Why does “creep factor” still enter into the conversation about how marketers use online data to provide personalized digital experiences? It’s because the use of data without providing a benefit is just lazy and isn’t “people-first.” That shows a general carelessness and lack of regard for the way precious user data is being leveraged.

Here's how to make personalization work:

Relevance wins. It’s understandable that recipient value may not enter into the current equation when thinking about personalized digital advertising. After all, the cost per action is how the campaign will be evaluated, right?

But using audience data to tailor creative messages increases the creep factor, particularly when no value is added. For example, acknowledging it is someone’s birthday month, or that it is raining in their town, without adding actual value, is creepy. Showing someone a price drop for an item they added to their cart is valuable.

Personalization -- the use of user data to change the experience -- just isn’t good enough. Relevance -- the use of data to serve up an experience that is more valuable -- is what you need to be holding your brand accountable to.

Data is the key to providing value .Use the data you have to show the most relevant product, provide the best incentive, remove the most friction from the shopping process or communicate the most compelling benefit. Start with a goal to add value to your digital communication --  versus a goal to use data to vary creative to see if it will impact your KPIs.

More transparency. As data becomes less transparent to the user, the requirement for using that data in a useful way goes up. This is critically important to keep in mind as data continues to improve, and the tools to activate on that data become more robust.

It’s very possible that the collection and activation of data will soon become so complex that it surpasses the audience’s understanding of where the data is coming from. After all, site retargeting or seeing ads for products related to something you purchased is fairly transparent. But as the data landscape quickly becomes more complex, and the utilization of that data in personalizing digital experiences increases, marketers will need to up the transparency.

If your personalization is driven by an approach of relevance, adding more transparency shouldn’t scare you since you are using data to facilitate a better experience.

Consider acknowledging in your ad what data is being used, and its relevance: “You are seeing this ad because people with similar purchase habits were interested in this product.” Or, “You are seeing this ad because we value your business, thought you’d be interested in this offer and you are within the timeframe when similar clients typically purchase.”

That’s not likely going to fit in a social post, or even a display ad, but building this level of transparency into ad products is something marketers should be pushing for -- and will come sooner or later as more regulation is introduced to safeguard user data.

Set the bar for personalization at relevance, thus adding value to the communications you are targeting people with.

Above all else, don’t use data just because you can. You’re not a creep, after all.

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