3 Ways to Avoid Creepy Marketing Practices and Build Trust With Your Customers

Sometimes, too much personalization in marketing can feel a bit creepy.

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By Sanjay Castelino

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I recently visited a travel website when my family was considering a Hawaiian vacation. I did a little research and logged off after deciding it wasn't a good time to travel based on the rates. End of my dream vacation, right? Yet almost immediately, I started seeing online ads and emails about fun things to do in Hawaii.

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Every day, we all receive numerous messages in our inboxes and across the web that use our personal data to target us. Gleaning information about us from the websites we visit, the content we read, the places we check in and more, marketers take advantage of our digital footprint to send us targeted offers. Often, this outreach is welcomed. It can help us plan a vacation in our personal lives or help us find the best software in the workplace. It often saves us time, reminds us to finish a task or finds us a better deal. It's fair to say these are all helpful outcomes.

But, sometimes, too much personalization in marketing can feel a bit creepy, or just simply awkward. A recent Forrester report showed 89 percent of digital businesses are investing in personalization. But when so many marketers are trying to find ways to target you or your company, there is a potential downside. While it's helpful to be reminded about unfinished tasks, getting content or ads that have nothing to do with our interests or needs is bothersome. And finding out just how much a company knows about you and your business can be downright creepy.

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When do marketers cross the line? And when do potential customers stop appreciating the offers and start feeling a little uneasy about them? Here are a few recommendations for using the data you capture in a way that can help boost trust among customers and prospects.

Use your data to add value to your customer's day.

When using buyer data to target your campaigns, the most important thing to do is to add value to their day. Don't reach out to potential customers just to say, "I see you downloaded a white paper from our site ... would you like to chat?" In that scenario, the prospect will likely ignore your email and avoid coming back to your website. Instead, send prospects relevant, timely information through different types of collateral, such as an infographic, video or how-to, that further explains how to solve the problem they're facing.

For example, if an IT buyer was reading Office 365 reviews online, send him or her an email about how to implement Office 365 and things to consider when moving to the cloud. When marketers provide timely information to help solve a problem, prospects are often willing to share more data about themselves, their company and the challenge they're facing. But, do your homework to determine where your customer is in the sales cycle and what information will help drive them closer to the sale.

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Know how your buyers consume content and where they go to find it.

The best way to ensure you're adding value for customers and prospects is to know them well, and that requires both firmographic and demographic data. Customers respond differently to marketing based on their age, company role and their individual needs. For example, recent Spiceworks research revealed some key differences between IT decision makers and business decision makers in terms of how they consume content.

Since IT decision makers spend more time evaluating technology solutions and vendors, they need more technical content, and on average, they consume 17 pieces of content throughout the decision-making process. These IT buyers prefer to consume content via webinars, online forums and conferences. Business decision makers, on the other hand, typically consume about 12 pieces of content throughout the purchase process, and they're more receptive to tried-and-true marketing channels, such as email, phone calls and physical mail.

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The age of the decision makers can also provide insights into where they're seeking content and the amount of personalization they want. For example, research shows that compared to baby boomers, millennial buyers are more likely to turn to Google and social media to learn about new products and services. Millennial buyers are also twice as likely to respond to a personalized message than Gen Xers and baby boomers.

In other words, millennials might be receptive to a personalized video that addresses them by name and explains how you can help them get their job done. Baby boomers, on the other hand, might find that incredibly creepy.

Bottom line: Do your research to avoid invading your buyers' personal space and sending them content they won't be receptive to.

Get digital feedback on your personalization efforts.

And lastly, be sure to test your research with different marketing campaigns. Find out how your customers respond to different levels of personalization by running A/B tests and asking for real-time feedback. This could be as simple as including a poll in your emails or asking prospects to "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" personalized content you created for them on your site.

Then, use that input to modify your level of personalization and tailor the experiences you create for different types of buyers. This give customers and prospects a little more control over how their data is used.

At the end of the day, the more value you provide, the more willing customers will be to share their data in return for more personalized experiences.

Sanjay Castelino

VP of Marketing at Spiceworks

Sanjay Castelino is vice president of marketing at Spiceworks, a network where millions of IT professionals freely connect with each other and thousands of technology brands.

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