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Don’t be creepy when you personalize


The WSJ had a little piece today on personalization – Personalized Emails Are Creepy, Not Effective based on a study done some time ago but still very relevant in today’s market where companies are being told to personalize (including by me). Here are three quotes I think summarize the problem:

[there is a negative] response to highly personalized messages when the fit between the offer in the message and consumers’ personal characteristics is not explicitly justified by firms.

this effect primarily emerges for consumers who perceive the utility of the service to be
relatively low.

responses of consumers who have not yet been convinced of a firm’s value proposition (i.e., consumers with lower utility perceptions) to highly targeted personalization efforts depend importantly on the extent to which these messages are perceived to be justified.

Clearly this study shows that you can creep people out if you over personalize, especially if the value of the personalization does not seem high and you don’t explain yourself. There is also some research, for which I don’t have a link, that suggests timing matters too – too quick a response to an event creeps people out (though too slow is useless).

To make sure your personalization is not creepy, remember:

  • Utility
    Use personalization to do something useful for your customer. Offer them a deal that they will value, point them to something useful, be valuable in some way. This has to be a two way street – it can’t just be good for you, it must be good for them too.
  • Relevance
    Don’t use personal information in irrelevant communications. Stick to the purpose of the communication. If someone has signed up for new, use it to deliver the news they want not to make offers. If they have signed up for offers, use it to make offers. If you are confirming their registraiton of a product, use it to help them find the right support forum, information sources etc.
  • Justification
    Explain yourself. Show them it is reasonable – don’t just say “rent these movies” say “people like you enjoyed these movies, perhaps you would too” or something.
  • Take your time
    Don’t rush things – this is about building a relationship. Build up the personalization gradually – learn, adapt, engage slowly. Jumping in feet-first will creep people out.

Do personalize, don’t be creepy.


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