Learn From Their Personalization Mistakes: 3 Examples Of Brands Misusing Data

Gladly Team

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5 minute read

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Modern consumer brands strive to provide the ideal customer experience. They want shoppers to feel at ease and taken care of by their staff, in-person and online. To that end, personalization has been a major north star for these brands to boost the quality of their customer experience and, in turn, drive customer loyalty and recurring revenue.

But there is a line you don’t want to cross with personalization, and some brands have shown a lack of tact and overstepped their bounds in the collection and use of customer information. More than just unnerving, these experiences can break trusting relationships and even drive customers away, as Gartner notes that 38% of shoppers would stop doing business with a company if they found personalization efforts to be “creepy.”

To know where to draw that personalization line, let’s take a look at some examples of brands that went too far in trying to win shoppers’ attention.

Personalization Mistake 1: Disney’s Haunted Mansion

Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, attracts millions of visitors yearly of all ages. For those on the older side, the Haunted Mansion attraction (the basis for the 2003 movie starring Eddie Murphy) offers a more chilling, haunted-house-like experience. In 2016, an adjustment to the customer experience took that creepiness to a new level.

Disney gives attendants personalized wristbands using their information to log entry into different points in the park. At the Haunted Mansion, the attraction took that technology and used customer names and even home states during a final animation sequence where that info was etched onto holographic tombstones. Although the creepiness factor is part of the sell for this ride, some audience members noted this might’ve taken things just a bit too far.

The takeaway: Think carefully about how the data you use is applied within your customer experience. Personalized approaches should always be in the pursuit of improving the shopper’s journey, and should not affect your brand perception or trust.

Personalization Mistake 2: Netflix Really Knows Its Audience

Although usually tight-lipped about its performance and viewership numbers, Netflix will occasionally reveal tidbits about its own user data for other purposes. One now-famous example came around the holidays in 2017, when the streaming giant tweeted out, “To the 53 people who’ve watched ‘A Christmas Prince’ every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?”

While an attempt to be funny and relatable, the post was noted for being creepy, a little rude, and most importantly, a violation of privacy. Though Netflix tried to incorporate user data to give its social presence a more personalized, consumer-knowing touch, the snark was seen as a step too far.

The takeaway: Aggregating data to understand larger groups of your audience is a common and helpful practice. Broadcasting that data as a wink-and-nudge, however, is not. If anything, personalization should drive social sentiment in a positive direction through customer experiences that inspire word-of-mouth and organic conversations.

Personalization Mistake 3: A Baby Products Wholesaler’s Maternal Misfire

Utah-based baby products wholesaler Mother’s Lounge attempted to use data to reach future customers but ended up pushing away new shoppers instead of pulling them in. The campaign idea was to target women based on their age and location to indicate a higher probability of pregnancy in order to send them seemingly handwritten “Congratulations!” notes along with gift cards to their stores.

Needless to say, the vast majority of the women were not actually pregnant. The reactions ranged from freaked out to triggered, as one woman had unfortunately received the mailing on the one-year anniversary of her miscarriage. Clearly, this poor attempt at personalization crossed a line and soured the recipients’ impressions of the company.

The takeaway: Data applied to marketing can be tricky and is part of why third-party data is being regulated out of use. Personalized customer experiences can and should predict customer needs and shopping behaviors, but at the same time, brands should appreciate how these predictions are delivered and used to build loyalty.

Avoiding Personalization Mistakes on Your Customer Service Team

These missteps from other companies show the pitfalls, while also demonstrating how much more opportunity exists for smarter, more strategic brands that understand the landscape and their customers. Radically personal service comes from using the best technology and well-trained support staff in unison, drawing on openly shared customer information to drive relationships and, ultimately, greater loyalty.


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