The Risks of Personalization: When Marketers Cross the Line

risks of marketing personalizationPersonalization. It’s one of the most talked-about trends in the marketing world today. Marketers—us included—continue to preach the importance of understanding your customers and delivering targeted, personalized campaigns based on what you know about them.

But, what we haven’t discussed are the risks of personalization—or more specifically, what happens when a campaign is too personalized. Today, we explore the negative side of personalized marketing, and the tactics you must avoid if you want your customers to trust your brand. Keep reading!

What is personalized marketing?

Before we get to the risks of personalization, let’s review the current state of personalized marketing initiatives.

Personalization can be as simple as including a person’s name in the subject line of an email. But as marketing technology has advanced, so too has personalization—marketers can now offer highly-targeted campaigns based on a person’s buying preferences, demographic information, web activity, and more.

Make no mistake about it—today’s customers want a personalized experience. The statistics speak for themselves (source):

  • 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.
  • Over 78% of consumers only will engage offers that have been personalized to their previous engagements with the brand.
  • 74% of customers are frustrated when website content isn’t personalized.

Personalization allows you to make stronger bonds with customers, create more targeted and useful content, and ultimately boost sales. But as the title of this blog suggests, personalization also has its risks. Keep reading to learn why marketers must show restraint when personalizing their campaigns.

The risks of personalized marketing:

At its core, personalized marketing involves a mutually-beneficial transaction: Customers give up personal information in exchange for more valuable, rewarding buying experiences. Surrendering personal information requires trust in a brand—and if a brand betrays that trust, they can risk losing customers, forever.

When a customer encounters an ad or piece of content that is too personalized—whether it’s intrusive, aggressive, or involves information they didn’t willingly provide—they don’t feel more understood. Rather, they see a brand that’s abusing their personal information in order to make a sale.  Let’s look at specific examples of personalization gone wrong.

1.  Aggressive personalization.

There’s a fine line between engaging with customers and annoying them. If one small interaction with a brand triggers a long series of personalized content, the customer will be hesitant to interact with your brand at all.

Example: A prospect fills out a form on a landing page for a new security software. He subsequently realizes he has no interest in the topic, and quickly exits from the ‘thank you’ page. Yet, the prospect immediately starts to see ads for that product when scrolling through their personal Instagram feed.

Over the next week, they receive several emails from the security company. They unsubscribe from your emails but continue to see frequent ads on their social media pages. Annoyed with the constant contact, the prospect leaves a negative comment on the brand’s social media pages.

2. Unauthorized personalization.

Customer data is critical to personalization—but marketers’ efforts often backfire when they use information that a customer didn’t willingly provide. It’s no wonder that 75% of consumers feel that personalization is “at least somewhat creepy” (source). Customers want to feel understood by brands—not spied on.

Example: After taking a camping trip to a national park, a customer starts receiving emails from an outdoor recreation store they often buy from. These emails say things like “We heard you went camping this weekend—we think you’ll love some of these products for your next trip!”

Although the customer willingly provided their email address while booking the trip, they did not consent to have it shared with the sporting goods store. Because this feels like a violation of privacy, the customer decides to shop at a different store ahead of their next trip.

3. Insensitive personalization.

It’s important to remember that some personal information is extremely sensitive. Just because you can leverage someone’s information doesn’t mean you should—especially if your marketing initiatives might irritate or offend them.

Example: A customer browses several sites that sell products to help with a specific illness. They start receiving targeted promotional emails from an unfamiliar company, and these messages contain several references to their health condition. The customer is extremely bothered that a brand they’ve never heard of has access to such sensitive information—and, as a result, they leave a scathing review of the company online.

4. Inaccurate personalization.

Personalization relies heavily on customer data—and more specifically, accurate customer data. If your database is full of outdated or incorrect data, your personalization efforts will backfire completely. If you want to execute a successful personalized marketing campaign, data hygiene must be a priority.

Example: You send a prospect several emails about your new marketing automation tool, which you think will interest them based on their past purchase history. Not only do you misspell their name—but the prospect has a new job and hasn’t worked in marketing for the past two years.

You think you’ve crafted the perfect personalized email—when what you’ve really done is showcased your low-quality data and lack of marketing know-how.  Although this customer may have recommended your software to the marketing department at her new company—she no longer trusts your brand.

How to avoid personalized marketing mistakes:

Now that we’ve explained how personalization can go wrong, let’s finish with some key considerations for implementing a better-personalized marketing strategy. Follow these general rules to make sure you avoid the risks of personalization

1. Implement personalization gradually.

Don’t rush into a hyper-specific, multichannel personalization strategy right away. Instead, introduce personalization slowly and test your campaigns as you continue to include more complex personalization.

2. Consider your target audience.

When it comes to any marketing initiative, and personalized marketing campaigns, in particular, it’s important to know your audience. Before you make a marketing decision using customers’ information, think—if I was our target customer, would this make me feel uncomfortable?

For example, let’s say your customers are primarily from an older demographic. They may not be as comfortable or familiar with modern marketing technology —and thus, are more likely to interpret personalization efforts to be creepy or intrusive. As a result, these customers may require more subtle personalization than a younger, more tech-savvy demographic.

3. Always ask for permission.

All of the examples we discussed above have one thing in common—the customer received something they didn’t ask for or expect. Marketers can avoid this problem by providing a method for their users to opt in—or out—of your personalized campaigns. Make sure your customers know what data you’re using to inform your marketing messages.

Key Takeaways about Marketing Personalization

Contrary to popular belief, you can have too much of a good thing. Nowhere is this more accurate than in the case of personalized marketing. It’s important to tailor your strategies to fit customers’ needs and interests. But, your good intentions can backfire if you ignore the risks of personalization.

With that being said—don’t let these risks scare you away from personalized marketing. Rather, exercise caution and put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Don’t use their personal information simply because you can. Instead, use it to create more meaningful and rewarding customer experiences. Personalized marketing is indeed the way of the future—as long as it’s executed correctly.

Reach out today to learn how ZoomInfo can help tailor your marketing efforts the right way with access to our comprehensive contact database.