STALKER ALERT! How to Personalize your Marketing Without Being a Creeper

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April 6, 2011

My wife recently had a scary run-in with a stalker: the website of a local pharmacy.

It started innocently enough. She was in the process of creating a first-time account on the site when she was prompted to provide some additional information. Pretty standard procedure, except that the site pre-populated the form fields with data that, while dated, was eerily accurate.

Wait a second, why would a site she’d never used before know her childhood phone number, her address from college, and the name of one of her past roommates?

How did they get all that information, and why were they using it?

With the proliferation of social media use, dozens of companies like RapLeaf and Spokeo are busy compiling an incredible amount of data about each of us. They do this by tying public record data (such as your name and address) to information pulled from online profiles (such as your photo, age, email address, interests, lifestyle, relationship status, friends, children, education, and occupation).

This aggregated information can be a treasure trove for marketers, as it allows them to identify people with specific interests and characteristics, and target them with personalized messaging.

However, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is the marketers’ duty to make sure information is used responsibly.  Lose the trust of the audience and you’ll find a slippery slope of lower response rates, increased customer defection, and lower sales.

As a variable data production partner for some very sophisticated database marketers, we’ve had the opportunity to monitor the results of highly-personalized campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips for improving the relevancy of your marketing, without crossing ethical lines or scaring your audience.

Four Guidelines for Stalker-Free Personalized Marketing

1) Don’t brag about your depth of knowledge.

It’s alright if you know a lot about your prospects or customers; however there’s no need to blatantly proclaim. For example, avoid messaging like: “Jill, because you’re a mother of three with an average household income of $65,000, we know you’ll love our economic minivans with low monthly payments!”

Instead, use your database information to quietly sculpt your messaging and offers. The recipient should be amazed by the relevance and timing of your messaging, not irritated by it.

2) Gather additional data, but don’t ask irrelevant questions.

It’s important to continually garner vital information from your customers and prospects through surveys, online forms, and personal communications. However, don’t ask questions that:

  • The user won’t understand why you’re asking
  • You won’t actually use
  • Are too personal, intrusive or unrelated to your product or service

With lead generation forms and surveys, remember that each additional question you request reduces the chance that the user will fill it out.

3) Be careful with personalization when prospecting!

People understand when a business or service they use knows their name, interests, and preferences; in fact, they appreciate it. What they don’t like is when a marketing piece or an unknown sales rep talks to them like an old friend. It’s confusing, can immediately put the recipient on the defensive, and can destroy your response rate and ROI.

Be sure to test personalization tactics (such as using a Personalized URL or including the recipient’s name in an email subject line) in your lead generation marketing.

4) Your audience’s attention is a privilege, not a right.

If you’re tempted to try a possibly invasive marketing tactic to get a momentary boost in response or revenue, remember the power your audience wields. With a couple clicks, they can:

  • Unsubscribe to your emails
  • Add their name to a Do Not Mail list such as org
  • Disable personalized online ads, or block them altogether
  • Or, ultimately, cancel their account or service with your company (ouch!)

As a purveyor of personalized marketing, I know how it can benefit both organizations and their customers. Just remember that simple lesson most of us learned during childhood: if you’re interested in someone, be friendly and helpful, but don’t be a stalker.


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