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How to Personalize Your Marketing Without Being Creepy Consumers are turned off by discovering you have their data when they don't know how you got it. The big difference-maker? Consent.

By Chris Porteous

entrepreneur daily

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Everyone likes personal attention, but there's such a thing as too much. When it comes to marketing, brands have to walk a fine, undefined line. Research has shown that people like personalized content. They just aren't willing to offer brands information to personalize that content. The Pew Research Center notes that Americans are far warier about their personal data and privacy today than they were fifty years ago, and for good reason. With technology playing a part in everything we do, it's becoming difficult to keep one's data safe from people who may want it. This data is essential to personalizing content for a user. So how does a brand approach personalization without being creepy to the consumer?

The stages of personalization

Gartner notes that personalization creates a close, relevant interaction between two parties designed to benefit the recipient. However, personalization doesn't just end up there. When we examine marketing platforms and campaigns, we can break down personalization into five different stages:

1. Business to All

In this stage, the message is transmitted to anyone who can hear it. The best analogy would be an advertising campaign that's put out on newspapers and radio so that anyone can listen to the message and respond if it appeals to them. It's the lowest level of personalization available in marketing.

2. Business to Many

Personalization starts to become more focused at this level. Different demographics are presented with slightly different messages addressing their variations as a classification of individuals. The message contains elements that may be used to better personalization later on, but it's still mostly unspecified when it talks to the consumer.

3. Business to Some

The business starts presenting its marketing message to particular channels that appeal to a specific subgroup or demographic that might be interested in the product or service. At this level, businesses start relying on "ideal customer" models to predict where the majority of their market exists and focus on those places primarily.

4. Business to Few

At this point, online and offline messages start to share similarities, and the user realizes they are connected. At this point, the business typically needs data for two reasons. As both a targeting mechanism and as a means of verifying the user's interest in their marketing message. The brand can then use that data to optimize its messaging.

5. Business to One

This stage is the ideal interaction for personalization, according to Gartner's definition mentioned above. The business hyper-tailors content to suit the user's needs. To ensure that the user gets the content they prefer, the business needs to use data collected from the individual's background data and prior interactions with the company.

Related: How to Balance Marketing Automation and Personalization

Brands tend to be most effective in closing sales at stages four and five, but it also requires the most data input to get to that level. As the stages of familiarization progress, users get warier and warier about the personal data that the business can command. There's no lack of conspiracy pages on social media talking about data theft and invasion of privacy. Because of this issue, companies usually have to face and overcome a personalization paradox.

Consumers and the Personalization Paradox

Smart Insights notes that 72% of consumers only interact with highly personalized content. However, Content Marketing Institute contends that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy. The paradox stems from the fact that the only way for a business to personalize content is to know about the user. Yet users are adamantly against letting consumers know anything about them because of privacy fears. Overcoming the paradox is surprisingly straightforward when taken from a customer-centric perspective.

The problem isn't with the collection of data, per se. It's with the transparency with which organizations do so. The Smart Insights survey found that consumers felt uncomfortable when brands target them using information which they never intended to share. This discomfort leads to further issues when businesses ask for private data like phone numbers or email addresses. So how does a company make its content marketing personal without sounds like a stalker on the internet?

Acceptable personalization is possible

The creepiness that level four and level five personalization comes with stems from how companies obtain the data they use for those levels. In many cases, businesses offer users a privacy disclosure. Unfortunately, just like other "small print" documents, individuals click "I agree" without reading through it (typically because it's several pages' worth of text). Brands need to be more forthright in their disclosures to consumers. Audience members who are well aware of companies using their data to personalize their content will think less of the organization using it to serve them.

Related: Deep Learning and 'Hyper-Personalization' are the Future of ...

Building trust and credibility

Businesses need to start building trust between themselves and their users if they intend to personalize their content appropriately. Countries are already enforcing laws requiring full disclosure to users about the data that online sites keep. The most famous example is the EU's GDPR, which resulted in many businesses revamping how they disclosed their data gathering practices to consumers.

To ensure that you maintain the trust between yourself and your audience, you'll need to highlight the data that you're collecting from them. Will it be email addresses, phone numbers, and their names? Or are you gathering something closer to their personality and their tastes instead? Defining the data you need is essential since the more information you mine from your audience, the more uncomfortable they're likely to feel. Keep the data acquisition to the bare minimum, and your audience will feel less creeped out by your knowledge.

The second part of the process is to disclose what you intend to use that data for. The EU's GDPR was put in place for users to know about collecting and disclosing how businesses use consumer data. However, companies must go one step further if they want to secure their consumers' trust. The onus is on the company to ensure that its data gathering practices conform to the current levels of privacy, according to law. Ensure your audience knows what data they're sharing with you and what you'll be using that data for. Facebook already has a bad reputation for sharing data with third parties without user consent. Your business doesn't need a similar reputation.

Context remains vital

Ajax Creative notes that content marketing will remain a crucial part of business success in 2021. Yet content is only as good as the engagement it generates. Personalized content requires data, and collecting and using that data necessitates consent. Users have grown used to businesses not even asking permission for their data. Building trust with your consumer by highlighting how that data will be used to create a personalized experience will go a long way. You don't have to be creepy to personalize content. You just have to understand the principle of consent.

Related: 4 Ways Marketing Automation and Personalization Can Work Together

Chris Porteous

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

High Performance Growth Marketer

Chris Porteous is CEO of SearchEye, which offers unbundled digital marketing projects for clients and agencies across the globe.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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