Personalized Messaging and Consumer Privacy

September 10, 2020


How can marketers deliver effective personalized messaging without invading consumer privacy?

Successfully targeting consumers with personalized messaging that they enjoy and find invaluable, whether it provides them with information they need or the right entertainment at just the right moment, is an art. Building a cadence of trust with a consumer is important to striking the right balance within the consumer journey and creative communications. 

However, in a time of crisis, providing emotionally resonant communication with consumers is heightened, and especially fraught with expectation, need, relevance, and timeliness. Advancements in data collection have made it possible for marketers to target consumers on an even more personalized one-to-one level than before. However, there is a possibility that personalized messages can now backfire as overwhelming or inappropriate, especially as customer privacy has never been more of a hot button issue then it is right now. 

The most important lesson for any marketer to learn right now is adaptation. Meeting consumers where they are is a pivotal key to success. According to BCG's recent report, released in June 2020, "Customers who once engaged with brands only in physical channels are now engaging digitally in unprecedented numbers—via websites, apps, and delivery options. A wide range of categories, from home improvement chains to large apparel brands, have seen downloads of their mobile apps soar since the crisis began, as customers move online. Our research in Asia-Pacific in April showed more than 20 percent of consumers buying online in completely new categories."

BCG went on to note that brands with robust online presences are the most effective in providing support to consumers, stating that "Sephora has raised its profile on TikTok and other social media platforms to connect with beauty enthusiasts of all ages. It targets loyalists with unique benefits and holds a "daily bazaar" on Tuesdays and Thursdays where top-tier loyalists can redeem limited awards."

Fostering the right balance between being visible and supportive, instead of overwhelming consumers with a barrage of irrelevant content, is the line all brands need to walk, now and for the future.

Below are case studies, brand examples, studies, and articles on how to effectively use personalized messaging in fraught times.

Personalization Trends and Best Practices

  • Three Personalization Imperatives During the Crisis. BCG, June 2020
    The business rebound from the pandemic will be uneven across markets. A brand that can personalize its approach to where and how it engages customers and invest in paid media selectively will win a disproportionate share of sales in the rebound. BCG analysts define and discuss these new priorities:
    • Activate "just-in-time" personalization
    • Build the foundation for digital relationships
    • Create emotional connections and drive sales via direct channels
  • Personalization After COVID-19. Yieldify, August 2020
    Based on a survey of 400 e-commerce leaders in the U.S. and U.K., this whitepaper explores how marketers are using personalization, what the challenges are and where personalization is headed.
    • Retention has overtaken acquisition and conversion as the key goal of personalization.
    • Website personalization leads the pack, ahead of channels such as SMS and mobile apps. However, there's a clear appetite for scaling efforts across new channels. Loyalty programs, SMS marketing, and conversational marketing are predicted to see the largest increases in adoption by the end of 2021.
  • Harnessing the Power of Personalization Best Practice Guide. Econsultancy, 2019
    This report talks about achieving personalization at scale, and from many different angles (e.g., strategic, operational, customer experience).

  • Targeting Ads Without Creeping Out Your Customers: Ads That Don't Overstep. Harvard Business Review, January/February 2018.
    With personalized ads, there's a fine line between creepy and delightful. This article provides scenarios to illustrate dos and don'ts of targeting based on personal data. Six tips are shared, including:
    • When retargeting, stay away from sensitive information (e.g., information about hardships or sexual history).

Consumer Expectations and Attitudes On Personalization

  • 2020 Consumer Attitudes On Personalized Ads. ANA Knowledge Partner, July 24, 2020
    In 2020, Innovid surveyed over 1,000 consumers to learn how they felt about personalized ads and summarized the findings in an infographic. The infographic explores:
    • Sentiment toward personalized ads.
    • What types of ads capture consumer attention.
    • What content people are most likely to click on.
    • Consumer loyalty and purchasing behavior.
  • Addressing the Gaps in Customer Experience. Harris Poll/RedPoint Global, January 2019
    This report finds 63 percent of consumers agree that personalization is now part of a standard level of service that they expect. Other data reveals marketers overestimating how well they're personalizing their marketing, and the degree to which consumers are willing to share data to achieve a more personalized experience. The chart below shows the types of personalization that consumers value most.

  • Shoppers Demand Superior E-commerce Experiences. Avionos. 2019
    Consumer expectations for experience-driven commerce have accelerated the pace at which companies must innovate and change. This whitepaper identifies consumers online shopping habits and preferences. Among the findings, here are the top reasons shoppers want a personalized online shopping experience:
    • Helps them find products they might not otherwise have purchased.
    • Speeds up the shopping experience.
    • Helps them make final purchase decisions when looking at multiple options.
    • Millennials were most willing to share data to increase personalization, more than their younger gen Z counterparts.

Personalization Case Studies

  • How Technology and Customer Focus Saved Hilton's Email Channel. ANA, April 2019.
    Hilton increased its ability to more finely target and personalize consumer emails, while also realizing greater operational efficiencies. By introducing new processes and platforms, and integrating its Personalization Decision Engine, Hilton is now able to send customers the right messages on the right days, and provide 1:1 targeting within vehicles at an individual offer level. The result? Lower send volumes but greater revenue returns.

  • Neutrogena Finds the Beauty in Product Personalization. CES. 2019.
    Neutrogena (a Johnson & Johnson brand) is using personalization as a means to provide innovative products and build deeper ties with its customers. According to Sebastien Guillon of Johnson & Johnson, "Such personalization reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed that faces a consumer at the shelf, as well as the difficulty of identifying what their main skin issue is, and the complexity of deciding if they want prefer a cream or a serum. Those outcomes, in turn, simultaneously help Neutrogena stand out from the crowd."

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"Personalized Messaging and Consumer Privacy." ANA, September 2020.