Personalized marketing is not new. The first widespread use of website “cookies” by a company was in the mid 90’s when Netscape Communications used the technology to store a customer’s partial transaction state online for their client, MCI. Today’s data tracking technologies are allowing for companies to take personalized customer marketing to new, unprecedented levels. But marketers are starting to ask themselves, just because we can use data to interact with customers on a deeply personal level, does that mean we should?

Our Dallas CMO Club Chapter discussed the line between creepy and personalized at their most recent dinner during a discussion led by Neiman Marcus CMO, Wanda Gierhart and Ashley Sheetz, CMO and Group VP at Sally Beauty.

The entire group agreed that data algorithms are a powerful marketing tool but can’t stand alone. Human input and interaction with the data is required to set much-needed boundaries to avoid crossing the line into “creepy” or the in-between (and much loathed) category of “annoying”.

  • Add Value: If you’re going push an offer to a customer, you must unequivocally know it will add value to their lives. Sending an offer for fish food to someone just because they visited your pet store won’t work if they are a dog-owner. In fact, they’ll likely find it annoying and that’s a more difficult position than doing nothing.  The new world of customer expectations is “Know me or No me”.
  • Be Transparent: Target customers using data that is transparent to them. For example, using data from a store visit or website transaction is ok. Pre-emptively pushing a mobile coupon when a customer walks by a store based on their mobile usage might fall into the creepy category. Another example is to use suppression in re-targeting content with ads — else it moves to the annoying category.  The best litmus test is to “be the customer”; would you be okay with a company using your data this way?  
  • Know your Customer: If you don’t know your customer’s use case, don’t guess — that is blatantly disingenuous. Instead, engage around a few small interactions and learn more before extending content to deepen engagement.  And for those customers you do target, be sure to pay attention to their behavior. If they’re not interacting with what you’re putting out there, change tactics immediately.

Many companies are getting this “just right”.  Dinner attendees spent time sharing personal examples of companies who exemplify “great personalization”, “creepy” and the newly invented middle category of “irritating”.  Some of the leaders they heralded include:

Personalized marketing can be done well – as long as you know your customer and are willing to test different tactics until you get it right.