Personalized marketing: make it delightful, not disturbing

big brother

Just because you know something about your customer it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to tell them – nobody likes to feel like Big Brother is watching them.

Marketers have access to incredible levels of detail about their customers. They can find out where they live, what car they drive, where they like to shop, whether they have children, what their hobbies are and more.

Armed with this intelligence, it enables marketers to achieve great things when acquiring prospects, reengaging with those who you haven’t heard from for a while, and targeting customers with relevant, personalized content at the right time, through their favorite channel.

Get it right and your customers will be delighted at how your website is tailored to their taste and customized for their convenience.

They’ll reconsider their abandoned shopping basket or take the plunge and buy that pair of shoes that they looked at the other day when reminded about them while browsing.

However, cross the line from cool customer experience and you enter into the realms of creepy – the sort of intrusive, over-familiar treatment that has people putting black tape over their laptop webcam, switching on their ad blockers and locking down their privacy settings.

Take this example from the Guardian, for example, where the author’s innocent search for a shed led to him being “chased around the internet” by adverts “like a nagging puppy on your trouser leg”. Is that how you want your customers to feel?


While retargeting ads are proven to work (statistics gathered by Business2Community claim that 70% of web site visitors retargeted with display ads are more likely to convert on your website), the incessant nature of them can come across like stalking - something we all feel is very creepy!

Establishing the right amount of personalization is a fine balance and context is crucial.

Would you want to see adverts for condoms appearing on your browser after buying contraceptives online? Would receiving a follow-up sales call five minutes after downloading the brochure for a new car freak you out? Would a shop assistant greeting you by name because your mobile phone announced your arrival make you feel uncomfortable? If you answered “yes” to any of these then it’s clear that marketing has the potential to make customers feel intimidated and unnerved. 

In 2015, a study into ‘Online Creep’ by Ithaca College looked at how online advertisements based on web users’ viewing and purchasing habits could negatively affect their decision to purchase. Although the study found there is a direct, positive affect on consumers’ intent to purchase a product after viewing an ad tailored to them, it also confirmed an indirect, negative effect that comes from being targeted individually. According to Ithaca, that indirect effect accounts for a five percent reduction in intent to purchase an advertised product.


Getting personalization right can come with great rewards, when used sensitively and intelligently. Since 2011 British online retailer Boden has been sending its customers personalized brochures. Along with a unique front cover designed to include the customer's first name and location (or how long they’ve been a customer), the catalogue contained an infographic about their buying history, asking them to look back fondly at past purchases.

Rather than being creepy, it reinforced how much the company valued their customer as an individual, with just enough information to show how well they knew what was relevant to them. It encourages a smile rather than a worried search of the room for hidden cameras.

The campaign clearly worked. The first batch of catalogues saw a 30% uplift in response and the company receiving an Engage Award. Imagine how well as similar approach could work for a charity, a personalized reminder of how much they have donated in total and exactly how much it has helped.

Of course, for any such campaign to be successful, it needs to ensure that customer data is in immaculate condition. If duplicate records meant the catalogue was sent twice to the same address and the name on the cover was wrong, any goodwill the brand attempted to create will quickly be eroded.

What personalization techniques will work and which will step over the mark of acceptability will be dependent on several things, and needs careful consideration of your customer base.

For example, digital-savvy Millennial customers are more accepting when it comes to supplying their personal data in exchange for a customized experience. However, not even the younger generation want a brand to treat them like best buddies after their first purchase.

As mentioned, context is also key. Receiving a discount offer from your local takeaway when your last tweet ended with #hungry is cool. Being bombarded with Facebook adverts saying ‘Hi Jane – looking for diet pills?’ after searching a health website might not be so well received.

Personalized adverts are generally better adverts – but only if they can help improve someone’s life rather than intrude on it.

Know Your Customers Better Than They Know Themselves - On-Demand Webinar

Know Your Customers BetterGone are the days of mass marketing. Technology and data can now combine real-time marketing, online personalization and triggered customer journeys with a Single Customer View (SCV) and your existing analytics, empowering marketers to achieve customer-centric marketing in a hyperconnected world.

BlueVenn Consultant, Jemma Hardyman, will explain how you can use marketing insight and the power of an SCV to drive one-to-one customer experiences, delving deeper into:

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  • Listening to customers to know them better, evolving your messages to meet their ever- changing preferences
  • Knowing the difference between ‘real-time’ and ‘right-time’

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