Cool or Creepy?

I’m all for targeting and personalization—of course. I live and breathe direct marketing. And if you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know that I’m delighted when brands use information they have about me to make our interactions more relevant.

Not surprisingly, this is especially true around my birthday. I love to see what brands will send me—not so much for the offers themselves (I never use them all, though, admittedly, I’d love to), but for the marketing strategy behind them. Will it be just a greeting via email with no offer (Virgin America sends a fun video, for example), will it be multichannel (White House | Black Market and Victoria’s Secret send direct mail followed up by email), or if it’s solely direct mail will it be elaborate or a simple postcard?

Most of the birthday hoopla is at the beginning of September because most of the offers expire at the end of the month. Oddly, though, last week I received an unexpected birthday greeting—and a first. It was from my congressman (Joe Crowley). On the one hand, I thought: “Cool.” Talk about standing out. When has a politician ever sent a birthday greeting? Most politicians only ever send mail at election time; although I do get print newsletters from a few local politicos on what they’ve done for the community the prior month or quarter.

On the other hand, I thought, “Hmmmm, this is a bit creepy.” Now considering how much I appreciate personalization and targeting, you might wonder why. I certainly did. As I pondered I realized it was because the source of information wasn’t immediately clear. Brands I buy from know my birthday because I’ve told them. They know my preferences because they have my purchase and behavioral data. But how did Joe Crowley’s marketing team get my birthday?

Of course, I quickly realized that there are obvious sources for that information. But it was my initial reaction that stood out to me. It reminded how tenuous the cool-creepy line can be. It not only varies by customer (some people will always think personalization beyond “Hello Name” is creepy), but it also varies by each customer’s brand preferences. The more you like a brand, the more engaged you are, the more likely you are to be happily targeted by that brand using all the data they have about you at their disposal. Not such a big fan of a brand? You may consider the same targeting or personalization to be creepy.

As for the birthday wishes from my congressman? It’s actually kinda cool. So, thanks CongressmanCrowley.

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