Creepy is in the Eyes of the Beholder

Individualized marketing, one of the goals of the truly converged SoLoMo, is great for some and incredibly creepy to others.  But where is that line?  Can those of us that are so engaged with technology be a barometer of the average consumer?  While we might want to have empathy with that consumer, and I mean really want to, I think we might be incapable of doing it.  However, how many of our consumers do we alienate with creep is acceptable?

Let us get one thing out of the way first.  No matter what you do with your individualized marketing plan, you will alienate, or creep out, someone.  If you don’t, your campaign isn’t reaching enough people.

So what is creepy?  I talked yesterday about California and there is some guidance there.  Not really good legal guidance because at the end of the day they find safe harbor in the regulators default response: “It depends.”  What they say is interesting: Surprise Minimization.  If a user is surprised, that is the first gate falling down to their creepy zone.  For some users, they may reach it after that first gate.  For some users, it may take more than one surprise.  I wish I could give you some yardstick here that would lead you to knowing how your users will react.  Maybe if your consumers are all under the age of 30, they will be more accepting.  Maybe.  I don’t think you can rely on demographic lines, though.

Let’s look at a few examples.  Just over a year ago, Target found itself on the front pages for it’s pregnancy prediction algorithm.  It was incredibly accurate, and in one instance, Target knew a father’s daughter was pregnant before he did.  He was quite irate when he walked into the store to complain about the marketing that Target was sending his family, but came back a few days later to apologize to the store manager.  Target saw incredibly huge upside to trying to change the buying habits at that stage, and when you looked at just the numbers, they were right.  Too many users were creeped out.  Target’s solution, by the way, was to not so directly target baby related marketing to those consumers who were identified by the algorithm, but to merely put more noise in the marketing so it didn’t appear creepy.  For more information about this, Charles Dunfig outlined in his New York Times article how retailers are using the information they collect about you every day to deliver more personalized marketing and service.

What about the story of a 30-something woman in Silicon Valley.  She and her husband had just gotten pregnant and she was shopping for maternity clothes.  The cashier asked her if she wanted to register for their loyalty program.  Who doesn’t like loyalty programs, so she said yes.  She started to fill out the form, but the cashier with just her name was able to find her information already in their system.  The store had bought a list of 30-something women in Silicon Valley and apparently uploaded all that information.  For her that was creepy.  I think for any woman that would be creepy.

However, remember what I said on Monday, though.  Consumers will allow themselves to be exploited quite regularly for a few sheckels of value.  Discounts, special programs, customer recognition events and the like may be enough.  If you minimize surprises, you reduce the creep.  And avoid alienating that consumer.  By minimizing surprises, I think the example of Amazon and Netflix recommendations could provide a nice roadmap.  “We are showing you this because you did this, or bought this,” for instance.  You really need to put yourself in the shows of people you quite possibly may not understand, not because you don’t want to understand, but because you can’t understand them, no matter how hard you try.  How many of us in the digital age don’t understand our parent’s or grandparent’s need to still send letters, or not text.  I certainly don’t.  Try to find people that are matching up with the demographics of your campaign.  Ask them, and be receptive to what they say.  Be prepared that no matter what you do or how great you try to predict, you will always have some consumers that are creeped out.

Well, I hope you have found the last few days at least a little bit enlightening.  I have been relying on previous experience, but will be looking for things that are breaking to talk about.  Google Glass is something that is quite interesting to me, as is the whole revolution of wearable computing.  If there are other things you want to hear about, send me an email ( or leave a comment.  Thanks for listening.

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