Two Ways to Make Personalization Welcomed

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In my last post, I discussed the inconsistent and often contradictory attitudes of consumers and business buyers regarding personalized marketing. On one hand, numerous research studies have confirmed that most consumers and business buyers want personalized offers, messages, and experiences, and are willing to provide personal information in order to receive such offers, messages, and experiences.

On the other hand, several studies have found that customers and potential buyers are growing more concerned about privacy, and aren’t comfortable with how some companies are collecting, accumulating, and using their personal or business information. In one fairly large study, less than half of the respondents (48%) agreed that, “There are ethical ways in which a company can use my personal information.



These conflicting attitudes are creating a Catch-22 for marketers because it’s now clear that personalization is a high-stakes game. Effective personalization drives broad and significant business benefits, but when marketers get personalization wrong, the consequences can be serious. In one survey, 38% of the respondents said they would stop doing business with a company that sends them “creepy” personalized messages.

So far, most marketing pundits and many marketing leaders seem to believe that the key to maximizing the benefits of personalized marketing is more personalization. In other words, collect and use more data about customers and prospects, make personalization more specific, and use personalization more frequently, in more channels, and for more types of communications and experiences. This explains why hyper-personalization and personalization at scale have recently become such popular buzzwords.

The “more personalization” approach is based on the idea that increased personalization will increase the relevance of messages and experiences, and that the improved relevance will make those messages and experiences more compelling, interesting, and/or satisfying for customers or potential buyers. The problem with the approach is that it doesn’t address the privacy half of the personalization-privacy conundrum, nor does it provide specific guidance about what attributes (other than relevance) cause personalized marketing to be welcomed by potential buyers.

We need to use a different approach to deal with privacy concerns and maximize the benefits we obtain from personalization. Here are two related steps marketers can take to get the most from personalized marketing.

Base Personalization on “Informed Consent”

The key to alleviating privacy concerns is to base personalization on data that each customer or prospect has willingly and consciously provided for a clearly-stated purpose. This approach addresses three practices that frequently cause a customer or prospect to view personalized communications as presumptuous, invasive, or “creepy:”

  • When a company bases personalization on data that the customer has not directly shared with the company (e.g. third-party data)
  • When a company bases personalization on data that the customer or prospect has not consciously shared with the company (e.g location data from a smartphone, browsing history, etc.)
  • When a company ostensibly collects information for one purpose and then uses the data for other purposes.

Customers and prospects won’t see personalized marketing as intrusive or “creepy” when they willingly provide personal data in exchange for personalized content or experiences that are designed to serve a clearly understood purpose.



Make Personalization Pragmatically Useful

The most effective personalized marketing programs are those that deliver meaningful, pragmatic value to recipients. A recent study by Gartner/CEB provides strong confirmation of the importance of making personalization useful. The centerpiece of this study was a 2018 survey of more than 2,500 consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

One objective of this study was to identify what type of personalization is most effective. So survey participants were asked several questions about the content of the personalized messages they received. Based on the survey responses, Gartner/CEB identified two basic types of personalization:

  • “Prove You Know Me” Personalization – These types of messages mention the recipient’s personal information, base personalization on information about the recipient’s past purchases from the company, or generally reflect the recipient’s interests in some way.
  • “Help Me” Personalization – According to Gartner/CEB, these types of messages can make it easier for the recipient to complete a purchase, help the recipient understand how to better use a product, or otherwise help the recipient solve a problem or address a need.

To measure the relative effectiveness of these types of personalization, Gartner/CEB created a “Commercial Benefit Index” that considered four consumer intent or behavior factors – brand intent, purchase, repurchase, and increase in shopping cart size. When Gartner/CEB analyzed the change in the Commercial Benefit Index produced by each type of personalization, they found that “Help Me” personalization produced a 16% increase in the CBI, while “Prove You Know Me” personalization resulted in a 4% decline in the CBI.

The Takeaway

The important point here is that marketers should organize their personalization efforts around specific “programs” that are designed to serve a clearly-defined purpose and provide pragmatic value. When customers or prospects proactively choose to participate in a program by providing relevant personal information, the personalization-privacy conundrum disappears, the personalization will be welcomed, and it will be more compelling and impactful.



Top image courtesy of Richard Patterson via Flickr CC.

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