Web Personalization: The Cool vs. The Creepy

Nerding out on data has become a critical success factor for eCommerce marketers.  Even many folks who initially shied away from the mathematics side of the practice have started to warm up and understand the incredible enabling power that data brings to our discipline.  If you’ve been in the game long enough, you know that the challenge has always been one of extracting the most actionable and valuable insights from that data and then putting them to work to make your marketing better.  “Better” here means using the insights to tailor your campaigns and collateral so that they are more closely aligned with the needs and values of your target buyer, driving them to further engage with your brand and take some desired action such as making a purchase.  In a digital world, that means an ongoing drive to web personalization.  Be cautioned, however: as with so many marketing tools, web personalization done wrong can have the opposite of its intended effect.  It can be…creepy. 

As evangelists for the enabling power of zero party data personalization, we couldn’t help but be struck by how succinctly this cartoon sums up the web personalization paradox:

cartoon illustrating paradox of web personalization. Original at marketoonist.com

Licensed to Automat by marketoonist.com

But is it really a paradox?  It sure doesn’t need to be.

Mystery Manufactures Mistrust

Website personalization that is co-created with your site visitors is the pinnacle of web personalization for a very simple reason – there is no mystery to it. 

Let’s think first about how third-party data informs a marketing campaign.  You’ve purchased a set of consumer data from a third-party broker with the noble goal of better targeting your marketing to the right people.  The prospect knows that they need a product or service but unfortunately it’s somewhat mysterious to them how your brand became aware of their need, and this mystery breeds mistrust.  Discomfort with the unknown is a fundamental feature of human instinct.

On the other hand, collecting zero-party data, meaning information about the prospect that is shared directly between the prospect and brand, throws the door wide open for the brand to earn the site visitor’s trust.  This is a critical point where the whole data-driven marketing game shifts; research by Deloitte shows that 79% of consumers are willing to share their data if there’s a clear benefit for them.  

Web personalization, especially in eCommerce, that is co-created conversationally with the visitor is the digital version of having a friend or a highly competent salesperson help the prospect with their need in a way that feels naturally explicitly tailored to that need.  A good friend or sales associate will listen to you, ask you questions that you may not have thought of without their expertise, and then help you solve whatever it is you’ve set out to solve.  The whole process feels easy, natural, and human.  No mystery means no mistrust, and it’s definitely NOT creepy.  As Forrester analyst Fatemah Khatibloo puts it: “They know they’re going to get a better experience based on that zero party data versus something that’s been sniffed out about them on the web.” 

Simply put, zero-party data enables natural web personalization.  As natural personalization goes up, creepiness goes down; ideally, creepiness is wholly removed from the interaction.

Zero Party Data Enables Natural Web Personalization

Sure, but does it scale?

That’s a fair question, and it’s absolutely the right one for D2C marketers looking to implement website personalization as a sustainable, short and long-term growth strategy.  Obviously, we’re a technology company that believes deeply that this is a problem that technology can solve.  We encourage you to think freely and creatively about your brand’s journey to website personalization and creating dynamic, personalized experiences for your visitors.  It’s such an exciting undertaking, and it is absolutely the future of eCommerce.  Be sure to think of this as an end-to-end, integrated strategy, rather than making it about a standalone tactic such as a simple quiz or a chatbot.  Remember that the best-in-breed digital experiences offered by today’s brands feel integrated and holistic to the consumer throughout their entire journey with the brand.

Let’s talk website personalization!  We like to think that Automat’s personalization suite embodies the promise of conversational AI for delivering 1:1 website personalization at scale, and we’d love to put it to work for you.

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