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Make Personalized Email Feel Comfortable, Not Creepy

January 13, 2014
By Willie Myers

don%27t make email creepyPersonalized email allows marketers to thrive in an era of big data and dynamic content. For all of its potential, though, email personalization sometimes gets a bad rap.

In a recent survey of U.S. and U.K. online consumers, The Economist uncovered many personalized email recipients find the method “annoying” and “superficial.” Some marketers don’t feel great about it, either. We noted in an earlier post that 60 percent say they struggle to personalize content. 

The anxiety on both sides appears to arise from the same issue: How much email personalization is too much? There are ways for marketers to strike a savvy balance and leverage data without overwhelming email recipients.

Don’t Show Off

Back in 2004, a Banta Corp. report claimed personalized email recipients respond positively to seven or more intuitive components. But plenty has changed in nine years. Today’s recipients are more knowledgeable about big data and, therefore, more guarded about their privacy. 

“If your entire email template contains six or seven instances of personalization, then recipients might feel like you hold too much of their information (even if you do hold quite a bit),” says Comm100 President and CEO Kevin Gao. “Two or three personalization features is about the maximum.”

Personalization, like any marketing effort, fails when high volume leads to recipients’ disregard, explains Fast Company’s Shawn Graham. “If you saturate and over-stimulate customers with messaging, they are going to reach a point where it all becomes white noise.” 

Always Weigh the Risk

The common sense rules of an interpersonal conversation apply to personalized email discretion as well. When you know something extremely personal about your conversation partner—for example, knowing a teen girl is pregnant before her father does— you usually wait for the person to disclose that information before you acknowledge it. That’s how Godiva’s Mahender Nathan draws the line between comfortable and creepy.

“In conversation, if you think it’s odd that you know something about someone that they didn’t share with you, don’t use it,” Nathan tells The New York Times

Neuromarketing’s Roger Dooley encourages marketers to perform a simple risk-assessment. “Ask yourself, ‘How could this go wrong?’” Dooley says. 

Know the Audience

One interesting data point that often informs a person’s willingness to receive personalized content is their age. Younger audiences are more likely to feel comfortable with big data and targeted messaging. A recent JWT survey of U.S. and U.K. consumers reveals that 74 percent of Millennials tolerate personalized messages if they lead to relevant offers, whereas only 68 percent of Gen Xers and 50 percent of Baby Boomers share their sentiment.

In addition to considering these tips, it’s important to start your personalization efforts on the foundation of good, solid data. With TowerData Email Intelligence services, you can acquire the data you need to make the right impression with your subscribers. Get a free test of TowerData Email Intelligence services today to see how we can maximize the value of your list.

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Photo Credit: John Lee Maverick

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