What to do to avoid the creepy data line

There’s a very fine line between being relevant and being creepy. But how do you find out where that line is?

As consumers, we’re well accustomed to ads from brands ‘following’ us around the Internet, and brands using information we’ve volunteered – or they have gathered – to offer us products and services we may be interested in.  

Suggestions of products we have purchased in the past and haven’t put in our virtual supermarket cart today are useful, if not sometimes a cause for self-reflection. However, there’s a very, very fine line between being useful and relevant, and being downright creepy. And, unfortunately, it seems in Australia we’re crossing that line way too often.  

According to a survey by customer experience management vendor, InMoment, of 500 consumers and 500 brands in Australia, 70 per cent of consumers found online advertising creepy. That’s worrying in itself but, astonishingly, 40 per cent of brands admitted themselves their online marketing was creepy.  

Of course, where good targeting sits on the creep-ometer is often in the eye of the beholder. A brand knowing we have a significant life event coming up could be deemed useful by some and creepy by others.  

However, marketers need to figure this out for the sake of their brand. So, how can you deliver relevancy and personalisation without venturing anywhere near creepy, stalker territory?  

Be clear where your focus lies  

According to InMoment VP, Claire Fastier, the starting point for brands is to focus more on the customer.  

“Brands must engage in ‘intelligent conversation’ across the entire journey to understand how – and whether – their customers are getting real value, rather than declaring a successful customer engagement by open rates or conversion rates alone,” she tells CMO.

“It’s about how you communicate, not how much. Focus on the customers’ needs, interact with them on the channels they prefer, and address those needs.  

"In doing so, you will avoid crossing the creepy line."  

Of course, even for the same brand, different customers’ ‘creepy line’ will differ depending on many factors.   

“Creepy is definitely in the eye of the beholder,” Catch Group CMO, Ryan Gracie. “Being shown airline prices just after looking at holiday destinations can feel creepy or completely appropriate and helpful, that’s a determination in the minds of the audience.  

“As marketers, we are in the business of promoting a relevant product at the right time to the right person. This creates advertising spend efficiency but can also promulgate that creepy feeling, and it can be pushed too far in the eyes of the audience.”  

Gracie admits it’s hard for marketers to know where ‘too far’ actually is. “Knowing where to draw the line is difficult. Looking at conversion data allows marketers to control how often and for how long they target a cookie and can minimise wastage.”  

NAB GM of customer data and analytics, Patrick McQuaid,  believes you can’t set hard and fast rules about where that line is.  

“The reality is it's not on- size-fits-all,” he says. “You're going to find some people think something is perfectly acceptable and you're going to find other people think it's creepy.”  

The cons of a short-term approach  

The admittance from brands that they’re being creepy may also be symptomatic of a short-term approach, with some marketers chasing immediate results, sometimes to the detriment of the brand’s long-term health.   

“Brands are spending a disproportionate amount of effort and budget attempting to acquire new customers, often in ways that harm the longer-term opportunity,” Fastier says. “The days of treating customers as targets, as one-time transactions, are long behind us.  

“Brands need to become less obsessed with their metrics and focus on the meaning behind customer data and behaviours. Doing so requires moving away from treating customers as one time transactions and towards engaging with customers as partners. This shift ensures that the parties are co-creators of value for both sides of the relationship.”   

Gracie believes with the brands doing it well, customers are getting used to being targeted, and now have an expectation they’ll be served more useful and relevant content.  

“Consumers are either having to get used to being followed around and targeted,” he says, “Or they have never known any other way.  

“Retargeting and personalisation is normal practice and consumers, despite finding it creepy when first encountering it, are developing an unconscious expectation of receiving relevant and targeted content.”  

Creating a customer-centric approach  

To ensure you’re delivering relevancy without creepiness, brands need to take much more of a customer-centred approach. To do so needs ever-smarter technology, a long-term vision, and a strong helping of good old common sense.  

Key to customer centricity, says Fastier, is reframing your metrics of success.  

“I think brands need to change, or at least expand, how they measure success. An extremely effective way to encourage more customer-centred marketing strategies is to include metrics like customer satisfaction. Doing this increases the likelihood of your efforts being aligned with what customers value,” she says.    

In days gone by, focus groups were a marketing par-for-the-course, designed to increase the likelihood of your efforts being aligned with what customers value.  While some brands have ditched pre-campaign focus groups in favour of real-time feedback and learning, McQuaid believes focus groups – especially digital incarnations – hold significant value, particularly when you don’t have behavioural data to use.  

“Focus groups are pretty tried and true from a marketing perspective,” he says. “And online focus groups can be hugely valuable. You can sign up a cohort of customers that want to help you with things, and you can test ideas quickly.  

“Of course, you've got to recognise the customers who signed up for it probably have a higher tolerance than some of your other customers, just by the fact that they're willing to be involved, but it's the best proxy you have for your customers.”  

As well as having the right technology, research, systems and processes in place, McQuaid believes a big part of assessing where the creepy line is comes down to good old common sense.  

“You have to apply your own common sense as a human – if I can differentiate between a human and a marketer,” he continues. “You may have a goal, but you've also got to step back and ensure you are thinking about it from the customer's perspective.”  

Quite simply, if any part of your marketing effort looks, sounds or smells a bit creepy, it probably is. Fastier says there are three key questions for marketers to consider continually.  

“What are your customers’ emotional motivations? What do they prioritise? What matters most to them?” she asks. “Answer those and you’ll make customers feel cared for instead of creeped out.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

 

 

 

 

 

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