3.17.2021 6:34

Has Personalisation Marketing Become TOO Creepy?

Has Personalisation Marketing Become TOO Creepy?


Michael Catford

October 19, 2017


That’s been the battle cry of many a digital marketer over the last few years. The explosion of big data has allowed businesses of all sizes to get a real understanding of their current customer base. And they need only turn to the likes of Google and Facebook – who between them account for around 60% of all mobile advertising – to hyper-target the potential clientele that lay outside of their business systems. The deep knowledge of customers both current and potential has allowed for incredible levels of personalisation in marketing materials.

But how much personalisation is too much? Have we reached a tipping point where custom marketing feels almost creepy?

To get an understanding of what the current state of marketing personalisation is, and perhaps where it should be heading, we spoke to Ben Fettes, Managing Partner & Head of Strategy at The Lumery, and Blair Cooke, Managing Director of Amicus Digital; two experts who find themselves tussling with this challenge as we speak.

From Personal to Universal and Back Again

For the longest time, the customer experience was a truly personal one. These were the days before multinationals, chain stores and mass marketing.

“I would walk into my local store, they would know my name and what I would likely want to buy” describes Cooke. “The store had a personal relationship with me.”

Then came globalisation, and with it the need to efficiently manage a huge number of client relationships and market to broad swathes of the population. For many organisations the marketing onus – intentionally or not – went from quality to quantity. But big data has quickly swung the pendulum back from mass marketing to a very 1:1 advertising experience.

“I believe for many of our purchases we have an innate need for this [more personal] relationship”, continues Cooke. “Now we have access to technology that allows brands to reestablish this relationship with us, and we are demanding that they do.”

Consumers aren’t asking for anything new – they’re just looking to get back to the warm and personal ‘corner shop’ style interaction. But one thing that has changed is the way that such an interaction is delivered, and adapting to this new personalised world has proved a challenge for many a modern day marketer.

The Fine Line between Customised and Creepy

Now a piece of digital marketing folklore, the famous case of a father finding out about his daughter’s pregnancy through marketing materials from Target serves to demonstrate both the power of modern day personalisation marketing, and the level of creepiness that can result from it being overdone.

“Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something,” surmises Cooke. In other words, just because we know something about a customer, doesn’t mean we ought to use that insight.

He goes on to describe ‘The 3 Rs’ that all marketers need to remember. “They have a big responsibility to use the information they collect on us with restraint and respect. There’s a fine line between being perceived as romantic and being a stalker. It’s the same with brands and how they use what they know about us to market to us.”

Fettes too feels that many marketers get carried away with the possibilities of personalisation marketing without pondering how the end user will feel. “The creep factor has been brought about by the lack of consumer knowledge about what is being tracked. Day after day I talk to companies that are pushing the creep factor further and further, and to be honest I’m almost desensitised to it.”

In short, the more knowledgeable your audience is on the hows, whats and whys of data gathering, the more open they’ll be to it being used. Avoiding the ‘how did you know my daughter was pregnant before I did?’ style questions should be a given.

“Personalisation can’t add value to a campaign in the traditional sense. Where marketers are stumbling right now is in how the definition of personalisation is changing” adds Fettes. According to a recent Criteo report into the changing face of marketing in the APAC region, along with maintaining data quality, ‘a lack of internal knowledge and skills to run marketing campaigns’ was cited as the biggest challenge faced by modern day marketers.

In the perplexing world of personalised marketing, it can be easy to feel out of your depth.

The Task for Modern Day Marketers

Happily the Criteo report also found that the top 2 goals of retail marketers in online advertising are increasing brand awareness and delivering product ads that accurately reflect customer data and relationships, so it’s obvious that the will to properly exploit personalisation marketing is there.

What’s more, the available tools, says Fettes, are capable and effective – “Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle have purchased a lot of tech, empowering marketers to create better and more holistic customer experiences with less effort.” The tripping point, it seems, is converting the enthusiasm of marketers and the potential of the tools into campaigns that offer the best experience for the audience.

So what advice can our experts offer to those who are trying to create the best, most relevant experience possible to their audience, but want to avoid creeping into creepy?

To move forward, says Cooke, we should first look back.

“When brands use relevant, timely nuggets of info that enrich the customer’s experience, and the customer knows and acknowledges that they have given [the brand] this information, it can have a powerful effect. Bring it back to the analogy above of the original village shop – the customer knows what the merchant knows about him/her, and is surprised and delighted when this info is used to enrich the experience.”

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