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Don’t be creepy

Jun 22, 2017 · 3 min read

If there’s anything we learned from the final season of Parks ‘n Rec, it’s that being creepy isn’t chill. You’ve probably collected ridiculous amounts of data on your customers and built up quite detailed profiles for most of them. After all that effort it’s probably tempting to use every bit of that data to hyper-personalize your marketing messaging, but there’s a difference between ‘I see you like Stephen King; why not check out Joe Hill’ and ‘I see you’re at the Downtown store looking at Stephen King’s Revival right now.’ One message is personalized — the other’s just creepy.

Personalization is really important in marketing

We know that personalizing content makes a difference, and most of us have come to expect it. Something as simple as using the recipient’s name in an email results in higher engagement than a generic salutation (68% vs 28% open rate in one study), so some level of basic personalization is just a good idea. But how much further do you need to take it, and how do you know when you’ve gone too far?

As long as you don’t get too personal

The line between personal and TOO personal depends on content, context and customer. Some people are more receptive to personalized messaging than others, and some situations suit personalization more than others. Essentially, you need to be authentic — not superficial — and offer some value in return for getting cozy with my details. If you’re going to give me a free meal on my birthday, I’m totally cool with you sending me an email with my birth date (possibly even my age, although you’d be taking a risk). If you’ve got a hot offer on Vitamin B tablets, I am NOT cool with you telling me how long I spent at which bars on Saturday night. Just because I once bought something from you, that doesn’t mean we’re BFFs.

It’s not you, it’s me

It is possible to track activity, collect data and personalize experiences without being too confronting. You don’t need to use retargeted ads that follow people round the web showing them the shoes they bought last month, but you could go wide and suggest they come back for another visit, maybe buy something else they looked at. After all, if they’re not in the market for yet another pair of shoes you’re left with a missed opportunity (and creepy stalker shoe ads). The same applies for SMS and in-app promotions; don’t set out to prove how clever you can be with my data, show me that you understand what I find useful — and give it to me when I can use it.

And Gryzzlboxing is totally not chill

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If I give you permission to collect and use my information then obviously I can’t complain about you doing just that. But if you’re data-mining on the sly in order to send me a personalized promotion (or a box of goodies delivered by drone), expect me to be both creeped out and justifiably annoyed.

If you didn’t catch the episode of Parks n Rec where super-cool mega-corp Gryzzl got into the personalized delivery business, then the key takeaways are as follows: don’t collect data from people who haven’t explicitly opted in, and if they do opt in, don’t get carried away. Just because you have permission to collect and use their data however you like, doesn’t mean you have to.

Originally published at

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