When Highly-Targeted Marketing Turns Highly-Creepy: How to Use Data Respectfully - TechnologyAdvice
November 20, 2019

When Highly-Targeted Marketing Turns Highly-Creepy: How to Use Data Respectfully

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Tags: Marketing

When was the first time you realized tech companies were listening to your data so they could “personalize marketing” to you?

I remember mine clearly.

I was standing in my violin teacher’s living room, talking about running while booking my next lesson into my phone’s calendar. She suggested compression socks, as they helped her deal with foot pain and swelling.

Later that evening, while scrolling through Instagram, I received the first of many display ads from Amazon for compression socks. A product I probably had never discussed, and definitely had never searched on Amazon.

A Wayfair customer’s similar experience recently went viral on Twitter:

Most of us know that websites are tracking our movements and maybe using that data to help inform their marketing. But using that information to call directly while someone is searching your site? That’s creepy.

While many of us are now used to retargeting ads that show up after we visit a consumer website—and often even after purchasing said product—most of us tend to shrug off these forms of personalized marketing. Those of us in or close to the MarTech space often understand that data is what we trade for useful, entertaining, and free apps.

But data aggregation and highly targeted marketing can still cross the line from highly-personalized to highly-creepy. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate: don’t be creepy. That’s easy to say, but how do we define the creep-line, so we don’t cross it? And how can marketers take advantage of customer behavior and intent data to sell more and give more personal experiences without scaring away customers? This article covers both those topics.

When does highly-targeted and highly-personalized advertising become creepy?

Remember the Bloody Mary game that kids play? They lock themselves in the bathroom and say Bloody Mary (or Candyman, if you believe the movie) three times to make her ghost appear in the mirror. The reason the game terrifies children is the thought of someone looking back at you when you think you’re alone.

Don’t be Bloody Mary in the mirror, looking back at the buyer. Online shoppers prefer to browse solo and guide their own experience—and many people shop online to avoid talking to a salesperson. Many of today’s buyers feel like interaction with a salesperson is an express ticket to a high-pressure pitch. By showing up uninvited, you can startle the buyer and do harm to your brand. Unwelcome personalization can feel like a violation of trust, and can ultimately drive customers away.

What line should marketers toe?

If it feels icky, don’t do it. Put yourself in the buyer’s position. What are all the reasons the buyer could be looking at your site? So many of a buyer’s actions on your site are educational or research-focused. Hitting them with a highly-personalized sales pitch is a waste of your time and could damage your brand.

You may have the power to assume the customer’s identity, but unless they’ve offered up the information to you, do not presume you know who they are. Cookies and IP addresses do not a positive ID make.

Instead, use that information to come up with a comprehensive lead score so you can do highly-personalized nurture marketing.

When is it okay to show the customer your tracking capability hand, and when should you play those cards close to your chest?

When the customer raises their hand and identifies themselves, you can show your hand.

Don’t reach out until you’re certain that they’re interested in your product. Use lead scoring in addition to all the data you collect to make sure that the person researching your brand is an individual person who is looking to make a purchase. Many of us spend most of our days online, but we spend very little of that time making purchase decisions.

And when a lead identifies themselves through a lead form, newsletter subscription, or a chat with your support bot, ask them why they’re interested in your lead assets. Maybe they are just interested in your educational documents for education’s sake, but you can’t know this until you ask them. While it might make your user experience (UX) designer faint, consider adding another question to your lead form that asks for user intent.

Question: “Why are you interested in this asset?”

Possible Answers:

  • I’m looking for more information on how to use an ATS
  • I want to use my current ATS better
  • I’m interested in upgrading my ATS
  • I’m a bot
  • I want to talk to someone from sales about your product

Questions like these can help everyone. Salespeople don’t end up calling leads before they’re ready, marketing knows who accesses the documents they produce, and UX gets a useful question in their form. Best of all, these questions build trust with the customer. They can ask for what they need without fear of signing up for months of sales harassment (not that any of us would do that, of course).

When in doubt, stay hidden. If you don’t know exactly who the website user is, and they haven’t volunteered identifying information and an intent to purchase, you should hold back and continue to nurture through the information you already have. If you have IP addresses, you can purchase IP-targeted ads, send direct mail to the company as a whole, or even try some ABM campaigns via email, if you can find the email addresses that match job descriptions. We’ll get into more of these ideas in the next section.

What you shouldn’t do, however, is make assumptions regarding a user’s identity or intent. Use the data you have available to you, ask good questions when you have the chance, and market respectfully from afar rather than rise up out of the bushes unannounced like some creep-o.

don't be this guy

But let’s end on a high note, shall we?

Things you can do with all that data you collect and intent data you purchase

While we can’t stress non-creepy behavior enough, you can use customer and website visitor information to do nurture marketing that improves your brand awareness and lets the user come to you:

  • Run retargeting ads to keep your product top of mind. Retargeting has an end-date (usually, if you’re smart), which gives the individual plenty of time to show interest.
  • If you manage to get their email address through a lead form, send an email campaign with informative content that’s targeted to the pages and topics they’ve already shown interest in on your site.
  • Use customer data in combination with IP address and company account data in your CRM to get a fuller picture of their intent behavior. Combine intent data and behavioral data for a complete lead score.

However you choose to interact with your website users, remember that behavioral data and purchased intent data don’t generally show a buyer’s readiness to purchase on its own. This type of data can be used as a brand awareness signal that you can grow over time into a relationship.

At TechnologyAdvice, we help marketers understand the types of leads and customer data they purchase, and we offer individualized training for each of our lead customers. Learn more about our lead partnerships today.