Ignore the Personalisation Paradox at your peril…

Personalised marketing messages have been around for centuries – think mail-order catalogues posted to individuals, using those individual’s name and address data. The personalised customer experience, including face-to-face customer service, is not new to the world.

Personalised customer experiences are not new…

But now in the digital age, we can personalise almost every communication we have with consumers. We can use names, images, facts, charts and other data linked directly to individuals, to customise our communications – be they email, landing pages, websites, ads, SMS and more.

We can go even further by using cookies to chase individuals around the web, based on their behaviour on a landing page, website, email or other digital asset. I’ve written about the remarketing problem of leaving cigarette burns on your customers before.

But here’s the rub…

When you use direct mail and write a letter to someone, it is common courtesy and good manners to personalise your letter with the correct name, address and other relevant details of your relationship with the recipient. In fact, if you don’t personalise correctly your recipients are offended or lose respect for you the writer. Your lack of good manners can damage your brand.

Dear John…

Conversely, in the digital world, the holy grail of a “seamless personalised customer experience” can be disastrous for a brand. The more a marketer uses personalisation and demonstrates they are using digital surveillance to track an individual, the more the marketer offends the individual and possibly damages their brand.

Here’s one example I’m still experiencing. In January I searched online and visited a couple of retail stores before buying some gym equipment. Almost three months later, I am still being chased around the web via remarketing, by one of the companies from which I bought some equipment and one that I didn’t buy from – I just looked at its merchandise.

I’ve written before about how this type of remarketing mistakenly tried to sell breast pumps to a granny. It seems marketers are not learning from their mistakes – which is the best way to learn.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Marketers have fallen in love with technology and the various tracking tools now available to monitor customers. And it could be argued it’s costing them more in negative attitudes toward their brands and lost sales, than positive results.

After all, you don’t see a greengrocer chase a customer out the store and into the carpark, throwing a free banana and special deal through the customer’s driver-side window, just because the customer fondled the fruit but didn’t buy it?

Don’t leave, I’ll give you a free banana and a discount of you buy more now…

Marketers need to consider if the marketing tactics driven by their online surveillance tools pass the pub test. If they don’t, then don’t use them – simple.

Most marketers I’ve asked about remarketing and digital personalisation use words like “creepy”, “sleazy” and “not on” when describing how they feel as recipients of surveillance-based marketing. So why do we do it to the people who pay our salary – our customers?

Mind your manners

If you are writing directly to a customer or prospect, by all means personalise your message – be it mail, email, or even a PURL. It’s good manners to do so.

But if you are going to use surveillance-based marketing tools to “personalise the online customer experience” you need to ask yourself if it is worth doing. Would you like to be treated the way you are treating your customers? Are you practising good manners and respecting them?

The reason you consider your options is simple. The marketing industry is among the least trusted in the world. The last ten years has seen its reputation trashed by the digital marketing practitioners. Your surveillance-based marketing will only reinforce this negative attitude and reduce the effectiveness of your marketing budget.

Trust me, I’m a digital marketer…

And this is the Personalisation Paradox that marketers face. It’s a delicate balancing act and you need to take it seriously – particularly if you want your customers to take your brand seriously.

Gotta go now – I was going to search for some lingerie for my bride’s birthday, but am concerned by what might follow me around the internet afterwards. Think I’ll just visit the store at the mall instead….


  1. Malcolm,
    Thanks for another great post. “Surveillance-Based Marketing” brought to mind this scene from the film “Minority Report”… https://youtu.be/7bXJ_obaiYQ .
    Part of the problem, I suspect, is that big companies in particular don’t really look upon their customers as individuals.
    Thanks again!
    Kevin Francis

  2. Hey Malcolm!

    You’re right, it’s creepy. I think being honest with the audience is one answer – for example “Hey, we’re reaching out to the people who browsed mattress X this month to let you know there’s been a price reduction.” People don’t mind being contacted when you’re honest about how and why. Same with telemarketing – it would go a lot better if they told you upfront where they got your number.

    I once borrowed a book relating to blindness from the library and 3 days later got a letter from the Fred Hollows Foundation in the mail. Creepy and unwelcome. But if they said “Hey, not many people understand the struggles of the blind. Since you borrowed Book X, we’re hoping you’re one of them…”. Still a bit creepy but allows you to say fair enough that makes sense.

    Dave P.S. Great meeting you a few weeks back at the direct mail talk in Brisbane. Hope we can talk again soon.

    On Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 5:23 PM The Malcolm Auld Blog wrote:

    > Malcolm Auld posted: “Personalised marketing messages have been around for > centuries – think mail-order catalogues posted to individuals, using those > individual’s name and address data. The personalised customer experience, > including face-to-face customer service, is not new t” >

  3. The personalization conundrum and online protection are issues as large as the Internet. Clients will keep on dreading for their protection as long as information breaks proceed and unessential and hostile offers keep on hitting their inboxes. In any case, concentrating on trust is the start of an answer.

Comments are closed.

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

Privacy Policy

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop