For the January–February 2018 issue, the much revered Harvard Business Review run an article in their marketing series on ‘how to make sure you don’t take personalization too far’ by Leslie K. John, Tami Kim, and Kate Barasz. The trio pointed out the main difficulties the online consumer is faced with today as they browse and network on social media.
The article states in part, ‘Digital marketing and advertising shifts have noted the internet has dramatically expanded the modern marketer’s tool kit, in large part because of one simple but transformative development: digital data.’

With users regularly sharing personal data online and web cookies tracking every click, marketers have been able to gain unprecedented insight into consumers preferences, tastes and serve up solutions tailored to their individual needs, consequently the birth of the ‘Personalization phenomenon.’
Think of it like your personal customer care sales pitch. Details of your name, location, sex and so on, depending on how much personal data is shared, will enrich this experience for the user and help deliver the personal-able advert.

What does personalization in this phenomena mean?
Ad’s published on the news sites, social media timelines and blogs a user visits are ‘served up’ with the task to interest you (awareness) with their value propositions. Different ad formats are used such as display ads, video formats and gif’s which are executed aggressively or subtly to disrupt the user’s online activity and make them pay enough attention, to elicit a response that ‘calls to action.’

How do we create ad’s that don’t over step?
It’s been reported that with the modern tactics of targeting, users’ experience is being taken advantage of and with increasing access to larger volumes of data about the user consumer backlash has become the inevitable result.
Personal experiences with highly specific ads (perhaps for wrist watches, or designer sunglasses) will then follow me across websites/social media timelines I visit, because marketers now know exactly who is on the receiving end of their digital messages. For the consumer who prefers relevant ads over irrelevant ones, (an ad-free experience is not realistic in today’s ad-supported web landscape), it’s important that marketers get the balance right.

Digital marketers have to learn restraint. They need to understand when the use of consumer data to personalize ads will be met with acceptance or annoyance so that they can honour consumers’ expectations about how their personal information should be used.
The good news is that social scientists already know much about what triggers privacy concerns off-line, and new research has been carried out to demonstrate that these norms can inform marketers’ actions in the digital sphere. Through a series of experiments, there is now a greater understanding of what causes consumers to object to targeting and how marketers can use personalization while respecting people’s privacy.

But, THERE’S STILL A LOT we don’t know about how people respond to online data collection and ad targeting, and norms around privacy may change over time as young digital natives become consumers and technology further penetrates our lives. For the time being, applying norms from the off-line world can help companies predict what practices consumers will accept. In the end, all ad targeting should be customer-centric—in the service of creating value for consumers.

Disclaimer: This blog article has several references from the Harvard Business Review on marketing.

About the Author: WMC Editor

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