Personalization v. Privacy

We want certain people in our lives to REALLY know us and hopefully like (or love) us. It’s said that one of man’s greatest wishes is to be truly known and loved. And when asked by survey companies, we (the people) tend to tell them that we want “more personalized” marketing. In fact, a recent survey by Salesforce demonstrates that 84 percent of consumers say “being treated like a person, not a number,” is very important to winning their business.

But at what cost? This is the very tricky tightrope that marketing must walk in the coming years. We want to create personalized content just for you, but to do that we need information about you. And marketers do have a metric ton of this information, but so far, really don’t do the best job of creating this Holy Grail of personalized content. Why?

Honestly, because it’s more work, takes a lot more time and marketing is notoriously lazy. Why send a targeted blast when you can send that same thing to hundreds of thousands of people (because it’s free, right?) and hope for a 1-2 percent “conversion” rate. And of course, we don’t measure the cavalcade of individuals we’ve upset or annoyed along the way. We just measure the conversions.  

But in marketing, EVERYTHING counts. Every brand touch point, every letter on every piece of communication, every image, everything the CEO says (…or smokes in the case of Elon Musk). It ALL counts. And that is why building trusted brands is so damn difficult. Because you can do everything right for decades and blow the whole thing in a long weekend. We’ve seen it happen — yes, hello Chipotle, Bill Cosby, Papa John’s, Gibson, United Airlines, Nike, Facebook and definitely the NFL.  

And the federal and state governments are coming to shut down the modern advertising practices of “mining” your personal online data and using it to create ad content for you. Get ready — they are coming for the $750 billion ad powerhouse Google, the $600 billion behemoth Facebook (yes, Instagram too), the $1 billion Twitter and anyone else that has profited from these practices over the past 15 years or so.  

You see, the ad business is pretty much all automated now — there aren’t actual people deciding what you see and when and how often— there are algorithms determining what message will make you buy and convert you from a viewer to a profit center. And they’ll keep hitting you with that same message UNTIL you buy in a process clearly developed by Satan himself and known as “retargeting.”  Folks, there is nothing that will destroy the rest of your relationship-building marketing efforts than hitting them with the same ad over and over in a creepy and needy fashion. I mean I guess you could say that’s “personalized content” – you clicked on it, you were interested and so now we must have the right to just beat you over the head with it until you submit and buy. This is not real marketing and it’s not even human.

You know, sometimes I have an answer or two, but not so much on this topic. Every brand and company needs to think VERY carefully about how to balance the desire for personalized messages to your audience, the ever-evolving legal requirements to do it and what it might do to the relationship with your customer if/when you get it wrong.

And folks, there aren’t any algorithms that will be able to do that job. That’s all experience, intelligence, creativity and judgment — and of course taking the time out of our busy schedules to THINK about marketing before we actually do it. I realize that’s a lot to ask, but to me, marketing is very personal.