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Pushing the Creep Factor with Customer Data

In the rapidly expanding world of big data, there are still many unknown boundaries. Two weeks ago we unpacked new information on shifting regulations regarding personal data and privacy, global marketers must understand. Today I’d like to share some thoughts (and data) about pushing our luck with ‘the creep factor’ when it comes to the use of customer data.

Icarus Painting

The Lament for Icarus by H. J. Draper

Remember the story of Icarus? His father Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before heading for the skies, he warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun. Exuberant with the excitement of flying, Icarus soared into the sky and in the process, he came too close to the sun which of course melted the wax so he fell into the ocean and drowned.

Lately, I’ve begun to think of myself, in my capacity as a marketer, as being not too unlike Icarus. In this case, Daedalus (or Data for short) has provided a tremendous amount of information about prospects and customers. All that’s left to do is use this incredible power and avoid getting burned. Unfortunately, the directions on avoiding hazard are not so clearly defined as they were for Icarus, and we all know what happened to him.

Take email, for instance. What’s the equation for determining when you’re at risk of overusing a list? There are a lot of opinions on the subject, but unless you can truly attribute revenue to emails and compare the cost of unsubscribes against the benefit of sales, true understanding will be elusive. In a landscape still dominated by last click attribution and overwhelming fraud, I’d say our chances are not so great.

Getting personal with Customer Data

Over the last six months, I’ve talked with hundreds of marketers at global Fortune 500’s about the use of customer data for the purpose of personalizing interactions within the digital customer experience. One frequent question is, how much is too much?

Again, there are few straight answers. Frankly, on-site personalization is still the phase two that often never happens after adopting Customer Experience Management technology. As a result, little has been said about where the line is when it comes to creeping customers out on websites.

A great rule of thumb, to steal a metaphor from my colleague Cathy’s last post, is to treat personalization (and marketing) like dating. When asking for that first date it’s probably wise not to lead off with too much information you’ve gathered about your prospect’s browsing habits. The goal is to seem interested without looking like a stalker.

There is some data on the use of data

All of this brings me to some fascinating information I pulled together using Google Trends to create a chart for an upcoming talk I’m giving:

A chart that shows the correlation between blocking ads and retargeting

What this shows is a clear correlation between the use of retargeting and the growth of adblocking between January 2010 and 2016. Of course, there are other factors which have contributed to the explosive growth of adblocking, but this chart surely hints at one of the causes.

If it’s not obvious, my theory is consumers are creeped out by the fact that we can track their online behavior and use that information to serve ads away from our websites. I certainly know this to be true anecdotally, based on conversations I’ve had with friends and family.

However, a 2014 study1 revealed that only 10% of 1,600 20-60 year-olds are more likely to buy an item after being served retargeted ads, yet 55% were put off by the tactic. The top five most common ways to describe it (from most to least):

  • Annoying
  • Intrusive
  • Distracting
  • Creepy
  • Relevant

Annoying? Creepy? I’m guessing these words didn’t show up during branding activities at your organization.

By the way, for those unaware, adblocking is a terribly vexing issue for marketers using online advertising, as clearly illustrated in this additional chart:

Customer Data for Retargeting

I will be talking about all of this and more, at the MarTech Conference in San Francisco next month. The big question on my mind is this: What’s our responsibility with customer data in an era of accelerating change, emerging regulation, and changing public perception around privacy?

In the meantime, if you’ve got questions regarding your organization’s use of customer data, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

1 InSkin Media and Rapp Media Study on Retargeting Ads


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