Marketing consultant, journalist and editor Morag Cuddeford-Jones on how to avoid being both creepy and stalkerish, and to instead use invisible personalization to smash your loftiest customer experience goals.

Which is worse – a creep or a stalker? On the one hand, the creep makes your skin crawl but at least you know they’re there. Or the stalker – you can’t quite put your finger on it but there’s an unnerving feeling that someone, somewhere seems to know your movements almost better than you do.

One thing is certain, brands don’t want to be known as either creepy or stalkerish, but when it comes to the tricky art of personalization, a lot of the time they somehow manage to be both. We get it. You never meant to keep checking out our profile but once you started it was just so hard to stop and things kind of snowballed from there.

What brands are aiming for – and so often miss – is the power of the invisible personalization. Targeting so good, so subtle, so useful that you barely know it’s there. And that doesn’t freak you out if you do.

So why is invisible personalization so good? Because you don’t have to fake it to make it. Brands that are great at invisible personalization aren’t tripping over a ton of keywords shoehorned into some content. They don’t try to make it look like they just happened to be writing an article about a horse-riding, country-loving, heavy metal-listening vegan cook with a passion for Pokémon Go.

Nor do brands fall over themselves to ‘delight and surprise’ the customer – particularly if they happen to sell bleach and toilet cleaner. Brands that are great at invisible personalization put themselves gently in front of the customer as and when they’re needed, in a way the customer expects and in a way that is ultimately useful.

“Brands that are great at invisible personalization put themselves gently in front of the customer as and when they’re needed, in a way the customer expects and in a way that is ultimately useful.”

So, the bleach product doesn’t bang on about sustainable watercourses or bacterial resistance (although it does, of course, when it’s appropriate). The bleach product gets its content lined up and ready to fire on the first week of a new school term when the uniform is dug out and stained beyond apparent repair.

Invisible personalization isn’t even about hiding in plain sight. That bleach brand can be bold as brass, if the situation warrants it. Pitching me insurance for the Renault I’ve Googled seven times this morning? By all means, flash up all the Renault quotes you can put your hands on. It’s about understanding the customer and putting their needs first. 

Innovation hasn’t made it easy for brands to rein in their worst impulses. There’s just so much sexy tech out there that can reach more people than ever before, sell more than ever before. Why do so little when you could do so much? Technology is a solution, much of it a godsend. But there’s a fine line between a tool that refines and one that you use to bludgeon (metaphorically-speaking) customers over the head.

First, you can get a long way by being boring. Or perhaps not boring, exactly, but plain. Plain speaking, plain acting, plain… good. Whether you’re a personalization novice or an old hand, there’s a lot to be said for getting the basics right. Getting the right information in the right place, accessible to all the right people with the right customer details on it is harder than it looks.

Only then you can start to get adventurous – but it’s still not about flash ads or a so-clever-you-hate-it strategy of popping up on every virtual street corner. But you can begin to build a customer experience that shows your brand knows its stuff. That it can be ready where the customer expects, with the information or access they need. Never underestimate the amount of work that takes – silos to bust, people to train, data to sort.

So how do we make sure we walk that tightrope of invisible personalization without falling into the bucket of creeps on one side, or stalkers on the other? The reality should be quite simple – what would the customer have me do? Well, it should be that simple, but there’s no harm in having a little help. To find out more about what invisible personalization looks like, and the first steps to take, visit censhare and download their latest ebook: Personalization: Good Practice, Bad Habits and The Effect On Customer Experience.

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