Personalize? Just Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should.

By | September 23, 2010

I received an annoying email from Harry and David this morning. This was definitely not an accident. I didn’t like it and here’s why.

The Harry and David Harvest 2010 catalog showed up in my mailbox yesterday, complete with Intelligent Mail Barcode and a note to the Postmaster to deliver in the proscribed two-day window.

When the IMB data alerted the mailer that the catalog had been delivered, the email dropped. Cross-media at it’s best.

So what’s the problem? No problem at all with the system. In fact, it’s brilliant and a good reason for direct mailers to adopt the IMB now, even though use isn’t required until May 2011.

The problem was with the creative in the email. H&D has information about me and they just couldn’t wait to let me – or anybody strolling by my computer — see it.

The subject line was good. A message about your Harry and David account … Show me somebody who doesn’t at least look at email about their “account,” and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t have email. So, yes, I took a look.

The message told me that my “Personal Giftlist is now online” and offered me two quick links so I could “review and update” the list. The email explained that the links would lead to my “private, secure listing.” I had no intention of doing H&D’s record keeping for them, so I ignored the invite and was about to close out. But then, a bit further down, I saw my son’s name in big capital letters, along with a short description of a gift I sent him and his family four years ago.

If this was a private, secure listing, how come the meat of it showed up in the body of the email! H&D explained they were listing names of “up to five people” to whom I had previously gifted H&D products. They were doing this for me, you see, because they didn’t want me to ever again forget to send a gift. Excuse me!?

That’s too much information. Imagine where this little email might take somebody who happened to see it, by accident or otherwise.

So, yes, direct marketing technology – especially cross media – totally rocks. But, as always, just because we can personalize, doesn’t mean we should. Emails are no place for a recitation of your customer’s relationships. Before we flex our digital muscles, let’s consider “how much information is too much information” and leave the online personal stuff to Facebook.

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8 thoughts on “Personalize? Just Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should.

  1. Hal Brown

    I never cease to be amazed at things like this. At times I am overwhelmed with personal (very personal) messages just as you described. I often wonder if there is anything about me left to privacy.

  2. Nancy Scott

    Thanks for commenting, Hal. Some would say any presumption of privacy is an illusion. That may be the case, but I still feel unfriendly when marketers force me to LOOK at the illusion. 🙂

  3. John Heinzmann

    I think that Marketers are still learning what is OK and what is not. Thanks for sharing this story. I will remember it when I’m working with clients on cross-media projects. Do you have an opinion on Facebook Connect and the info being pulled from profiles. I am currently working on a campaign and our customer wants to pull friend and interest data to a personalized landing page if the recipient signs in using facebook. Cool technology but could prove to be a bad move if people really don’t understand what they are getting into.

  4. Nancy Scott

    Hi, John.. and WOW! That is a really interesting question. You may be asking the wrong person because — generally speaking — I would be horrified if I landed on a p-URL that “knew” who my Facebook “friends” were. I, personally, try to avoid blending my private life with my commercial life. But more to your point, I likely wouldn’t use Facebook to sign into anything in the first place .. and maybe that’s where we can separate the “horrifieds” from the “delighteds.” Possibly, if a person uses Facebook as their portal, they’re prepared for the commercial assault. We don’t KNOW that, though, and some of my Gen Y friends who are the most serious Facebook users also are *very* suspicious of commercial pitches generally. I guess I’d saw move very cautiously and test this one very carefully. I’d be interested to hear what other folks think.

  5. KC Jones

    I personally think there should be a separation between business and social media. I know everyone wants to jump on board the social media bandwagon, but that will just take away from the point. It is called “social” after all.

    There is power in selling to people who use it, but if it becomes ruined, nobody will use it! The whole idea of personal information on the net is a bad one, but YOUR personal information in the hands of someone in a commercial venture… come on! That is ripe for exploitation. Even if 99% of business sites are ethical (yeah, right…), what about the rest?

    Bad idea. Just sayin.

  6. Elizabeth Gooding

    The whole Facebook connect thing scares me a little – as said – there is tremendous commercial potential if marketers use it appropriately (and Facebook doesn’t keep falling prey to security spoofs.) Unfortunately the average “face” on facebook doesn’t pay a lot of attention to their security settings. The fact that Facebook was getting continually blasted in the media helped make some people aware – but sadly the most vulnerable among us (teens and slightly older) definitely have TMI on Facebook and may not pay attention to the security settings because many are intent on collecting “friends.”

    I agree with Nancy that many in this category are less than enthusiastic about typical direct marketing tactics – however, if you provide them with something of obvious value… they will spread the word like wildfire.

  7. Andrea Sanford

    Too personal? Just wait as our credit card companies are entering the overall marketing game.

    Our credit/debit card provider knows exactly what we buy, how often and with whom. From gas for your car, to grocery stores, to tuition, to vacation rentals, to all of your service providers — they have more information about our spending habits than anyone else.

    Forget about Big Brother… watch out for Visa!

  8. Nancy Scott

    You’ve got THAT right, Andrea. Bank of America has made some strange moves lately (their new “must-sign” agreement for anybody who wants to do online credit card banking, for example, is quite shocking when read carefully) — all of which demonstrates that this Big Bank knows they have consumers by the short hairs and doesn’t care.

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