• The dream in marketing is to effectively reach the right person with the right message at the right moment. With a growing number of technology products that enable personalized marketing, that goal feels more within reach than ever before.

    And marketers are taking advantage of it, or at least trying to: 95% of marketers questioned by McKinsey & Company said they see a need for marketing personalization, and 80% of consumers say they appreciate it. And maybe that’s true when personalization is done well, but many consumers have had experiences that reveal the many ways personalized marketing can go wrong.

    Failed personalization can make your business look sloppy and potentially drive customers away. Here are five of the most common ways marketers mess up personalization. 

    1. Faulty Retargeting

    This is a personalization issue I’ve been on the consumer side of before. On multiple occasions, I’ve visited the product page of an item I’m interested in, saw it was out of stock, and moved on without thinking much of it—until ads for the item followed me around the web for weeks or months afterward. Any time I clicked to see if maybe this time I could buy the item I actually wanted, I was disappointed all over again to see it was still out of stock.

    This would be frustrating for any consumer. As a marketer though, I knew that the company was spending money just to disappoint me. And I knew it was because of a screw up on their end.

    Cara Ferguson, Account Director at Adlucent, confirmed that this is an issue that’s easily corrected. “To avoid this kind of poor customer service issue, all you have to do is connect a dynamic inventory feed to your marketing campaigns with rules indicating that you do not want products out of stock to show,” she explains.

    This is just one of several all-too-familiar issues when it comes to retargeting. Most of us have had the experience seeing the same ad over and over again. Something that starts as a convenient reminder can quickly become a creepy annoyance. But you can avoid overwhelming your audience by strategically using time-delayed retargeting, so they get reminders of your product, just not all the time.

    Seeing the same ad follow you around the web is that much more annoying when it’s for a product you already bought. This is yet another personalization problem that can be easily fixed, as ad platforms let you set up different campaigns for people based on the specific actions they’ve taken, such as when they’ve viewed an item, put it in their shopping cart without buying, or already purchased.

    If you effectively use the tools that ad platforms give you, most remarketing errors can be avoided. Be thoughtful about which ads you serve up when, so you don’t spend money to annoy or disappoint your audience.

    2. The Email Personalization Fail

    Email marketing is one of the most common areas where marketers employ personalization. Personalized subject lines increase open rates 26%, and email marketing products make it easy to automate the process of filling in your customer’s name and other relevant details.

    But the unfortunate side effect of how easy it is to personalize your recipient’s name in an email is that it’s also easy to screw the personalization up. Many consumers have had the experience of receiving an email that starts with “Hi [first name that isn’t yours].” It’s an understandable error, but one that makes you look bad.

    Similarly, Carl Brown, Digital Marketing Manager of Sitback Solutions, noticed a related issue in some of the marketing emails he received from companies. “They neglected to test the email before they sent it, and consequently, the variable text that is replaced for each recipient is rendered in a different font or size, making it immediately obvious that this personalization had been done on a mass scale.”

    Both of these personalization issues can be fixed by simply making a habit out of sending test emails to your internal team—a fast and easy way to cover your bases.

    3. Getting Too Personal

    The most famous story of personalized marketing gone too far is when Target sent pregnancy-related ads to a teenage girl based on data that rightly suggested she was expecting—inadvertently revealing her pregnancy to her family in the process.

    Consumers expect personalization up to a point, but if you cross the line, the joy of convenience turns into discomfort about their privacy being violated.

    Keller Tiemann, founder of Leadsurance, once used the live chat feature on a company’s website while on vacation. “I guess the chat agent could see my location based on my IP address, and they asked me how the weather was where I was vacationing.”

    That crossed the line for him. “It felt creepy. I didn’t know the person and hadn’t told them I was in the Bahamas.”

    In order to stay on the right side of that line, set clear guidelines about how you use the customer data you have. Be transparent about the data you collect and how and why you use it, and give customers the chance to opt in and out.

    4. Skipping Market Research

    Marketing personalization only works if you understand your audience.

    “Segmentation needs to come with a level of emotional intelligence to understand that there are nuances to how people approach purchasing your products or using your service,” Bettina Papirio, Senior Director of Strategy and Marketing for HotWire Global Communication, shared.  

    The only way to get that level of understanding about your target audience is to spend time getting to know the people in it through surveys, customer interviews, and other market research. Don’t assume you know who your customers are and what they want.

    Talking to your customers can also help you avoid some of the other personalization errors. For example, you can get direct feedback on what level of marketing personalization they like.

    5. Opting Out of Personalization

    On the subject of the most common mistakes marketers make with personalization, Papirio was short and to-the-point: “It’s usually missed opportunities.”

    Marketing personalization comes with the risk of making errors like those described here, but you shouldn’t skip it completely.

    “We live in a digital world and marketing automation is becoming—or is already—very big. Brands should be more courageous in testing that out,” said Papirio.

    If you fail to use segmentation in your marketing emails, your recipients will get emails that aren’t relevant to them. That translates to lower open rates and higher unsubscribes. Not using remarketing tools and tactics means the visitor who is genuinely interested in your product, but not quite ready to press the “buy” button on their first visit, could be lost forever.

    Like all marketing, personalization means being thoughtful, putting your customer’s needs first, and always being careful so you don’t let obvious errors slip through. If you avoid the most common personalization errors brands make, you can develop a better relationship with your customers and see improved results.

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