When Personal Marketing Gets Too Personal

inbound-marketing, personal-boundaries, marketing-boundaries, using-big-data-wiselyOne of the major shifts in marketing over the last few years is that customers control more of the marketing messaging they receive. Instead of businesses pushing out a message that they want customers to hear, customers (by virtue of the way they search for information) are telling businesses what they want to know. That’s really what’s at the heart of what we call inbound marketing: giving customers the information they’re looking for.

Smart businesses now listen to their customers and shape their marketing messages to reflect their customers’ interests. And if a website is set up properly, it can collect information about your customers and prospects that will help you provide them with helpful information. But using this data should be done very carefully.

There is a fine line between collecting information and making people feel as if you’re prying into their private lives. In the retail world some stores are using mannequins with built-in cameras to track shoppers’ patterns. Store owners are able to observe how long shoppers linger over a particular display, which items they select and what impact pricing has on selection. Some customers are very uncomfortable with this—and some retailers are refusing to pursue this kind of tracking because they feel it invades the privacy of their clientele.

How can you collect valuable information without getting too personal? How can you accumulate data without making people feel like they’re being manipulated? Here are some guidelines that can help.

  • Don’t collect more information than you need. People get nervous when you ask for too much information. If you don’t need to know something, don’t ask for it.
  • Be careful how you use personal information in your messaging. It can be a good thing to acknowledge someone’s interests, but you don’t want people to feel like you’re stalking them. It’s OK to suggest that if they bought X they many be interested in Y. But it’s not OK to say, “You spent $342 with us last month (and by the way, are you still a size 12?).
  • Tell people how their information will be used. Assure people that you will not sell or give their names away, and that you won’t hound them with sales pitches. Make it clear that they can unsubscribe at any time.
  • Use personal information for your customer’s benefit—not yours. Use the information you gather to offer customers help in achieving their goals or meeting their needs. That will help establish you as a trusted partner and will generate loyalty. If people feel like you’re using their information to get more out of them, they’ll leave you in a heartbeat.

Always deliver value. If someone gives you something of value (their name and email address) always make sure you reciprocate. And if they give you something of more value (additional information), you should also provide something of more value. There are times when asking for more information is appropriate. But more detailed information should be compensated with something more valuable in return.