Personalised Marketing, Personalisation, Direct Mail

When personalisation gets creepy

Written by Jason Groom
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Originally published
February 3 2016,
July 13 2020

1993 was a watershed moment in the world of marketing. While its launch may well have been before your time, it’s fairly likely that the book that marked it – “The One-to-One Future” by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers – will have made an impression on you if you’ve read it, or at least impacted on your work if you haven’t.

1:1 communications

All marketers are striving to deliver the personalised, one-to-one communications that Peppers and Rogers advocated, and they’re doing this using not just personal data but real-time behaviour, interests and preferences. It’s unlikely though that the two could have foreseen the advent of tools and technology that make all of this possible, nor that hyper-personalisation by brands and businesses would be provoking some of the reactions that they are.

Cool or creepy?

Google the term “personalisation” and you might be surprised how often “creepy” appears alongside it in the results. Understanding your audience and customer has to be a good thing; freaking them out by appearing to stalk them or as The Wall refers to it, “Walking the tightrope between effective targeting and alarming your audience”, not so much.

A 2015 survey by RichRelevance entitled “Cool or creepy” asked a sample of UK consumers to rate various “digital enhancements to the shopping experience” to better understand how comfortable they felt with personalisation.

The results showed that less intrusive personalisation was voted a winner, with 72% keen to receive product recommendations based on their purchasing habits, and 63% receptive to the idea of a store map personalised to guide them to relevant products.

It was a different story though when the personalisation tactics became more intrusive. More than three quarters said that they’d definitely find it creepy being greeted by name after mobile technology alerted staff to them being in-store. A similar percentage also felt that facial recognition technology was a bridge too far and would “freak them out.”

Even direct mail a culprit?

It’s the digital channels that primarily stand accused of overstepping the personalisation mark. But there are instances of direct mail which, though seemingly effective at generating good ROI, are the printed equivalent of being caught pressing your nose up against someone’s window! Check out this “Valuable Postcard” video and let us know how you’d react to this “digital peeping Tom”!

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