Don't Spam Me: Personalization That Will Work Without Crossing the Line
A question for the crowd. Have marketers gone too far with personalization? Have we gone from convenient to creepy? Have we gone from obviously beneficial to intrusive or even overbearing? For the last few years, multiple organizations have done surveys trying to answer this question. And the statistics seem to indicate that the answer is yes. The numbers vary by survey, but 75% of respondents feel that personalization has crossed the line, with some brands' assumptions about individual customers becoming overly intimate and hitting too close-to-home.
Serving up ads based on tracking someone’s actions and movements across the internet often feels stalkerish. Sending too many emails with (poorly) targeted offers can be irritating. And brands often ask for way too much information in the first place, to then use that information in ways that, frankly, consumers don't like.
What if we expanded our definition of personalization?
When we think about personalization in marketing, we usually mean mining data to provide better recommendations to customers. For example, we may send emails or present banner ads for products on unrelated sites or display "you may also like" ads on an e-commerce site. The reality is that all of those tactics are now harder to execute than before, or they are about to be. New data privacy laws and policies about data tracking and data sharing from sites like Google and Facebook make it much more complicated—soon to be impossible?—to do this kind of personalization.
But here's the conundrum for businesses. Even while consumers complain that personalization feels like it's gone too far, they don't want it to go away altogether. In fact, 80% of respondents also say that they are more likely to do business with a company that personalizes the experience. The message for businesses is clear: make the experience personal, just not too personal. So, maybe it's time we shift the definition of what personalization is. Perhaps it's not really that the current online experience feels stalkerish, but more of an acknowledgment that consumers want to be more than their shopping preferences and demographic data. How can we do that, and does digital signage have a role to play? We have a couple of ideas.
Personalization through localized content
Consumer preferences and behavior continue to blur the line between online and in-person shopping experiences. In fact, for many, the two often go hand-in-hand. Many shoppers start their buyer's journey online, doing initial product research and price comparisons there, before completing their purchase in the store. Because so many of them shop in both places, we shouldn't confine personalization of the experience to only our digital channels. It needs to be part of the physical in-store experience as well.
While it is technologically possible to create a hyper-personalized in-store experience, that's a surefire way to put off consumers that already feel like they've been "spied on." But personalization doesn't have to cross that line. Personalization can be as simple as acknowledging the visitor is more than a potential sale. That they have interests beyond shopping in your store or completing a transaction at your bank branch. That they have a home, a family, and a community, and they care about all of those things. By showing them content relevant to them outside of their transaction with you, you show that you recognize they are a complete person—not just a pocketbook.
Obviously, large organizations want to ensure the corporate and brand messages are consistent across all their stores, campuses, or other locations. But by making room in your digital signage playlist for content created locally, you can still make the shopping, working, or learning experience feel more personalized.
While feeding the content beast is always a challenge, creating this personalized content doesn't have to be. Apps like our own Reflect Xperience can greatly simplify, or in some cases even automate the process. These solutions can allow local staff to augment corporate content with items of special interest to their local audience. Imagine the branch bank that sponsor a youth sports team being able to insert images of their championship win at approved spots in the playlist. Meanwhile, by pulling in local weather data or news on area happenings, organizations can create new signage content automatically, easing the burden on the corporate content team and creating an experience that feels more personal and relevant to the guest.
Personalization through user control
Changes have been coming quickly to digital signage. In just the last few years, we've seen it go from a fairly static medium—one that played traditional styles of video on predetermined playlists—to new tools and technologies that support dynamic content and playlists that are anything but static.
All of this has served to improve the experience of consuming this digital content. In fact, we are moving past the point where a customer can only consume the content to what consumers might consider the ultimate in personalized experiences: interacting with and controlling the content itself.
Visitors can use voice technologies—the kinds that make it possible for you to ask your phone for directions or your digital assistant to order more potato chips—to ask questions of digital screens or to give those screens simple commands. There are also touch controls.
Personalize the in-person experience without crossing the line—with digital signage content
Personalization in marketing is a fine line. Go too far and it feels spammy at best, creepy at the worst. But if you don't personalize at all, you risk losing a customer altogether. So, what do we do? Maybe it's broadening our idea of what we consider personalization and lean into those tactics that can create a better experience without going too far.