Targeted Marketing: the fine line between personal and private


May 22, 2023

bird's eye view of a curvy road

If you take a virtual walk along the case studies page of our site, you’ll discover that we are big fans of personalised marketing. But at what point does targeted marketing cross into the dreaded invasion of privacy? Admittedly, it is a thin line to walk. Let’s take a look at how to avoid invading your customers’ privacy whilst simultaneously successfully marketing to them in a way that makes them feel seen as an individual.

Let’s first discuss why targeted ads can be so effective, and so dangerous. I’m pretty sure I’ve touched on this before, but targeted ads humanise your brand by making each customer/lead feel individually seen. Catering to their specific interests lets them know that you have put in the time to research them as a person and are interested in helping them with the unique problems that they face. That being said, go too deep into your diving and you could land yourself in some very hot water. There is a difference between personalising ads and revealing that you know sensitive data that the person would much rather keep hidden. But how can you tell what’s too personal? Simple; it’s time to use a little common sense.

Generally, people readily put quite a lot of information up on the internet themselves. Just take a look at someone’s social media accounts and you can find out all sorts of things such as their favourite food, movies and hobbies. You might be able to find out if they are a parent or not, or whether they love their job. But that’s the magic of social media; you only really see what’s on the surface. That man who loves Star Trek and lasagne might be unemployed at the moment and struggling to stay afloat financially, but you would have no idea because he doesn’t want the world to know that. And there, my friend, is where we hit the problem area.

Now if I were say, sick with an illness, I might go online to a order items from a pharmacy, or spend time on the website of my doctors surgery to book an appointment. Other websites might collect my search data (via ‘cookies’) and try and use that to cater their ads to me. So now I go onto another website, say ASOS, and suddenly I’m confronted with an advert on the side of the page for medication. Perhaps they take it one step further and send me an email with an offer to buy more of that medication or try and twist a service to fit me now that they know I have that illness. Feel invasive yet? If the person themselves do not want the information public, then why would they want companies they’ve never heard of to make it public?

Here’s where the common sense comes in. Ask yourself, would I want someone to use this information to target me? If the answer is no, then why do it to someone else? Multiple studies have proven that when confronted with ads that present information people didn’t explicitly state could be used, they show significantly less interest in purchasing or clicking through on that ad. You may think extreme personalisation is a benefit but going too far can have exactly the opposite effect and damage your brand instead of helping it. Keep it at quite a shallow level, instead of risking losing potential leads and existing customers all at once. Let’s use Stone2Stone as an (albeit good) example. We recently worked with our client ECI to deliver a series of personalised posters to an identified list of valuable targets. These posters featured their likeness in a setting that fit their individual interests, for example as the star of a blockbuster movie. This information was found from some light trawling on their (public) posts on social media. Nothing too deep, nothing too damaging.

But how exactly do you ensure you’re always in the clear when creating personalised marketing/advertising? There are two main ways to look at for now; honesty and trust. If you have used someone’s online data to formulate a more personalised experience, throw up a disclaimer on said ad that let’s them know. For example, ‘this advert was tailored to you based on your previous searches’. You should also place a button somewhere that allows them to stop seeing such ads. This lets them know how you’ve determined that information about them, and gives them the opportunity to back themselves out of such targeted advertising. The second is more focused on your existing customers. Once you’ve built a relationship with a person, they’re much more likely to be accepting and interested by a more targeted, informal approach to marketing. They’ve been your customer for almost two years now, they want to feel valued and singularly recognised for their loyalty. After spending an extended amount of time utilising your services and likely entering a large amount of information about themselves, they’d also be much less alarmed at you presenting them with data that you know about them.

So there you have it. Targeted marketing can be an extremely effective tool in drawing in leads in a unique and engaging way. However, always remember to be respectful of what they would like to keep hidden in their personal lives – just think about what you yourself would like to see on an advertisement, and follow that. Good luck!

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