Reading Claire Trévien's Passle, this morning: "Familiarity generates trust (incorrect personalisation does the opposite)",  got me thinking again about how some instances of personalisation just feel plain uncomfortable.  

There is clear evidence that a certain level personalisation - using dear "first name" in a targetted B2B email, for instance, or else a named contact with photo for people to speak to on a Thank You page - can improve engagement from your contacts. HubSpot cite, for example, "personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%". 

But on the flipside, research by CEB found that 49% of those surveyed felt "creeped out" by online ads that are obviously derived from recent searches or purchases they'd made. Known as the "personalisation paradox", it is clear that there is a definite line in the sand for people, as more and more data is collected on how we research, browse, buy and engage online.

Keith Errington's blog post (below) on the subject of when personalisation is just too much, offers an excellent summary of this paradox, particularly in a B2B context. He evaluates the research done, both "for" and "against" content personalisation in all its guises - email, search, content, social messaging.  And he offers six helpful guidelines to marketers on how best to use personalised content without over-stepping the mark. 

One obvious, but oft-ignored, premise that Errington underlines, for instance, is the importance of personalisation adding value to the experience you're creating:

"According to a study by BloomReach (UK Consumer and Marketer Personalization Study) only one in ten people find a named greeting to be worthwhile. These can be viewed as gimmicky and insincere. It offers no value. What people really want is customisation that actually benefits them..."

Avoid the temptation of simply providing value to yourself, just to prove that you know certain information about your lead.  If there is no value for them in individualising content that your providing, then avoid doing it.  

In addition, Keith discusses only using personalisation where/when your audience might expect it, i.e. after they've opted in to receive a newsletter from you or they have downloaded/bought something from you.  There's a danger of personalisation verging on the creepy when it’s unexpected: 

"Imagine a stranger coming up to you in the street and having a conversation with you about things you thought were private – how creepy would that be?" 

The suggestion here is that you put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and try to imagine how it would feel if you followed the same process in the real world. 

So, the key is to be transparent about the information that you have about your audience; use it only when it is helpful and interesting to them and in a way that still allows them choice.  Use content personalisation wisely in order to avoid an overly-intimate or uncomfortable approach that serves to offend and put off your potential customer.  Too much information (TMI!) can be a serious fail.