information can help build stronger relationships.

3. Invite the conversation
Customers who have explicitly told you something will be less surprised when you use that piece of information to communicate with them. Instead of burying the data collection policy in the small print, make it prominent so customers can clearly see that their browsing and purchasing behaviour may be used to enhance their customer experience.

4. Give something in return 
You’ve taken something from your customers – their data – so give something back. How are you adding value to their life by invading their online space? Are you making their lives easier? Giving them an exclusive offer? If you’re just annoying them, they are more likely to give you the cold-shoulder. If you are intriguing because you give people a reason to connect, you may get their attention.

5. Understand your customer
Knowing what your customers like, what they need, what their pain points are and what offers are likely to make them happy, can help you tailor your marketing so it’s both personal and relevant. 

6. Make sure you have something to say
Having a compelling message about your product or service is a must. Is what you have to say relevant? Is it useful? Is it respectful? 

7. Is it the honourable thing to do?
Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we have to. You don’t have to use a customer insight just because you have it. If someone’s online behaviour, for example, indicates they might be depressed, is it ethical to send them ads for comfort food? Marketers have a responsibility to use the information they collect with respect and restraint.

8. Play by the rules
Choose your marketing partners carefully, making sure they have high privacy standards. Check out https://www.acma.gov.au/avoid-sending-spam for the rules and regulations under the 2003 Spam Act. And remember, if your business is keeping records for COVID contact-tracing, any phone numbers or emails you obtain cannot be used for marketing. 

9. If in doubt, don’t 
Bad personalisation is worse than no personalisation. That email addressed Dear [insert name here] has the potential to do more harm than good.

Metrix Consulting can help you navigate the upsides of targeted marketing, from customer experience (CX) strategy and customer journey mapping, to advertising testing and evaluation, so your business can communicate with confidence. 

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