Marketing Email Campaigns - Personalized or Intrusive? How to know your customers without creeping them out

By Bennett Porter, CMO, Booster

Bennett Porter, CMO, Booster

It is no secret that businesses know more about their customers than they used to. Predictive analytics have changed the game. My phone can predict who I’m about to share a photo with and where I’m going to drive next. Netflix can tell me what movie I’m going to love and OpenTable can tell me which meal I can’t miss. 

Marketers now have access to information about their clients’ identities, locations, and preferences along with their email addresses. How do we balance this out with the fact that consumers are more – now than ever – concerned about privacy. We saw the extreme cases where people were targeted and information weaponized to polarize Americans in the 2016 election. There was even a case where a voice assistant recorded a couple’s private conversation and sent it to a friend. And, as our voice assistants and our search engine history merges with the advertisements we are shown, many people express growing concern that they are being stalked – even more by marketers.

We are faced with a dilemma. Personalization is all the rage because our customers feel overwhelmed and buried in unsolicited email. We want to send the right message to the right person. And, while it may be tempting to customize marketing emails to our clients based on all of the data that we have, we also recognize that in the current climate where many people may feel spooked or even stalked by what companies know, there’s a new etiquette for using personal information in email marketing campaigns, to the benefit of our customers.

“Creepy” or intrusive marketing emails are often perceived by customers as sneaky and underhanded ways to use data you’ve collected for your own advantage, and they backfire"

Having designed and worked in targeted email marketing campaigns for organizations like Yahoo!, Survey Monkey, and now as a CMO for Booster Fuels, a gas station on wheels that comes to your car and fills your tank while you’re at work, here are some practical do’s and don’ts I’ve learned on how to appropriately target emails to your customers without creeping them out.

To Reveal or Not to Reveal?

DO use your client’s first name when addressing them in a marketing email. People often appreciate being addressed by their first names. Salesforce's Fourth Annual State of Marketing Report found that 52 percent of customers say they are likely to change brands if communications (such as email) are not personalized.

DON’T reveal that you know your client’s actual date of birth or age. While you may have birthday info in your database due to age requirements, this is a sensitive piece of information for many people. However, sending a client an emailed gift card or coupon in honor of their birthday month on the first day of the month is perceived as less intrusive!

Let’s Talk about History

DO: Make new recommendations to your customers based on historical activity and purchase history. This feels like advice from a friend who might recommend a new restaurant to you because they know you like Asian fusion. Also, do remind people of your service - what you have done - and how you value them as a customer.

DON’T: Put sensitive historical information in your subject line or email. Imagine a friend showing you pictures of their new dog on their phone as an email notification appears, “Based on your [personal health product] purchase, we have more recommendations for you!” Embarrassing.

Be Useful

DO: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. As the person receiving the email, does it build your brand’s relationship with them? Is it useful? As an example, at my organization when we send a reminder to fuel up, we also include the price of gas and the competitor prices nearby so they can be informed as they make purchasing decisions. Small personalized touches are perceived as less intrusive when they provide benefit to the customer.

DON’T: Take copy and tone for granted! A good copywriter can make all the difference in how your email comes across - as friendly outreach or as heckling. For example, “We miss seeing you around!” is warmer than, “You used our services six times last year and only once this year...when are you coming back?”


One anonymous person said, “Seek to be worth knowing rather than to be well known.” It sounds counter-intuitive, but the right motivation for a good, personalized email marketing is NOT the bottom line or the metrics. A good litmus test for a personalized email marketing campaign is, “is this campaign designed to benefit my customers?” Once you establish that motivation, then you can use metrics to determine how successful you were in achieving it.

“Creepy” or intrusive marketing emails are often perceived by customers as sneaky and underhanded ways to use data you’ve collected for your own advantage, and they backfire. Putting your customer first and using the data you’ve gathered to their advantage is the first step in being a brand worth knowing.

Weekly Brief

Top 10 Ad Management Companies - 2019
Top 10 Ad Management Consulting/Services Companies - 2019

Read Also

6 Marketing Shifts to Create an Experiential Content Approach

6 Marketing Shifts to Create an Experiential Content Approach

Samantha Romano, Market Research & Trends Specialist, SGK
Redefining your digital marketing automation strategy

Redefining your digital marketing automation strategy

Felipe Smolka, Executive Vice President, Transformation, LeasePlan
Staying Ahead in the Events Managements Arena

Staying Ahead in the Events Managements Arena

Dean Treuren, Event Management Administrator, Orange County Convention Center Orange County Convention Center (OCCC)