From the sales assistant who picks you out the perfect dress, to the friendly barista who knows your coffee order, you can’t quite beat the warm touch of personal service. However there is a fine line between being personal and being downright creepy, and finding the balance has never been more important for digital marketers.

MyBuys recently found that 50 per cent of consumers want their personal information to be used (7th Annual Consumer Personalisation Survey Results Overview, MyBuys, 2015), and our own research shows personalised treatment incentivises 42 per cent of consumers to engage with brands (Consumers losing patience with brands that get their details wrong, Emarsys, 2014).

The secret to personalisation is using data effectively. HotelStayUK has achieved a 104 per cent increase in ROI from email marketing by selecting promotional campaigns on the basis of A/B testing, and luxury online fashion retailer LuisaViaRoma’s increased email engagement contributed to a 215 per cent increase in orders from the brand.

Not everyone gets it right, though. A few years ago US company Target was able to predict when its female customers were pregnant. Target then proceeded to send pregnancy-related coupons to customers, much to the horror of one angry father who complained that the company were encouraging his 14-year-old daughter to get pregnant.

A few weeks later the father apologised, revealing that his daughter had confessed that she was indeed pregnant.

Target knew about the girl’s pregnancy before her own dad. Now that is creepy.

Getting it right

The following tips can help digital marketers ensure their personalisation strategy is up to scratch.

  • Don’t get too personal

Just because a customer once bought something from you, that doesn’t make you ‘BFF’s. While digital natives tend to be open to personalised marketing because they know that online activity can be tracked, some people are less receptive to personalised messages.

Perhaps the most significant element of creepiness is surprise. Marketing only crosses the line from ‘cool’ to ‘creepy’ when a customer is surprised that a company has some particular knowledge about them.

For example, if the teen had told Target that she was pregnant and asked them to send her promotional offers, then nobody would have been upset with Target (whether her dad would have been upset with her boyfriend is another matter).

To avoid alienating customers, make sure your marketing campaign instils trust. If a customer trusts you, they are more likely to give you information about themselves. The key to this is to ensure that personalisation is relevant. If you give customers what they want, trust will build over time.

  • Know your audience

To create a truly personalised campaign, the devil is in the detail.

A good way of getting to know your audience is by grouping customers into personas based on where they are on the acquisition, conversion or retention journey.

There are many different personas you can create depending upon your business’ needs.

Let’s say you were working on a revenue recovery strategy. Research included in our whitepaper found that 98 per cent of customers never convert and of the few that do, 70 per cent never come back.

In this situation, using the following personas would remind you that each customer is unique and requires a specific approach:

  • Deserting Diana – the customer that visits your website but doesn’t make any purchases
  • Hesitant Henrietta – the customer that makes it to the shopping cart but abandons it last minute
  • Fickle Fiona – the customer that buys from you once then disappears
  • Golden Gordon –  the loyal customer that suddenly stops buying from you

By segmenting customers into personas this way they become real people, not just a piece of business.

  • Connect, don’t suffocate

You know that annoying guy who always talks about himself and whenever he opens his mouth you switch off? Don’t be that guy.

Of course it’s fine to promote your business, but do so in a way that demonstrates the value you give to your customers.

Effective marketing is about being helpful, not pushy. Think about different channels of communication and what your customer would prefer.

In a world where companies compete for consumers’ attention every day, it will always be quality not quantity that counts.

  • Get the right tech behind you

Get data rich by using the right tools to learn how customers interact with your website and digital marketing campaigns.

What product did they spend the most time looking at? Did they read your blog?

As each customer is different, you need to reach them individually at the right time with the right communication.

Automation helps tailor the experience to each user, creating a unique and more inviting experience that is entirely relevant to them, which will likely lead to conversion.

Combining intelligently applied data and automation technology can deliver timely, profitable communications that the customer will value.

Follow but don’t frighten

When it’s done badly, personalisation is at best annoying and creepy at worst. As we enter the world of the Internet of Things, marketers need to learn how to follow their customers – but not frighten them. Only then will companies craft truly powerful marketing campaigns that deliver great return on investment.

Steven Ledgerwood

Steven Ledgerwood


Steven Ledgerwood UK Managing Director at Emarsys.