Getting Personal without Getting Creepy while Marketing

Stephen DeAngelis

November 25, 2020

In many ways, consumers have been captive audiences during the coronavirus lockdowns. As PwC analysts Derek Baker and Matt Egol (@mattegol) observe, “COVID-19 has forced us to reinvent how we mark special occasions, in ways that are hyperlocal — many so local that they don’t even extend past our front door. These trends are likely to persist well beyond the reopening of the economy, as safety concerns linger, companies take a fresh look at their workforce strategy and allow employees to continue working from home, and the economic shock reverberates.”[1] As a result, Baker and Egol suggest targeted marketing has never been more important for brands and retailers. They explain, “The unique circumstances of this moment present brand manufacturers and retailers with opportunities. With strengthened collaboration in areas such as e-commerce, category management, shopper marketing, trade promotions, and experiential marketing, companies can more quickly and effectively engage consumers along the path to purchase to reinforce brand leadership and drive higher returns from their activation campaigns.”


The importance of targeted marketing


Aamer Hussain, a content marketing professional, suggests there are good reasons brands and retailers need to engage in targeted marketing.[2] Those reasons include:


1. Putting your message in front of those most likely to want or need your product. “One of the biggest advantages of paid advertisement,” writes Hussain, “is that you can acutely target your audience so they receive your message directly. There’s no guesswork involved. With targeted marketing, you get the option to create your audience exactly how you want.”


2. Directing your message content proactively to the right consumers. Platforms like YouTube and TikTok provide increasing opportunities for reaching younger consumers. Hussain observes, “Every potential viewer is a potential customer.”


3. Obtaining leads for your business. Hussain notes, “Lead forms templates are already available inside various ad platforms like Facebook Business and Instagram Ads. … This saves time and efforts as compared to cold calling, or sourcing thousands of websites.”


4. Promoting brand awareness. In the social media age, you want as much control over your message and image as possible. Hussain explains, “Any image or video that you circulate increases the chances of your customer remembering you more the next time. When you re-target your ads, the brand recall value increases and that reflects in how well your potential customer uses your service in the future.”


One company that has learned the value of targeted marketing is Nestlé. Journalist Rosalyn Page reports, “A handful of years ago, Nestlé relied largely on TV advertising, a medium offering strong brand messaging to a broad audience. But as people have migrated to digital and social platforms, the brand has followed suit. Now, with new platforms that deliver a more nuanced approach to messaging, Nestlé has been enabled to target audience segments at scale.”[3] Antonia Farquhar, head of media, content and data at Nestlé, told Page, “The younger audiences, 16 to 39-year olds, can be hard to find on traditional platforms.” Cognitive technologies, with embedded advanced analytics, play an important role in targeted marketing campaigns. Page explains, “Nestlé has … evolved its audience segmentation strategy through a more sophisticated data-led approach that moves beyond demographics into niche audience driven insights. … In the last two years, the brand has moved towards a strong personalization approach built around the marketing method of reaching the right audience at the right time with the right message.” Journalist Danielle Bilbruck (@danibeetalks) adds, “It’s more important than ever that advertisers do the heavy lifting of figuring out who their audience is with data and formalize these audiences with actual, documented buyer personas.”[4]


Avoiding the creepiness factor


Although ad personalization has become an important tool for brands and retailers, there have been occasions when such ads have breached the creepiness line. Bilbruck explains, “More and more people are creeped out by the level of personalization in marketing and advertising.” Forbes notes, “We all understand the power that personalized marketing can have on a modern audience. Yet despite its appeal, there are a lot of ways that customized marketing can go wrong.”[5] To address targeted marketing, personalization, and what could go wrong, Forbes assembled a number of communications, public affairs & media relations executives who came up with a baker’s dozen “absolute don’ts” to avoid. Those don’ts are:


1. Don’t fail to listen to your audience
2. Don’t make assumptions
3. Don’t use data without permission
4. Don’t overdo it with the personalization
5. Don’t use data they didn’t provide
6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
7. Don’t start without understanding your audience
8. Don’t forget the 80/20 rule
9. Don’t forget to test
10. Don’t use generic tactics
11. Don’t forget to check the name spelling
12. Don’t overdo the ‘relationship-building’
13. Don’t personalize for each channel


Bilbruck adds, “Stop giving your attention to people who don’t want it. Stop holding onto data that isn’t accurate or good for you anymore. Stop letting lost causes live rent-free in your head and your database (where they often are costing you money as well).”


Some recommendations to follow


Although it’s important to know what traps to avoid, it’s also valuable to know best practices you can use. Forbes assembled another team to offer suggestions.[6] They came up with the following recommendations:


1. Use survey tools. “Thanks to the use of advanced survey tools and marketing automation, it’s easy to develop mass campaigns that still have a personalized user experience based on how a customer responds to a survey question.”


2. Get consumers involved. “When developing a new product or idea, make your customers a part of the innovation process. Crowdsource ideas through online platforms (think Kickstarter), allowing early backers to help co-design and co-develop the product with you.”


3. Take advantage of influencer marketing. “We live in an age where big data, and the individualized targeting that comes with it, can feel overbearing. Brands can mitigate this mistrust by letting a non-selling voice do the talking for them — this is the backbone ideology behind influencer marketing.”


4. Make retargeting efforts more creative and meaningful. “There’s nothing more annoying than purchasing something online and then seeing the company’s ad show up everywhere in a social media feed.”


5. Provide voice search optimization. “The marketing implications for voice search have been largely untapped. Whether it be optimizing your SEO strategy for home digital assistants, mobile voice search or voice remote controls and connected TV advertising, there is still much to be explored and tested. As AI and machine learning continues to drive personalization algorithms, powerful opportunities for marketers will open up.”


6. Utilize timed, behavior-triggered messaging. “Behavior triggered messaging is proven to increase web lead conversion. Set up a great offer and determine when and where it will appear.”


7. Ask consumers what they want. “With the ability to customize, ask clients what they want. Giving the client the ability to opt-in to list segmentation makes them more apt to receive messages and helps us understand who they are and what they want.”


Bilbruck concludes, “Advertising and personalization efforts not only aren’t required to be creepy, they absolutely shouldn’t be. We know that personalization is the future of marketing efforts in terms of effectiveness. But in order to be the most effective (and continuing to have access to that level of personal data), we have to treat it responsibly. Taking extra time to know your audience will help you contribute to your organization’s bottom line and contribute to the marketing ecosystem being more responsible overall.”


[1] Derek Baker and Matt Egol, “Targeted marketing campaigns are the key to capturing the at-home consumer,” Strategy + Business, 20 August 2020.
[2] Aamer Hussain, “5 Reasons You Must Include Targeted Marketing In Your Strategy And How To Get Started,” Star of Mysore, 20 October 2020.
[3] Rosalyn Page, “How Nestlé developed its personalisation at scale strategy,” CMO, 1 October 2020.
[4] Danielle Bilbruck, “How to Make Your Personalized or Targeted Advertising Less Creepy,” Search Engine Journal, 22 October 2020.
[5] Forbes Communication Council, “13 Absolute Don’ts When Crafting A Personalized Marketing Campaign,” Forbes, 27 October 2020.
[6] Forbes Communication Council, “12 Creative Personalization Tactics That Won’t Creep Your Customers Out,” Forbes, 24 October 2020.