I’m often asked where the dividing line is between ‘smart’ marketing - that understands users as individuals and anticipates their needs - and ‘creepy’ marketing that over-steps the line and feels invasive.
Some are surprised by my usual answer to this question: as long as marketing remains relevant and helpful, there is no line, and there’s no such thing as being ‘too creepy’.
I’ll explain why I believe that’s the case in a moment, but first let’s ensure we all understand a few caveats when it comes to privacy. Most importantly, in case it needs to be stated again: what is really ‘creepy’ is when personal information relating to an individual is shared with organizations and entities who have not been granted access to that data.
By taking that approach, we are not just ensuring that there is no ‘purposeful’ sharing of data, we’ve done everything we can to avoid any form of data security breach. Because as stated above, that’s what end users really care about.
So What About Personalization?
However, when it comes to the charge that consumers may find ever more sophisticated marketing to be ‘creepy’, I am an unashamed skeptic. Does the average member of the public get upset when the cute girl or guy behind the counter at their favorite sandwich shop remembers their name and order? Or when a coffee shop acknowledges our loyalty by comping us our regular latte? Of course not.
Think of the conversations we have with each other. In every case, what we say or do is prompted and informed by countless prior interactions (verbal and non-verbal) that enable us to say just the right thing at the right time. Creepy? I don’t think so. Effective? Absolutely.
Even in the tech world, there is no clear evidence that users have an issue with sharing data - as long as that data is used to provide an improved, more personal service. Take Facebook as the most obvious example. Although that service has enjoyed more than its fair share of scandals and controversies in the past, it currently enjoys 1.44 billion monthly active users. Is it really sensible to claim that success like this is possible in a world where users are scared of personalized, relevant messaging? I don’t think so.
Instead, I think it is clear that users will share data (and plenty of it) as long as:
- There’s a clear, obvious benefit to us for doing so
- The people we share it with use the data only for that reason, and
- That data is treated with care and respect
So look at this the other way. Great marketing, truly relevant marketing, is what will separate the mobile winners of tomorrow from those who don’t make it. The smartphone is the most personal, ubiquitous communication channel yet - or until Apple Watch at least. If your marketing on that channel isn’t informed by a genuine 360 degree view of the user, if it isn’t truly helpful, then you are fast going to become persona non grata in that environment.
Don’t let that happen to you: invest in understanding your users, and invest in delivering what they want, when they want it. It’s a strategy with a winning record.