In keeping with the privacy theme this month, inspired by our backstage chat with David Howland, we ponder if we should chuck personalization into our portal to marketing hell, or maybe just the dumb, creepy kind.

  • There is an ad for a motoring event that is following me wherever I go online, I’m interested but I can’t go as I am on vacation, but it doesn’t know and follows me anyway.
  • A business bank ad appears constantly in my Facebook feed, I already have a business bank account with them, it doesn’t know.
  • Amazon retargets me with products that are in my basket, but I haven’t clicked checkout as I am waiting for a delivery day when I am home, it doesn’t know.
  • LinkedIn wants me to connect with people that it knows I know, but how it knows is spooky.

This is the modern “personalized” experience for most consumers, the stuff we notice is either dumb or creepy. So, this month, as we peer over the balcony of the penthouse, contemplating the shimmering depths of our portal to marketing hell that is the Rockstar CMO Swimming Pool, we are inspired by David Howland, Chief Marketing Officer at Longview Solutions who shared this when we went backstage with him:

I’ll throw personalization into the hotel pool, and not because I don’t believe in it. Rather, I believe it’s incredibly important to align content and experience with persona, we just see personalization being misused in a manner that over-complicates execution and brings a bit of cringe-worthy creepiness into what could have been a valued interaction.

Now, clearly, we can’t throw personalization into the pool, being hyper-relevant for our audience, is both useful to them, seamlessly synching into their lives, as well as helping us achieve our marketing objectives. It’s here to stay and is the future of mainstream marketing.

However, right now to call personalization “a conversation” with our consumers is bullshit, it’s a one-way conversation. The machines are blasting us with messages that are somewhat targeted, based on a crude concoction of marketer’s bias, assumptions and a bit of data, it’s one way yet assumes a level of intimacy that really takes a conversation.

Unsurprising it comes off creepy or stupid.

If you met a CMO at a networking event, then discovered their nickname from overhearing them talk to their friends and learned it was their birthday from LinkedIn, would you send them a “Happy Birthday Bazza” card? No, it would be weird. Yet, you have two pieces of data and a desire to connect with that person.

The best kind of personalization is unseen, a silent concierge smoothing the ruffles of the craziness of the noise of the modern digital age, appropriately applied or on occasion a surprise or delight.

Years ago, I was an executive at a software vendor and the sales team were working on a big opportunity at a vendor, it was coming to the end of the decision process. The client had literally traveled the world from their Australian base, talking to the vendors in the US and Europe in their due diligence. One of my colleagues discovered one of the client team had a birthday while she was in our office and bought her a cake.

Did this create a terribly embarrassing moment? Did my colleague wish the ground swallowed him up for making such a crass move?  Did the female client consider the male colleague buying her a cake creepy?

No. My colleagues and their potential client had created such a rapport over the months of the process, the client was delighted with the thoughtfulness of the gesture, after a long trip, away from home it was a delight for her (and the deal was won).

This is the tough challenge for personalization, as consumers, we are increasingly highly aware of the data that we share, yet as marketers applying this data is socially complex. And none of this takes into account the cultural differences, those things we stumble over as humans. Without this context, what hope for the machines?

But, we do it because we can and, as David says, this pressure means it’s “being misused in a manner that over-complicates execution”.

Maybe better not to do it at all? People don’t complain about seeing adverts that are not targeted, they complain about seeing adverts that are so clearly poorly targeted. It’s this that we want to throw in the pool.

So… Yes, David, we believe in personalization, but it’s adios to the dumb, creepy kind.

See it’s flapping it’s arms, thinking it can fly….

Wow… that’s a splash.


We went backstage with David in our Backstage Q&A series, learn more about this a former creative and art director, marketing leader at Nasdaq and current CMO of Gartner rate Longview Solutions here.

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