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When it comes to personalization, there is a fine line between creepy and delightful. Where are you?

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When it comes to personalization, there is a fine line between creepy and delightful. Where are you?

Do you want free eggs?


I do.


That’s why I gave Kroger, a regional grocery store, my phone number, mailing address, email, cell phone and probably more. In exchange, based on my buying habits, they send me coupons and sometimes I get free eggs.


I have a friend, from France, and he doesn’t care about free eggs. He prefers to pay a little more to not give out his data and lose that privacy.


And that’s okay, but as a marketing professional I think he is losing out, but he isn’t alone.


Now, when my Kroger direct mail arrives I know that it is customized to me and I open it. Personalization goes a long way to getting customers to open direct mail and email.  Take a look at these stats:

  • According to Aberdeen, personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14% and conversions by 10%.
  • eConsultancy found that 74% of marketers said targeted personalization increases customer engagement.
  • Campaign Monitor found that emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

I could go on and on and on about the success of personalization and segmentation, but I will save that for another post. Just know that it works, when used responsibly.


Now, have you noticed that when you go shopping online at Nordstrom, Joss and Main, and Amazon that ads for the products you were looking at show up in your Facebook feed and on other websites?


That’s called “retargeting” and it is actually frustrating a lot of consumers and it is thanks to cookies.


So when do we have too much information and where is the line on what we can and cannot use?


Harvard Business Review’s January- February 2018 issue has a feature article highlighting when marketers overstep in the advertising and targeting they create. I love data and being able to target the right people to be more effective and efficient with my clients’ advertising dollars, but there is a need to respect the privacy of others.


The article by Leslie K. John, Tami Kim, and Kate Barasz found that, “Interest in purchasing declines when consumers realize their information is being shared in ways they dislike.”


Let’s go back to my free eggs example. How do you know that you are okay sending me free eggs but that my friend isn’t okay with it and feels it is a misuse of his personal information?


The article highlights two things to think about when marketing to others:

  • Don’t talk about people behind their backs.
  • The more intimate the data is (sex, health and finances) the less comfortable people are with others knowing it.

My favorite and the one that I think can really get marketers thinking is the first one. In the article, they said:

“While people may be comfortable disclosing personal information directly (what scientists call “first-person sharing”), they may become uneasy when that information is passed along without their knowledge (what we term “third-party sharing). If you learned that a friend had revealed something personal about you to another, mutual friend, you’d probably be upset- even though you might have no problem with both parties knowing the information. “

They go on to cite two examples for online behavior that mimics what people aren’t comfortable with off line:

  • Obtaining information outside the website on which an ad appears, which is akin to talking behind someone’s back
  • Deducing information about someone from analytics, which is akin to inferring information

One of my favorite lines from the article is that “When it comes to personalized ads, there’s a fine line between creepy and delightful.”


They also provide 5 guidelines for digital marketers, but I recommend to always to put your customer first and create value for them. If you create with them in mind you have a much better chance of being successful overall.


This article was first published on our blog at

Kendra Corman