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Strategy

Don’t Creep Out Your Customers!

Personalization is important and can prove very profitable with your clients. But just like in real life, you don't want to over-do it, or your users will take a step back. So what's the right amount?

Matt McAllister
December 26 2017

Modern audiences expect brands to know what they want, when they want it. Between Amazon’s extremely lucrative product recommendation engine and Netflix’s retention-stoking matching algorithm, the thought of a one-size-fits-all service will soon become foreign to contemporary customers. This presents a challenge for marketers. As heavy hitters continue to make personalization commonplace, more stories emerge of brands that have gone too far.

Target’s personalization efforts allegedly knew a teen girl was pregnant before her father did. A 2016 update to the Uber app made headlines for requesting permission to constantly monitor users’ location, even when not using the app. Even basic retargeting, a technology now two-decades old, continues to make some customers uneasy. So what are we to do?

Customers expect bespoke experiences. They want products and services that anticipate their needs. But go too far and you’re labelled “creepy.” It’s a tough needle to thread, but emerging evidence points to a happy medium. With personalization entering the mainstream, customer attitudes are changing. As they do, best-practices are emerging that allow brands to keep their efforts on the right side of public opinion.

Let them decide what communications to receive

When it comes to engaging users with content, let your customers lead the way. Ask your audience what content they’d like to receive. It’s a courteous, respectful way to ensure that your personalized communications stay strong. Michelle Manafy, editorial director at Digital Content Next, suggests marketers “offer a choice of newsletters that are optimized for different audience segments.” Doing so might add a few steps to your onboarding process, but will ultimately benefit your overall engagement.

Let them set the schedule

Let users choose how often they receive personalized content. Reminding them that they’re in the driver’s seat shows that you’re on their side. It’s a form of digital body language that demonstrates your interest in their success. It’s a best practice embraced by content-heavy brands like Statista and Hubspot, who allow their email subscribers to choose between multiple newsletter delivery times.

Only use information they’ve volunteered

Staying on the right side of informational transactions is the best way to keep from upsetting your customers. Whether you’re using dynamic tags in a newsletter or personalized content on the web, only leverage data that customers have freely offered to you. This includes everything from information offered through your inbound marketing system to personal details entered during your onboarding process. Doing so helps position your brand as a cooperator rather than an onlooker, and will benefit your marketing efforts down the line.

Wait until they’re engaged

Personalization suggests familiarity, and getting familiar too soon is a sure-fire way to get on anyone’s bad side. Regardless of the channel, personalization should match a user’s level of engagement. “Wait until some time has passed and a relationship has been more firmly established to start personalizing around actions they have taken,” says Lara Nour Eddine, a brand journalist at Kuno Creative. The more engaged and better retained customers are, the more personal you can make their experience.

Focus on their favorites

Once you’ve gotten to know your customers, set a high threshold for the types of behavioral data you utilize in your personalization initiatives. Rather than quickly surfacing products from a category they’ve searched for once, wait until they’ve run three or four organic searches before bubbling it up into your recommendations or retargeting efforts. By focusing on the products your customers are most interested in, you increase the likelihood of them construing your personalization efforts as useful rather than over-eager.

Know how to take a hint

If your audience isn’t responding to your personalization efforts, it’s time to back off. Some buying journeys simply don’t benefit from guidance. Better to spend your resources elsewhere than spin your wheels with a segment that prefers making their own way. Set 30-day limits to your retargeting campaigns and cap the number of impressions users receive for in-app promotions or discounts. Revert back to more generalized marketing messaging and wait until they demonstrate interest in a new product before firing up your personalization efforts once again.

A global 2016 study by Monetate showed that 56% of marketers are in the process of building out a personalization strategy, while 6% consider themselves to already be well advanced in their efforts. Only 10% said they were making no efforts at all, pointing to a rising tide of adoption that will continue to impact consumer expectations. Put the time and effort into keeping your personalization efforts within the realm of acceptable practice, your customers will thank you.

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Matt McAllister

Matt McAllister is the CEO of Fluid PR, Inc. and twenty-year marketing veteran. Matt most recently ran marketing for Tapjoy, a mobile ad-tech platform. Matt also served as VP of marketing and content for High Voltage Interactive, an online ad network that was acquired by Aptimus, Inc. He started his career as an account executive for the PR agency Niehaus Ryan Wong.

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