How To Use Data In Your Marketing Without Being Creepy

By eleventy marketing group

Make your data marketing more effective by eliminating the creepsThis time of year, with Halloween right around the corner, people like to be given the creeps. That’s why we go to horror movies and haunted houses. But there’s one place people should never leave creeped out: your marketing.

Unfortunately crossing the creepy line is one of the dangers of using data for marketing personalization. Use data right and people feel like you understand their individual needs and wants; use it wrong and people will feel like you’re stalking them serial-killer style. It’s a tough balancing act but an absolutely necessary one.

In today’s post, we’ll explain what makes marketing step over the personal line and provide some valuable advice to help you avoid giving people the data creeps with your marketing.

Defining the Fine Line Between Personal and Too Personal

Undoubtedly, there’s great value in data for nonprofits and businesses. It helps you hone in on what’s relevant to individuals. That means giving people more of what they want and less of what they don’t want; speaking to their unique tastes and preferences. That’s good for organizations and customer/donors alike.

But by trying to be too personal, by trying too hard to inform people how much they “understand” them, many organizations have inadvertently alienated customers and donors. They’ve crossed the line from helpful to creepy. And once you cross the line you can never go back.

In the article “Don’t Be Creepy, and Other Ways to Make Data-Driven Marketing Effective” the author, Katrina Lerman, Senior Researcher at Communispace, helps define this fine line:

“Welcome to the ‘uncanny valley’. The term comes from robotics professor Masahiro Mori, who described how people react positively to increasingly humanlike representations, until the point at which they get too close to a real human being, when they suddenly become repulsive. It’s this phenomenon that makes zombies and clowns give us the heebie-jeebies.”

In a FundRaising Success blog post describing a particularly off-putting personalized marketing email, Angie Moore, Vice President of Strategy and Development at Eleventy, provides this essential tip for organizations that boils down what too many organizations do wrong:

“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.”

That really defines the moment when marketing crosses the line from personal to too personal. If the personalization makes people conjure images of someone from your company staring in their window (instead of focusing on the message or offer), you’re doing something wrong.

6 Tips to Keep Your Data-Driven Marketing from Being Creepy

In order to stay north of the creepy line with your marketing, keep these top tips in mind:

1. Actions Not Attributes

You may target audiences based on specific attributes like age, gender, income, family, etc. But there’s no need to directly mention that in your marketing content. Nothing creeps people out more than organizations ticking off things they know about them. So don’t include content like “We know you are a divorced woman in your 50s…”. Give people actions to take based on their attributes without recapping their attributes for them.

2. Sidestep the Specifics

You may think by making your information as specific as possible, you are being more personal. But you are probably just being more creepy. A couple examples: “Since you recently purchased a yellow size-six dress…”; “We see you donated $50 to Organization on October 5…”. The “yellow” and “size-six” are unnecessary. So are the donation amount and date. The excess detail only serves to create the impression you are watching with binoculars and taking a lot of notes.

3. Show Don’t Tell

This goes along as a companion to the last two points. Instead of telling people what you know about them, show them by providing useful resources or valuable recommendations. Spend less time crafting a message telling people how much you “know them” and more time identifying offers they may be interested in based on what you know about them. They’ll get the message without being creeped out.

4. Avoid the Kids

Rule of thumb: Avoid mentioning people’s children in your marketing. Don’t use names. Don’t use their ages. People can deal with you collecting information about them, but no parent wants to think you are watching or collecting info on their children. You can mention “your family” or make recommendations. But don’t get specific about children. *The blog post from Angie Moore referenced above provides a prime example of this.

5. Understand Your Audience

The lines between what people consider personal and “too personal” vary greatly by demographics like age. While Millennials have grown up in the age of personalization, it’s a whole new ball game for people in their 60s. Recognize those key differences and take them into account. With certain demographics you may need to pull back with the personalization or maybe even eliminate it to be more effective.

6. Know Your Role

Unless you have actually met and spoken with the person, don’t try to replicate that level of acquaintance. Stay out of the “uncanny valley”. Trying to falsely manufacture intimacy using data points is an immediate red flag. It gives people the shivers. Don’t ask someone how a parent or child is doing. Don’t infer things about people’s lives from their purchases. Be a helpful resource and a trusted partner. Don’t try to oversell yourself as a personal friend.

Be Practical and Precise with Your Marketing Personalization

While data marketing done well can drive action and create stronger customer/donor relationships, using data poorly can compel the opposite response.

What happens when that personalized email gets your name wrong? Trash can if your lucky, spam folder if you’re not. What happens when you send a mail piece based on the assumption someone is pregnant? Controversy and customer mistrust.

The bottom line: Tread carefully with your data-driven marketing. Make sure you keep the human at the other end in mind at all times. Don’t send your customers and donors running in terror.

Need help analyzing and implementing data for more effective marketing? Start a conversation with the data marketing pros at eleventy today.