Halloween is around the corner, so for this week’s post I wanted to turn to a topic that is most definitely apropos: creepy marketing. No, we’re not talking about marketing for Halloween.
What’s creepy marketing, you might ask? Creepy marketing is what happens when personalization goes horribly wrong—when good intentions morph into, well, disturbing communication that has the opposite of its intended effect and, instead of helping a brand push a product or service, sends recipients running for the hills. With the rise of social media and its nearly universal adoption by marketers, it’s high time that marketers learn what not to do when they engage with their customers and prospects.
Fact is, marketers use personalization because it works extremely well. How well? Generally, the more you personalize a message the better it will perform. In a landmark study by Banta Corp. on multichannel marketing, it was reported that incorporating three or four personalized elements in an email boosted its clickthrough rate by 63 percent, and seven or more elements lifted it by an amazing 318 percent!
Wow! With stats like these, you can see why marketers of all stripes have been jumping on the personalization bandwagon like it’s going out of style. During the past few years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of personalized content across the marketing spectrum—direct mail, email, SMS, landing pages … all spiced up by including personalized content or messaging. Out of all of this personalized communication, some has been good, some has been great … and some has been downright creepy.
Last year, I put out a post titled “Creepy Marketing—When Database Marketing Goes Awry,” in which I defined creepy marketing as “if it looks creepy and feels creepy, then it probably is creepy and you shouldn’t do it.” I then go on to point out that an actual example of creepy marketing includes writing out a customer’s name along with other personally identifiable information anywhere visible to the general public. I also include displaying a customer’s age, marital status or medical condition in marketing messaging.
Turning to social media, avoiding creepy marketing takes on a new urgency in the medium where stakes have been raised considerably. The reason why is two-fold: First, because social media involve networks of individuals with public exposure, it’s way easier to creep people out. Second, if you do offend someone on social media, then good luck handling the ensuing social media disaster. Offended parties now have the ability to let everyone on their social networks know right away just how unhappy they are—and they usually don’t hesitate to do so.
So how do you avoid creeping people out in social media? On a strategic level, a thoughtful post by Laura Horton that appeared on VentureBeat.com offers five pointers:
1. Be helpful but not pushy;
2. Be a thought leader, if you can;
3. Be careful what you say, even if you know a lot;
4. Reach out if you see active interest in your brand; and
5. Stay on top of social marketing best practices and trends.
I think this list is a good place to start. More tactically speaking, in her blog Kristen Lamb gives us five examples of social media marketing tactics that not only creep individuals out, but probably don’t work very well, either. Her list includes automatically adding people to your firm’s Facebook fan list, and sending out annoying automated promotional messages on Twitter to random people who might have tweeted about topics you think are relevant to whatever product you’re trying to push. Yuck.
Again, I think this list is a good starting point. Though of course, the possibilities for abuse by marketers are probably endless. Have you ever been creeped out by a company on social media? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in your comments.
Happy Halloween and happy marketing!