The Secret to Personalization: How to Be Relevant not Creepy


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As a salesperson, how do you cultivate a sale?

Do you chase after consumers saying “I saw you looking at this from across the store, did you want to buy it?” Or do you ask them questions and give them advice?

It seems obvious, but a lot digital personalization is like that creepy salesperson chasing customers across the store. It’s way too sales focused and doesn’t offer the consumers real value.

Approaching personalization like a salesperson helps nudge consumers along the path to purchase without being pushy. Something good salespeople have been doing for a long time.

Step One: Introduce Yourself

What’s the first thing that a salesperson does when a new customer walks into the store? They welcome the customer and introduce themselves. The same strategy applies online.

Any place your consumers make “entrances” online, such as welcome emails and landing pages should:

1. Be welcoming
2. Set the tone for the rest of the experience
3. Ask if they need help or let them know how they can get help

Welcome Emails
Your welcome emails are just a written version of the introduction you have with consumer’s in-store. The copy should be welcoming, and explain what they can expect from you.

When salespeople introduce themselves to consumers they don’t say, Hi I’m Brand X! They tell consumers their name. They do this because:

A) They are individuals not a nameless brand
B) It helps make a personal connection with consumers.

So make sure to sign the email from an actual person, not your brand.

Landing Pages
You can also create a welcoming introduction on your website’s landing page. Just personalize the page for new visitors by asking a few basic questions. Keep the copy welcoming, and don’t ask for too much up front. You have to develop trust before you ask for too much information.

There should also be an option to see a general landing page if they don’t want the personalization element. If they do opt for the personalized landing page, make sure you save their preferences. It should automatically load each time they visit the site. Otherwise, it’ll be like making a connection with a salesperson, and the next time you visit they’ve forgotten who you are. It’s annoying and doesn’t develop the kind of relationship you should be aiming for.

Step Two: Ask Questions and Listen

A good salesperson listens more than he/she talks. That’s because without knowing what a customer wants or needs you can’t help them.

Asking Questions
You can’t just throw products at people and expect sales to increase. You have to ask questions. An easy way to do this is through product recommendation quizzes. They give you insight into consumer preferences and customers like them because they make product selection fun and convenient.

Listening and Observing
A salesperson also uses observation to gather information about the consumer. This is where brands typically have difficulty online.

Consumers leave a ton of data when they visit your site. You can track their location, what they looked at, how they came to your site (email, direct, search), and what device they are using. And those are just the basics.

How do you use that data without being creepy?

Consider what you can learn from the in-store salesperson. A salesperson might see a customer and immediately make some assumptions. Those assumptions might help to direct their initial questions and suggestions. But they continue to refine their recommendations and strategy as they get more data. Data they acquire from continuing to listen and ask questions.

The same strategy applies to personalization.

You might learn a lot about a consumer on their first visit. But you should always be gathering more information and refining their consumer profile to create increasingly relevant personalized experiences.

Step Three: Provide Relevant Advice

A good salesperson provides solutions for their consumer’s problems.

They give helpful and desired advice. They don’t try to sell the consumer on everything. They wait to see what the customer likes the most.

Product recommendations are your opportunity to do this online. But they have to be based on an understanding of the consumer’s wants and needs.

Selling more products is the result of effective product recommendations, not the main goal.

Just look at Amazon.

Amazon collects a ton of shopping information. But instead of using it to chase people around with the same products, they create a list of related products based on what consumers seem to be shopping for.

And people love it. Why? Because it’s helpful.

There’s an overwhelming number of products on Amazon, and the ‘Recommended For You’ section cuts down the time you spend searching for things. It’s great. It feels like you have your own personal shopper. It’s “hey we thought you might like this” not “buy this now.”

Step Four: Be Trustworthy

Both in-store and digital interactions with customers rely on accurate personal data to provide the best possible experience. But people have strong opinions about the use of that data and they are increasingly defensive with their information online.

• 73% of consumers feel that using personal information without their permission violates their privacy, and over half feel very strongly about this (SAS).

That’s why it’s important to be transparent about the information you collect. Explain why you need the data and what they’ll get out of sharing.

And then use their data the way you said you would.

If the customer doesn’t trust you, it’s hard to sell to them. Customers have to value your opinion, and believe that you have their best interests in mind. Developing that trust online means being transparent and giving them control over their data, then using their data to show you understand their needs.

The Bottom Line

Personalization is really just a means to make better connections with consumers. Connections based on trust and a demonstrated understanding of the consumer’s wants and needs.

Personalized content needs to be helpful. Not an indication that you’ve been tracking their every move online so you can sell more products.

It’s not: Hey it’s snowing in your location. Here are some down parkas.
It’s: Keep warm with our down parkas. (Which you sent because you know it’s snowing in their location)

Don’t chase your consumers around the store (or internet). Approach personalization like a salesperson would a sale. Be welcoming, ask questions, listen, and provide relevant advice. And always be transparent.

After all, personalization only exists to create better relationships with customers. And a relationship without trust isn’t really a relationship at all.

John Findlay
John is a founding partner of the digital engagement agency, Launchfire (est. 1999). In his too-many years in the business he's developed gamified digital engagement strategies & promotions for a mighty impressive list of leading marketers.


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