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Personalization is creepy.

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

File these rules under “totally obvious advice that almost no one follows.”

  1. Don’t be creepy.
  2. Treat everyone online as if you’re talking to them in real life.
  3. Long-term relationships build long-term businesses.
  4. You are never automatically entitled to track a person.

You wouldn’t walk up to someone in public, call them by a name you hope is right, make obvious you scraped their personal information from a social profile, and pitch your latest crypto-adjacent course.

Best case scenario: that person runs away.

Worst case scenario: you tried that sh@t in Texas and now you need to be shoveled off the sidewalk.

Nevertheless, personalization remains the trend that won’t go away – or shut up about how great it is.

From Litmus’ “2023 State of Email Design Report,” under the heading, “Why utilize personalization in your emails?”

“Right now, 64% of emails sent by companies leverage personalization using dynamic content, and over half of email marketing teams want to improve their content personalization. At this point, personalized emails are an industry standard and requirement!”

That sounds like an order!

Actually, it sounds like a lack of taste on many fronts. Yes, they all want more creepiness. Yes, they used the word “leverage.” Yes, they used the word “utilize” in the heading. “At this point,” I wish professional writers were “an industry standard and requirement.”

So, what happens when Apple provides privacy features to block some of the creeps from being more creepy?

From Dan Oshinsky, in a newsletter I really like, “Not a Newsletter”:

“I got more than a handful of panicked emails about the announcement. Some sent me articles suggesting that Apple would be making it impossible to track click data or would strip away all UTMs attached to URLs.”

Heavens no! Whatever shall we do?!

I like Dan’s work a lot. It’s probably because he took the time to meet me. He does this with any of his readers. All they have to do is schedule the meeting. Ghost recently published a bunch of examples of newsletter writers who make the same offer.

Does that scale? Of course not. That’s the point. Everyone’s so worried about what scales, no one sees the obvious solution for non-creepy engagement. Be a human.

Gartner, of all companies, just released a report that seems to agree:

“A majority of customers (62%) don’t want to exchange their personal data for more relevant and personalized recommendations and/or experiences. And the more of their personal data that marketers use, the creepier and more intrusive they find personalization.”

That’s been my experience. I’m sure personalization works to sell more in the short term when used with a light touch. But I’ve never subscribed to anything because I hoped I could be sold to more.

A seller-focused strategy will always lose head-to-head against a reader-focused strategy in the long run. It’s a competitive opportunity too few are willing to explore.