The perils of over-personalization
Personalization is a hugely powerful tool. But it’s not risk-free. Knowing when to personalize and when not to is critical in engaging customers.
6 MINS READ
Personalization has been synonymous with highly effective, customer-focused digital marketing strategies for some time now—and for good reason.
Data-driven personalization allows marketers to engage their customers on a far deeper level. It allows them to communicate, make offers, run promotions, and build relationships in a way that truly resonates with each individual.
A TCS CMO Study found, for example, that leading marketers are now using a range of data sources to personalize communications across e-mail, brand websites, social media, online advertisements, and numerous other digital channels.
This personalization extends across all stages of the marketing funnel, from the demographic data used to customize messages at the awareness stage, to the increasing use of first-party data to tailor communications as the customer moves through conversion and the focus switches to support and retention.
Leading brands are using these techniques because they know personalization works. The same TCS study found, for instance, that 86% of the companies that get the most impact from their marketing investments are more likely to personalize awareness communications with useful product or service information.
But there’s a flip side
Personalization is not risk-free.
In fact, taken too far, it can be counterproductive to long-term customer engagement. Too much personalized communication can end up feeling intrusive and unwelcome. And there’s the risk of turning off precisely those customers the brand is trying to retain.
One reason this happens is that marketers can mistake purchase behavior for brand engagement. The two are not the same. And the simple fact is, having bought a product or paid for a service, customers don’t always want a personalized relationship with the company or brand that provided it.
This is especially true with low-involvement consumer packaged goods. Shoppers of these products are often making purchases purely through habit. Or without paying much attention to the brand they’re buying. Few people, if any, are looking for an enduring or meaningful relationship with their washing detergent manufacturer.
Indeed, for some consumers, this more transactional view of the brand relationship applies to all their buying, whether large or small, luxury or commodity. And attempting to constantly engage these customers via personalized communications is not only ineffective, but also runs the risk of actively turning them off the brand.
The risk of data overreach
This mindset also affects how much data customers feel comfortable sharing.
If a person doesn’t have any particular attachment or loyalty to a brand, they’re less likely to see why it should have access to their data.
One area this is particularly evident is when brands overreach in asking for feedback. Just about every customer will know the feeling of being bombarded with endless requests from a company to tell them how they’re doing or to rate their most recent interaction.
From the customer’s perspective, this often makes little sense. Most people don’t have an opinion on these everyday interactions. And being constantly badgered with requests to provide feedback can come across as paranoid and intrusive.
Indeed, left unchecked, marketers risk creating a “negative customer universe”. This is where a growing segment of customers decide they’ve simply had enough of the brand. The numbing effect of communication overreach means they switch off and become unresponsive to any future engagement.
The way a customer perceives their relationship with the brand is often very different to how the brand perceives its relationship with the customer.
A better approach
So where does this leave marketing communication strategies?
Of course, no one would suggest reverting to the antiquated one-size-fits-all mass-market approaches of the past. Personalization remains an extremely powerful tool that delivers real value to both brands and consumers.
But it needs to be done right. Savvy brands know when to personalize, when to engage, when to seek feedback, and—crucially—when not to. The line between personalized engagement and unwanted intrusion is a thin one. A sophisticated marketing and customer engagement strategy needs to be absolutely rigorous about staying on the right side of it.
Here are three important considerations for marketers as they look to do that.
1. Think quality, not quantity
Digital communications are now so inexpensive that any business, of any size, has the capacity to send out tens or hundreds of thousands of e-mails to solicit feedback from customers. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The overarching principle to keep in mind is quality not quantity. It’s vital that marketers find a cadence and a level of personalization that builds loyalty and drives conversions, yet doesn’t turn potentially valuable customers away from the brand.
2. Not every customer wants to be your friend
The way a customer perceives their relationship with the brand is often very different to how the brand perceives its relationship with the customer. Companies need to understand this when they measure customer engagement. That includes recognizing that every communication has an impact, even if it doesn’t show up immediately in the marketing analytics. A non-response from a customer doesn’t mean they didn’t get the message, or they don’t like the product. Silence can often mean contentment. It’s essential to view customer engagement (or non-engagement) in a more nuanced way.
3. Don’t make everything about rating their experience
Brands understandably want to acquire the data that lets them understand their individual customers better. It’s critical for developing long-lasting, trusted relationships, and driving customer lifetime value. But this data gathering needs to be done smartly. Constantly asking every customer to rate every interaction is counterproductive. Healthy human-to-human relationships don’t involve asking for feedback on every single thing that happens, and nor should brand relationships.
Believe in yourself
The overarching point here is that successful brands believe in the strength of the long-term relationship they have with their customers.
Their marketing and personalization strategies should reflect that sense of confidence, ambition, and trust rather than risk undermining the health of the customer relationship with a constant barrage of paranoid enquiry and over-the-top personalization. Operationalizing this strategy can be made easier by pairing personalization strategies with a customer data platform (CDP) or marketing automation capabilities.
By taking an intelligent, nuanced approach, brands can read their customers far more accurately—as people, rather than data points. They can get the right balance in their communication. And they can ensure personalization delivers what it’s meant to: respectful, meaningful engagement that augments rather than diminishes a customer’s perception of the brand, and their long-term value to the company.