Bad Personalization — REALLY Bad Personalization

By | September 13, 2012

I hope I don’t get kicked off this site for posting this, but I just heard a story that was too good to resist not sharing.  This is a true story, all details removed to protect the innocent.

Those of us who were (or still are) Seinfeld fans remember the episode “Good naked and bad naked.” So it goes with personalization. There is good personalization and bad personalization. Then there is really bad personalization.

A single woman wants to spice up her love life, so she goes online to a gadget shop and purchases a few, um, experimental items. She has them shipped to her Post Office box to avoid eyes from snoopy neighbors. The order arrives in a brown paper wrapper and all is well.

Until a few weeks later when an unexpected postcard arrives in her mailbox at home.  The over-sized card is printed with her name on it—high-gloss, full-color—with an image of a half-naked woman (not man) handling the latest and greatest product from the company. “Look what we’ve got for you!” Can you image the woman’s horror?

Let’s count the ways this company messed this up.

  1. It used the woman’s address from the credit card billing statement, not the shipping address.
  2. The postcard was personalized with her name, but the content was clearly designed for men.
  3. The company clearly misunderstands the discreet nature of its own business and the desire of its customers to often remain anonymous.

I can only assume the company lost the customer!

Those of us watching the personalization marketplace have long made the distinction between personalization (which is using a recipient’s personal data in or to create a document) and actual relevance to their lives. Using personal data doesn’t automatically mean that a document is relevant.

Used well, personalization can create affinity between a company and its customers. Used poorly — or, in this case, misused — it can offend and drive away customers quicker than a band of angry yellow jackets pouring out of an in-ground nest like the one I accidentally mowed over the other week.

I still have scars on my legs from mowing over that nest. When personalization is mishandled, marketers can get scars from “mowing” over their customers, too.  This is a perfect example of that.

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2 thoughts on “Bad Personalization — REALLY Bad Personalization

  1. Dan Korn

    Funny story. Although I suspect that the number of people who are offended by such mailings is outnumbered by the number of customers who reorder. I’m sure the company takes that into account.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    I’m sure! But in my view, it’s still bad personalization. Your point is well taken, but it doesn’t take personalization to sell to those folks. The company could accomplish the same thing without personalizing, and by adding personalization, it increases the risk of losing the customers who are offended by it. After all, without personalization, the woman could have said, “How did THAT end up in my mailbox?”

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