Rule 1: Don’t Creep Out Your Clients

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker

All personalization is good personalization, right? Using customer data in your marketing always makes customers happy and increases the chances that they will respond, right?


Customers’ private data is sensitive information. It can be used to create engagement and affinity. But it can also be used to create mistrust and drive customers away.

We recently heard a story about an instance where personalization went wrong—horribly wrong. It’s a little spicy, but the “heat” drives home just how important this distinction can be.

A woman decided to be adventurous one day. For the first time, she ventured into an online store selling adult products. A few items caught her eye, so she placed an order to be sent to her post office box. After all, she didn’t want her adventure tipped off to the neighbors.

Her package arrived and all was well. That is, until she went to the mailbox at her home a few weeks later and discovered a full-color, glossy postcard with her name emblazoned across the top. “Hey, Julie! Your Next Order 10% OFF!”

We can only assume that she never ordered from that company again.

For personalization to be successful, you must understand who your customers are, why they are ordering, and how to use their personal data to increase the likelihood that they will buy from you again. Sometimes this means letting your customers know that you are tracking their buying habits. Sometimes it doesn’t.

For certain products you will be more successful using customer data simply to present them with more relevant products in a timely way. You don’t have to say, “Bob, last time you bought THIS. Why don’t you buy THAT?” Just send a mailer with products you know, based on past ordering history, they are most likely to buy.

Recipients don’t always need to know you are tracking them, and sometimes it’s best if they don’t. Good personalization includes knowing the difference.

Just What is Acceptable These Days?
Pitney Bowes polled 6,000 consumers across the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France to clarify what customers expect and desire from interactions with businesses, and which interactions irritate them the most. According to the poll:

  • Customer satisfaction surveys were perceived as an acceptable practice by 75% of those questioned.
  • 74% of consumers welcomed a monthly offer sent to them via postal mail.
  • 59% said they appreciate online personalization on websites (e.g., “Welcome, Jane”), which means that 41% are probably creeped out or annoyed by it.

“Every interaction must honor the interests of the customer first,” says Pitney Bowes Vice President of Corporate Marketing Dan Kohn. “Each conversation between a brand and a customer is an opportunity to delight or disappoint. We’re all learning how to do more of the former and less of the latter.”


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