Creepy Marketing—When Database Marketing Goes Awry

With Halloween over and the holidays on their way, I thought that Creepy Marketing made a timely subject for today’s blog. Now I’m not referring to marketing for ghouls, witches or mummies. I’m talking about adding a creepy factor to your marketing program—a major pitfall of 1:1 marketing.

With Halloween over and the holidays here, I thought that Creepy Marketing made a timely subject for today’s blog. Now I’m not referring to marketing for ghouls, witches or mummies. I’m talking about adding a creepy factor to your marketing program—a major pitfall of 1:1 marketing.

Creeping people out is, after all, contrary to what we’re trying to achieve as marketers, which is namely to use promotion to advance the brand’s sales and branding objectives. That is, of course, unless it’s your goal to damage your brand and drive away customers. Assuming that’s not the case, let’s assume that creepy is bad. Very bad. In the age of social media, one creeped out customer can very easily spread the word to hundreds of thousands of customers and prospects. In other words, better safe than sorry.

But before we go any further, however, let’s attempt to define creepy. This is important because many marketers I speak with cite there often is a razor thin line between casual and its inappropriate Cousin Creepy, between making a sale and detonating a potential long-term relationship. Fair enough. Creepiness is also a bit slippery because, like fashion tastes, standards for creepiness definitely do tend to change with time. To quote Sean parker, former CEO of Facebook, “Today’s creepy is tomorrow’s necessity.”

When it comes to detecting creepiness, I’m a firm believer of what I’ll call the ad oculos school of thought. For those of you who do not understand Latin, ad oculos means “to the eyes,” and roughly translates into “obvious to anyone that sees it.” In other words, if it looks creepy and feels creepy, then it probably is creepy and you shouldn’t do it.

You shouldn’t, for example, write out your customer’s names on a postcard or landing page—or anywhere that might be, or seem, visible to the general public. Nor for that matter should you display your customer’s age, marital status, or medical condition on any piece of marketing collateral. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t send offers for dating services to a customer you know is single, or information on chiropractors to someone who has acknowledged a back problem. What this means is you need to be careful with the language you use in these offers, taking care not to publicize information your customers want to remain in the private sphere.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 1:1 marketing works because it focuses like a laser on your customer’s interests and presents them with compelling and compatible product information and offers. Personalized communication is not an exercise in regurgitating your customer’s personal data in an effort to prove to them how much you know.

Remember, successful database marketers use profile data to run highly compelling and relevant campaigns to their customers. What makes the campaign successful is the fact that the offer and marketing message contain relevant information that the recipient will have a strong affinity for—not simply because it is personalized. Personalization for the sake a personalization is nothing but a gimmick—it might work once but that’s it. Successful and sustainable personalized marketing programs ultimately find a formula for identifying customer interests based on key data points and indicators, and use this formula to create and disseminate offers that will strike a chord with prospects and customers.

Have you ever been creeped out? If so, I’d love to find out how and get your feedback.

Author: Rio Longacre

Who’s Your Data? is a blog that aims to disseminate thought-provoking tips and techniques involving the use of data and database marketing to direct marketing professionals. Why should you care? Because implementing data best practices has been shown to lift response rates, improve analytics and enhance overall customer experience. Reader participation is encouraged!

Rio Longacre is a Sales & Marketing Professional with more than 10 years of experience in the direct marketing trenches. He has worked closely with businesses across many different vertical markets, helping them effectively leverage the use of data, personalization technologies and tracking platforms. Longacre is currently employed as a Managing Consultant, Marketing, Sales & Service Consulting at Capgemini Consulting, a premier management consulting firm. He is based in the company's New York City office, which is located in Midtown Manhattan. He has also previously worked as an online media buyer and digital marketing strategist.

Email Longacre below, or you can follow him on Twitter at @RioLongacre. Any opinions expressed are his own.

4 thoughts on “Creepy Marketing—When Database Marketing Goes Awry”

  1. I recall receiving a package in the mail with a t-shirt that said " (it was a PURL imprint on the t-shirt, nothing else (except that it was a size XXXL and I am a size 8 female). Of course I was curious, so I went to this personalized URL and within seconds of being on the site, I received a phone call from the company. They knew I was on their site. I was CREEPED out. I am sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me. Even as a marketer, I am just not into that sort of thing. Nonetheless, they didn’t get my business. And I used the t-shirt as a rag.

  2. Abandoned shopping cart messages don’t creep me out, but getting a follow-up deal on something I’ve just looked at on a website does. I think it’s the difference between my taking an affirmative action to select something and getting reminded that it’s still where I put it, and having somebody just follow my movements around the site and comment on them, which feels more like stalking — or at least that annoying sales person who won’t leave you alone while you browse in a store.

  3. While I agree with your overall point, I disagree with the statement "you shouldn’t write out your customer’s name on a postcard or a landing page." Since a postcard is a form of direct mail, and it is already addressed to the recipient, taking it one step further to use their name in a clever way on a postcard can be compelling — and, in my book, not at all creepy.

    On a landing page (especially if it’s a PURL) is totally appropriate — and expected.

    That said, on the B2B front, I’ve downloaded white papers and received a follow up phone call within minutes — and I explained to the sales guy "Sheesh! Give me a day or two to read it the 10-page report before you start stalking me!"

  4. Our agency runs PURL campaigns on behalf of just about all VLG customers. We did a self-promo campaign entitled "Crescent Bluffs" that seemed to garner a 50-50 creep factor. A very unscientific poll suggested 75% or more of those that went to the personalized microsite enjoyed the experience. The creep factor lie in the mailer. We deployed what we’ll call "intrigue" to boost our hit rate (about 22% of those mailed).

    Some called the campaign creepy. Did it win us business and enhance our brand with those that didn’t find it creepy? Yes. Those folks are our best customers because they aren’t afraid to take some risks. It’s nothing as adventurous as our internal campaign, but they are fun and by some standards creepy.

    Here’s are "less" creepy campaign for 2011. I’d be curious to know whether or not this crowd finds it creepy. If you’re shy and don’t want to put in your personal details, please just put Target Marketing in the name fields and gibberish in the others. If you give us your details we’ll mail you a pair of red glasses. Thanks for your time.

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