The Marketer’s Paradox: “Personalization vs. Privacy”

cool to creepy

By: Scott Robinson

Marketers today are faced with the challenge of providing customers with the relevant and personalized brand experiences they demand, while alleviating their concerns about privacy and the ways their personal information will be used.

In a recent national loyalty study, we (Maritz Loyalty Marketing) asked over 6,000 consumers about their experience in, and satisfaction with, loyalty programs.  We learned, among other things, that 94% of loyalty program members want to receive communications from the programs in which they participate, yet only 53% of members describe the communications they receive as personalized and relevant.

We also found that there is a link between member satisfaction and the extent to which members find brand communications relevant. Ironically, the very customer information that marketers need to capture in order to create a tailored and delightful experience for their customers is the very information that their customers are increasingly worried about providing.  The ‘personalization vs. privacy’ paradox in action.

Our study also yielded significant insight into how consumers feel about the way in which their personal information is being used by marketers and front-line staff.  Consumers told us the things they find “cool and exciting”, as well as the things they find “creepy and weird”.  We were surprised that the percent of consumers concerned about privacy is the same across all age demographics (i.e., we expected younger consumers to be less concerned). What we discovered, however, is that the level of concern about the specific ways in which customer information is used varies considerably across age demographics.

If the ways in which customer information is used is deemed ‘cool and exciting’ by one customer and at the same time ‘creepy and weird’ by a different customer, what should marketers do?

Consider the experience of a frequent-stay hotel guest, who at the time of check-in does not have to re-state their preference for a non-smoking room, a king-sized bed, and a room located away from the elevators; their check-in is expedited because their preferences were conveniently kept on file and made available to the front desk staff.  Cool or creepy?

Consider the experience of a patient filling a drug prescription, during which the pharmacist is able to access and review the patient’s prescription history and is able to advise the patient about a possible negative drug interaction.  Cool or creepy?

Consider the experience of a first-time customer of an apparel retailer.  Upon check-out, the customer learns from the sales associate that she is getting a 10% instant discount because a high percentage of her friends ‘like’ the retailer on Facebook.  Cool or creepy?

Only your customers can tell you what they really think.

Here are our thoughts:

Be transparent and forthcoming.

Tell your customers what info you intend to capture, how it will be used and who will be able to see this information and then ask them for their permission. If your customers know what to expect – and agree – you are setting the stage for relevant interactions that can bring you closer together.

Check back often.

Don’t presume that customers will always feel the same way as they do right now. Check in with them periodically to confirm that their settings still reflect their preferences. That way you’ll make them feel connected, not forgotten or pestered. Also, customer sentiments evolve. While customers may no longer want what they once did, they may also be open to things they originally rejected. Technology permeates and influences consumers’ lives at a rapid pace, creating new possibilities for marketers and front-line staff. What consumers once saw as unacceptable may become something they are now comfortable with. Remember how daring it seemed to share personal information on social media, and how commonplace it has become? Get in touch periodically to make sure your customers still feel the way they used to.

Honor the social contract.

As a colleague of mine on our research team often says, honor the social contract, not the legal contract. Privacy laws and opt-in agreements set out certain obligations and expectations for the way you communicate with your customers, but they only establish the outside parameters. Your customers took a leap of faith when they chose to engage with you; don’t disappoint them, wear out your welcome or impose on them. If you do, you will affirm their concerns and damage your relationship with them. Instead, take every opportunity to show yourself worthy of their trust and their attention, prove you are looking out for their best interests, and then take every opportunity to delight and amaze them.  THAT is what they are hoping for when they share information with you.

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3 Comments on “The Marketer’s Paradox: “Personalization vs. Privacy””

  • interest data June 14th, 2013 9:25 am

    the post is really nice. helped me to increase my knowledge. thanks a lot for sharing such an nice post.

  • Stacia Rubinovich November 7th, 2013 3:13 pm

    I do believe that transparency and permission play huge roles in where an initiative lands on the “cool to creepy” spectrum. I’ve come to expect that my pharmacist has access to all my files, and that he/she will use it to check for interactions and other potential problems. I personally don’t want anyone accessing my list of Facebook friends, but if I did give permission for a company to do so to make better recommendations, I’d think they were pretty cool if they delivered.

  • Tom Eicholtz November 21st, 2013 11:58 am

    I’m a print professional and sell Data Driven Print solutions. It’s all about using what you know to create a better experience for the recipient and the desired followup action.

    Now for my question. After buying a new car I received an auto manufacturer satisfaction survey from Maritz. Why didn’t it use personalized data to make it a better experience?

    It was a daunting task to complete on paper with what looked to be hundreds of questions in small font. And, the online survey still took 30 minutes because known data was not incorporated.

    The company I work for provides these print solutions, so I might be a little sensitive to noticing when something could be improved. But the end result is the same. If a communication fails to make a connection with the recipient, they will not participate. (I did because I was interested. It was addressed to my wife who almost threw it away when she opened it up.)

    Use the data, make an appropriate connection, make it easy to complete the desired action. That’s my 3 basic guidelines when considering data driven print.