When Personalization Goes Too Far
Gosh, for years I have been trumpeting the value of personalization and how important it is to securing the relationship. Knowing who your constituents are and what they have been doing with your brand is so critical to cementing loyalty. But sometimes it can go too far based on how you chose to use that information. In fact, sometimes it can be downright creepy.
Yes, it is true. I have had to look my advice straight in the eyes and have been repelled with horror because someone used my information inappropriately. This really happened to me …
For years I have used a specific food delivery service in Atlanta. I will refrain from naming names because this is not a feedback forum — but I have always been very impressed with its service and even with its communication. Well, that changed two weeks ago …
Typically the "after order" communication is a two-part strategy:
- Thank-you email with its commitment to service, quality and timeliness
- One-question survey (something else I always promote) to find out how my delivery was and then another question at the very end about me ordering again.
All good things.
Well, two weeks ago I was literally creeped out. Yes, in my business blog I just used the phrase "creeped out." According to my computer, "creeped" is not even a word, but I'm still going to use it.
Here's what happened. The backstory is that I had ordered from a gourmet burrito cantina for me and my 8-year-old son. In the online system, I had indicated that one of the items was for my kid, which I typically do to make sure the services really takes me seriously when I say "nothing green — no lettuce, no cilantro" on that particular burrito. This information is captured in the small "other comments" section underneath each item your order.
Well, the next week I got a personal note in the mail written on this company's notecards. Here is what the note said:
Whatever kid got a Super Burrito for dinner is a heckuva lot luckier than I was when I was younger. I was practically malnourished. If my family took me to a Mexican place, I'd probably be forced to get one lettuce taco. Like I said, lucky kid got a Super Taco. I'm still not over it. Hope y'all enjoyed!!
I was immediately bothered for so many reasons …
- I think it is an inappropriate note all together — and the fact that it references not only the product I ordered but that is was for my kid seems to cross the line.
- The product details are wrong. He calls it a burrito in the first sentence and then a taco in the second sentence. I mean, come on, there are only four sentences on the entire note.
- The comparison to his childhood eating dynamic was out of place to me. In fact, I couldn't figure out if he was just venting about his childhood (not what I want to hear) or was actually saying I was being too nice to my kid by ordering him a Super Burrito (i.e., "luckier than me," "I'm still not over it," etc.).
So, let's say it again — don't cross the line on personalization. It can go too far. It can be creepy. Use these as guidelines for personalization strategies:
- Use some common sense (clearly missing in the above).
- Think of yourself as the recipient of the personalization, and use your own thought or those of your team as a good yardstick of being too "close." This can easily be different based on your product, your service or the mission you have.
- Do not use personal information unless it advances your marketing or is a way to show the benefit of your services/mission/offer to the recipient. The reference to my child seems a bit too close to my privacy and has nothing to do with an offer. If the company had wanted to tell me that kids menu items are free on a certain day or reduced in pricing if combined with a normal meal, then it certainly would make sense to reference that I ordered for a child.
- Don't share your story unless it is a part of the mission or a future offer you intend to send later to that constituent. If your story is designed to create alignment with you and your constituent, that's great, but make sure you spend more time on the recipient and not you. Remember, you are building the relationship with your donors/customers so make it about them and your brand's connection to helping them, fulfilling a need or creating a benefit.
- Lastly, DON'T BE CREEPY. You don't ever want to send your constituent down the thought process of "how do they know that" in a negative way. Based on my personal example above, every time I fill out the "other comments" section I will now feel like my information is in the hands of people who … well … are just creepy.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.