When Personalized Marketing Gets Too Personal.

Your customers have legitimate concerns about personalized
marketing – this is what you need to know.

Jan McQuillan
April 18, 2016 - 5 min. read

Previously we looked at personalized marketing and the part it plays in the modern social environment (and beyond). We now know that personalized messages are the most successful in securing conversions and sales.

But it is important to tread carefully – there’s a fine line between providing personalized marketing messages, and invading someone’s personal space. When a customer chooses to follow your status updates, that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually want to be your friend.

So it helps to carefully consider what you are going to track, how you are going to use that information, and how to keep your customers on side in the process.

What do customers expect from personalized marketing?
Customers are increasingly aware that businesses are collecting data on their browsing and purchasing habits, and then using that information to build individual profiles. And, as we said in the previous post, people actually want to receive personalized marketing messages because it can save them time and effort, and deliver a better overall customer experience, when done correctly.

Personalization covers a range of things. At the most basic level, it is simply making recommendations based on purchase history, as seen on the Amazon checkout screen for instance. And in the countless emails that follow.

On social platforms, the most effective messages seem to be those that show an interest in the customer, and which go on to surprise and delight. When entrepreneur Peter Shankman jokingly tweeted Morton’s restaurant in the US, as he boarded the plane, he probably never expected anything to come of it:

Imagine his surprise then when instead of a standard “humorous” tweet in return, he was met by a tuxedo-clad server from Morton’s. More importantly still, the server was holding the porterhouse steak Shankman had been dreaming of.

Shankman’s tweet itself never did very well in terms of viral spread (there have been just 15 retweets to date), but the story itself has become the stuff of personalized marketing legend.

How far is too far?
As any seasoned social media professional will tell you, it is incredibly easy to make mistakes. No matter how well-intentioned your message may be, it is possible to take personalization too far, crossing boundaries that will undo all the hard work you put into the campaign before you can even blink.

You must seriously consider each of these concerns before launching a personalized campaign.

#1 – Privacy
Social media has created a community where people are willing to share more of their lives, but much of that information is intended for their closest friends. It is easy for them to forget that much of they share is publicly accessible.

In general, businesses should avoid collecting data that is not directly relevant to improving the customer’s experience. As Nick Dutch, head of digital at Domino’s points out, “a customer is not willing to give away their life story in order to get a better price on a pizza.”


Targeted communications can be naturally enhanced through personalization, in the case of Domino’s perhaps triggering a discount campaign if your pizza delivery was late. You might not want to make personalization the entirety of your advertising strategy. 

#2 – Security
The more personal data your business holds, the greater the attraction for cybercriminals. An increase in high-profile cyber attacks have heightened concerns about security for end users; the TalkTalk hackings of 2015 saw personal data belonging to 156,000 customers stolen. It also resulted in 95,000 customers leaving the service as a direct response to the attack.

Customers are increasingly aware of these kinds of risks, and are more wary as a result. In fact, 65% of consumers worry about the security practices of service providers they give their data to, representing a 9% increase year-over-year. If your business uses data to personalize the customer’s experience, you need to take the proper steps to ensure that data is protected. Thankfully, Falcon’s customers can sleep easy with the knowledge that we adhere to the most rigid consumer protection rules in this regard. 

#3 – The “creepy” factor
With the right tools, your social team will be able to develop a complete picture of your potential customers, including details that they assumed were private. Using this information to create personalized advertising has been shown to be less effective than standard ads because they make people uncomfortable.

Web user Julie Matlin complained to the New York Times that retargeted ads generated by an online dieting service she once used created a very negative impression; “They are still following me around, and it makes me feel fat.” Clearly not the impression any marketer wants to create.

Concerns about creepy ads have caused a spike in the adoption of browser-based ad blockers. News publisher Future reports that 35% of their readers use ad blockers already, and expect this figure to continue an upward trend. 

Making sure you have robust processes in place to collect and use the right data at the correct touchpoints means that you can be more relevant to customers, rather than coming across as a stalker who knows everything from their shoe size to what they had for breakfast. It’s about understanding the exchange that is taking place, and making the trade off worthwhile for the customer – essentially their data in return for more relevant messaging and offers.

Personalized marketing is about knowing your customers
As always, the success of social marketing comes back to the fine art of listening. We’ve written many times about the need to “know” your customers, specifically their likes and preferences.

But you should also use available tools to carry out sentiment analysis that will also reveal how they feel towards brands and marketing. Remember, the ultimate goal of your personalized marketing is to surprise and delight your customers. Exercising good judgement and using common sense will go a long way towards not creeping them out with your personalized marketing.

Contact Falcon Social today for a free demo of our social media management platform. You’ll discover how to gather the right information and utilize it correctly for a successful personalized marketing campaign.

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