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November 21, 2018

Your Guide to Effective, Not Annoying, Marketing Personalization

People want to receive relevant, customized recommendations from the brands and organizations they’re interested in. And what’s more, they’ve grown to expect it. But when personalization is sloppy, people get annoyed.  

Personalization is hot right now. People want to receive relevant, customized recommendations from the brands and organizations they’re interested in. And what’s more, they’ve grown to expect it. But when personalization is sloppy, people get annoyed.  

Adobe’s recent study about email marketing revealed more about these reactions to personalization.  

People appreciate personalization and want to see more of it, but certain mistakes or inaccuracies make personalization frustrating. So, how can we do personalization right, without ending up in the annoying category (or worse…the unsubscribe category)? 

We can’t just drop personalization; in fact, it’s the key to engagement, so it should be a top priority to learn how to do it properly. After all, Accenture Innovative found that almost all consumers (91 percent) are more likely to shop with brands who personalize their experience.  

But first… 

7 Ways You Might Be Delivering Annoying Personalization 

In Adobe’s survey, employees said that the most annoying thing when receiving an email offer from a marketer was: 

  • “An offer that makes it clear that the marketer’s data about me is wrong” (22%) 
    • Takeaway: Inaccurate personalization really irritates people and doesn’t achieve the goal of engagement. 
  • “An email urging me to buy a product or service I’ve already purchased” (22%) 
    • Takeaway: They might not notice when you do it right, but they definitely notice when you do it wrong. 
  • “Too much personalization, where it is creepy” (16%) 
    • TakeawayPeople want customization, but not to the point that they feel like you know everything about them – even if you do. 
  • “Too little or no personalization” (9%) 
    • TakeawayWhew, lots of conflicting emotions here. What do they want from me?! People don’t like it when their emails aren’t personalized, because it really is helpful when the organization is sending you relevant content and suggestions. But the key is to get it right. 

Adobe also asked people to rank the most frustrating way brands lack personalization in their emails:  

  • “Recommending items that do not match your interests” (33%)  
    • TakeawayAgain, inaccurate data tops the list here. 
  • “Including offers that have already expired” (22%)  
    • Takeaway: Yeah, that’s pretty annoying. An expired offer is cousin to inaccurate data, and you should double check to make sure you’re timing your communications accurately to match up with any promos. 
  • “Misspelling your name” (17%)  
    • Takeaway: Honestly…this might be on them. They probably misspelled their name when they first typed it in. Still, probably something worth double-checking. Don’t be that “Hi [FIRST NAME]!” person. 

After reading these stats, you might be discouraged and tempted to think that cookie cutter emails are the simpler route. Instead, think of these points as guidelines as you’re crafting your member experience, so you can do personalization well 

Why? Again, personalization is important. In this same study, Adobe reported that “customization of emails from brands [another way to say personalization] is of medium to high importance, across all age groups and both genders.” 

3 Ways to Deliver Great Personalization 

From these stats, we can gather that great personalization: 

  • Pulls accuraterecent data 
  • Customizes based on the customer 
  • Respects customers’ privacy  

Let’s go through these points and look at tactics to help you achieve each one of them.

1. Pulls Accurate, Recent Data: Integrating Your Software 

The foundation of great personalization is great integration. Let’s explore this. You’ve got a customer or member database that holds all your member information. When you use other programs, such as marketing automation or online community software, the best way to pull the member data into that software from your database is by using integration. 

Software that integrates with your database, whether it’s an AMS or a CRM, is going to pull the most current, most accurate data, and help you personalize well. 

Learn more about integration: 

2. Customizes Based on the Customer: Using Behavioral Data 

You likely recognize this example of customization – your Amazon homepage. Amazon makes suggestions based on what you’ve bought, what you’ve clicked on…and sometimes, what you’ve even searched on the web. The clicks you’re putting in are the data they’re using to create your customized experience.  

Your goal for customization should be to help your audience, without being creepy. 

Remember when you, as a consumer, started seeing products you’d casually mentioned to your friend pop up as an ad on your Facebook? People (read: me) freaked out, thinking that Facebook was mic-ing our phones and creating ads based on what we talked about. Now, Facebook says that wasn’t the case, but it made people feel like they were being spied on for advertising purposes.  

I’m sure Facebook thought its extremely targeted advertising would be helpful (since I was interested in buying that vintage New York Dodgers hat), but it came across as creepy to many people.  

You want your personalization to help people find things they’re interested in, without crossing that line, and you can use the data they provide you with, based on their behaviors, to customize their experience. 

For example, it would work like this:  

  • Subscriber clicks link to learn more about your annual event in the email you sent   
  • Subscriber visits your online community page calling for speakers at your annual event 
  • Your marketing automation software adds them to the workflow for a campaign about speaker opportunities at your annual event.  

You’ve just helped them by creating a more relevant experience, using the data they shared with you through web tracking. 

Learn more about customization: 

3. Respects Customers’ Privacy: GDPR Compliance and Private Community 

An obvious first guideline to respecting the customer’s privacy is not to creep them out (see above), but there are some practical ways to respect their privacy.  

  1. Make sure you’re not using data without permission.  

We worked hard preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) this year to ensure our customers were safely using their European member/customer data. Many anticipate that this regulation, or some form of it, will make its way over to the US sooner or later. One aim of this new policy was to give people more control over who has access to their data and how they are using it, and if you make sure your data policy abides by this principle, you’ll be a lot closer to gaining customers’ trust. 

  1. Consider giving them a private place to connect. 

Where are your members or customers currently connecting? If it’s social media, you may be risking their privacy. Creating a private online community can help you keep your member data secure. 

How does this help your personalization strategy, you’re wondering? Not only does an online community help protect their communication, but when they can discuss without the public eye, they may be willing to share more. This behavioral data they create in your online community is yet another source of great data for your personalization strategy, allowing you to refine their customized experience even more.  

Learn more about data privacy: 

Walking the Fine Line of Email Personalization 

You need to have a strategy for personalization. You risk annoying your members or customers by doing it wrong, and you need to do personalization well in order to engage them. 

Try adopting a campaign-based marketing approach – this will help you deliver relevant information, beginning with the first interaction you have with members or customers, and continuing throughout their journey. 

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is the former Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.