Personalization: How Can Brands Get Close To Consumers Without Being Creepy?

Organizations need to strike a balance


Historic revenue streams of media organizations have collapsed and as a result they have had to change strategies. Their focus has turned to creating new opportunities through the monetization of customer data. While this has allowed them to provide more personalized and targeted advertising and services, companies are increasingly coming under fire for seeming to take this too far.

At this year’s Cannes Festival, judges became uncomfortable when they found out that one of the entrants had intercepted Bluetooth signals between consumers’ phones and cars, while Google and Facebook have made headlines for their use of ad tracking. Consumers also often feel uncomfortable when they see how their data is being used; for example, if a hiking holiday is recommended on social media having just searched for it online.

However, some companies are taking steps to reduce such tracking in response to increasing public concerns. For example, Apple’s update to its Safari 11 web browser only lets third-party companies digitally follow people for 24 hours after they visit a website, while first-party firms must erase personal data if a consumer does not return to its website within 30 days.

Yet, many consumers feel frustrated if organizations of any kind deliver irrelevant deals, as this highlights that they do not understand them at all. When it comes to retail brands, for example, our recent research found that only 38% of UK shoppers believe businesses actually use personal data effectively, while 51% say that the offers they receive do not offer value and 56% claim the products are not relevant.

So, how can brands get the balance right between intrusion and personalization? Key to this is better understanding of customers’ attitudes to privacy, as well as making it clear how the data is being used. If customers understand that companies are collecting data to provide better services, then attitudes may change.

The new European General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR), which is being introduced in Spring 2018, will help formalise this and bring a more equitable balance between consumers and brands across the board. Although the legislation will permit media companies and advertisers to provide ever more personalized and targeted services based on deeper customer insights, they will need to prove they have consent from consumers to use personal data. They will also need to introduce clear courses of action for when information is used without consent being given, allow people to change their minds and provide the right to be forgotten.

A level of responsibility will also be put on the individual though. For example, when signing up to a website, they will need to make informed decisions about the personal information they are comfortable with sharing. Of course, this will largely depend on whether consumers actually take the time to read through T&Cs or instead, rush to sign up quickly to gain access to the content.

Whether the new EU GDPR will establish the right balance also depends on brands delivering advertising that is relevant, engaging and valued, rather than uninteresting, creepy and intrusive. Ultimately, if consumers feel as though they are being tracked, it means the advertiser has failed in creating the impact it is looking for; media companies and the brands they advertise all want to feel loved. And consumers buy from brands and organizations they like and trust. Advertisers should be sophisticated in how they use the consumer data they hold. This means targeting ads but in a timely manner so that they do not think their browsing history is being tracked. It also means not bombarding audiences with the same content and providing valuable ads such as those with personalized offers or competitions.

Content is also incredibly important. The better the ad, the more tolerant and receptive a person will be to it. Consumers will also share ad content on social media, provided it really resonates with them. Such shareable content is valuable – the ad is not perceived as intrusive because it is not directly targeting a person; they are viewing it via a trusted source or a friend. The rapid rise of blogger and vlogger influencers just goes to show how important it is to have this type of organic brand advocacy. They create a feeling of intimacy at scale and are trusted by their followers. Brands and advertisers should consider finding super-fans as another avenue of reaching consumers.

Meeting the expectations of UK consumers means managing data effectively. Communicating what data is required and the benefits delivered in return – such as tailored, relevant deals – will be vital to ensure consumers are willing to share personal data. They also need to make sure the content they are developing is relevant and look at different ways of organically targeting them, such as creating shareable content and seeking brand advocates. This will allow brands to reshape customer perceptions and relationships, boost engagement and ultimately drive profits.


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