The Power and the Pitfalls of Personalized Marketing

Nearly every single time I read an article about personalization, is brought up. I’ve even done it.

It’s easy to see why. The company is a master of personalization, making it easier than ever for you to buy all the things you never knew you needed.

It works so well that 35 percent of Amazon’s sales come from recommendations.

Now that is impressive.

Now that I’ve become one of the articles that starts off talking about Amazon, let’s talk about what really makes personalization tick.


Data – The Foundation of Personalization

2015 was pronounced the year of personalization. While that may have no quite been the case, it definitely was the year that personalization hit the bulk of the marketing world.

But many companies were not able to actually produce personalized content the way they wanted in that first year.

So, this is the year of data, where companies learn to take all the data they’ve started collecting and pushing out results in the form of personalization.

There are three main types of data that are related to personalization:

  • Demographic Data – This is the stuff that helps you identify who your customers are. Think age, gender, location, as well as factors like marital status, number of children and income. These are the things behind the purchases that you can hopefully customize.
  • Behavioral Data – This area covers what products your customers view and what they buy. For us in B2B, it can also include pieces of content that the prospect viewed before inevitably becoming a customer.
  • Brand Interaction – Learning how the prospect engages with your brand. This can be tracking them as they move about your website or seeing if they open your emails. It can also cover other factors, including how the prospect got to your website or if they engage with your social media channels.

So how can you use this data? Here are some forms that personalization takes.


Personalization in Practice

Hubspot loves to write about personalization. They noticed that when they targeted their call-to-action to the user they would see 42% higher view-to-submission rate. This is for quite a few different reasons, including:

  • Sift Through the Unwanted

    There is a ridiculous amount of content out there. That means that when your prospects are looking for a potential solution to their problems, they would actually prefer a personalized recommendation simply so they don’t need to metaphorically pan for gold. You provide them with a solution that they find reasonable and suddenly they don’t need to search for a solution any longer.

  • Desire for Control

    Most people want some measure of control over their experience in buying a product or navigating a website. When people have their experience tailored to their interests or even if they just perceive that the experience has been tailored, they will have a more positive experience, ultimately taking a prospect and transforming them into a customer.

  • People Love Hearing Their Names

    One of the easiest ways to get someone to like you more in a conversation is to say their name occasionally throughout a conversation. It makes different parts of a person’s brain light up when they hear their name, so it follows that using a prospect’s name throughout the personalization experience will have a positive impact.

But if someone says it too often, especially if you don’t know them, it can have a negative effect.


The Downfall of Personalization

It’s creepy.

And we know it. We can dress it up anyway we want but personalization is taking information that our customers may not even realize we have, then dressing it up to change their experience so they’ll buy more.

It sounds a lot more sinister when you put it that way, huh?

Make sure you are taking some of the following steps to ensure that your personalization efforts seem more like a tailored experience instead of a watchful big brother.


Stand in Their Shoes

You’ve probably felt uncomfortable with the amount of information that a brand knew about you. Maybe it was just that eerie feeling of starting to research a product, then a display advertisement shows up on your Facebook feed. Now channel that feeling. If it feels less like customization and more like stalking, then maybe you should try a different tact to your personalization.


Don’t Jump to Conclusions

If you take all data at face value, you risk catching a potential customer in a loop of irrelevant information. Say a teenager was browsing on my computer. You would keep flashing advertisements for marketing products at them, but those advertisements are utterly mistargeted. You need to be careful to not assume in your efforts to personalize that someone doesn’t get stuck in a personalized set of information that doesn’t pertain to them.

Make sure that you give users an option to correct this, like Amazon does with the “This is a gift” option and the ability to remove pieces of your buying history from predictions.



Cookies are the creepiest and best way to collect information about your customers, but it definitely is the most intrusive feeling. I remember seeing a notice on my display for the first time when I was in England about cookies being on the website I was browsing. I appreciated the heads up and so will your customers when you come back with more information about them then they ever thought possible. It’s just a courteous thing to do.


Lack of Trust

The truth is that while they may want to buy your products, the consumer probably doesn’t trust you. So when you send them heavily targeted suggestions for products they would be interested, research says that they aren’t as likely to buy that product because they think you set them up. Users prefer coming to their own conclusions and “discovering” a product on their own (even if you set it up so they would discover the deal).

There are so many factors that go into personalization and the lines are very fine between what works and what is heavily off-putting. Ever have an email arrive in your inbox with your name on it from a company you’ve never heard of? That’s what can happen when personalization crosses boundaries. Toe the line and make your customer’s experiences more awesome and less creepy.



Are you a fan of personalization? Think it’s too much? Let us know in the comments section.


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