LETTER: Fine Line Between Personalization and Abuse

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Arthur Middleton Hughes was correct when he said the old corner grocer boosted business by recalling and communicating personal information about the old corner customer (http//www.dmnews.com/articles/2000-07-17/9435.html).

However, Hughes took a giant leap of logic by suggesting that i-marketers that personalize their messages with the help of cookie-developed data will inherit the positive image -- and the customer retention success -- of the corner grocer.

In those idealized olden times, marketing involved real human interactions between sellers and buyers. The grocer may have had personal information about the customer, but the customer also knew things about the shopkeeper. That environment of mutual knowledge and one-to-one transactions promoted a relationship in which neither side held more power than the other.

In the i-marketing world, the knowledge cards are stacked on the seller's side. Privacy policy statements notwithstanding, it is virtually impossible for a consumer to know how much and what kind of information about him or her is stuffed into a marketer's database dossier.

Hughes' "privacy nuts" are merely expressing a healthy discomfort about this information imbalance between seller and buyer. Yet even shoppers who are not "privacy nuts" are unlikely to feel the old-fashioned brand of trust for a merchant that knows more about them than they do about it.

The bottom line: Use personalization, but use it wisely. Offer the degree of personalization that serves your customer without overwhelming or annoying him or her.

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