Thin line between personalization and invasion

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This week, my thoughts turned to personalization – a concept that seems to keep gaining fans in the marketing world, who believe that creating offers unique to increasingly targeted audiences can lead to better engagement and ROI.

But how personalized is too personalized? In a New York Times article last week, financial services marketers were said to be targeting troubled borrowers with eerily personalized offers, us­ing lists built to ferret out details on consumers' rocky financial pasts. Keep in mind that consumers typically don't understand how marketers find their data and how they are targeted — therefore, a closely personalized offer can seem almost creepy. I wonder whether personalization can go too far and turn off consumers, rather than inspiring them to respond.

I certainly appreciate an appropriately targeted offer. I'm hap­py, for example, that the clothing catalogs and offers I receive tend towards the interests of the “mature” female consumer that I am – J. Jill and Ann Taylor Loft, for instance, instead of Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch.

But if I start receiving offers that declare my upcoming 40th birthday (check) a time to clean out my messy closets (check) and get rid of everything that has gotten too small (check) or is being used by my cat as a bed (check), I'll start walk­ing around my house looking for secret video cameras. That might sound crazy to a marketing pro, but to your average consumer, it might not sound that far off.

It's a fine line marketers need to balance in order to create relevant, targeted offers that their consumers will appreci­ate. When personalization works, customers feel understood. When it doesn't, they may feel invaded. Check out our Technique feature this week, which focuses on how various industry sectors can use homeowner and new mover lists – hopefully in a targeted but not invasive way.

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