halloween-935259Halloween’s a perfect time to talk about a subject that sometimes comes up when I talk with people about personalized marketing. It’s called the creep factor.

When people talk about the creep factor, they’re often referring to online ads that seem to follow us around the Internet, advertising a product we checked out days earlier.  Called retargeting, this tactic allows marketers to take advantage of the data trail we all leave behind when we troll the Internet. Its goal is to get the consumer to come back to purchase the product they previously researched there.

Retargeting can be a helpful resource for those of us faced with overwhelming amounts of information when it comes to purchasing products. When we’re ready to purchase, it can often be as simple as clicking on a retargeting ad. Sometimes, the site is so smart that we have to do is enter our credit card info to complete the purchase. Talk about making it easy for the customer!

Zombie Ads  zombie-595962_1920

However, where retargeting ads can get creepy is when they turn into what I like to call “zombie ads.” Zombie ads don’t know that you’ve already purchased the product or lost interest.  Instead, they continue to stalk you around the Internet, refusing to recognize that they should have died long ago.  (Now you can see why I thought this would be a good topic to write about this time of year…)

I had a run-in with zombie ads last year, when I was updating my home and shopping for a new light fixture. As expected, a troupe of online banner ads of all the products I was looking at – including the one I ended up purchasing – stalked me pretty heavily. That was OK, as I was still in the middle of my pre-purchase research, and the ads were actually helpful tools.

However, once I purchased, I no longer cared to see these ads. And, I really didn’t need to see ads for the fixture I purchased! Yet, there it was, showing up in my Facebook feed, popping up on Huffington Post and appearing in my daily weather forecast. I was starting to become annoyed – and a little creeped out. More than anything, the irrelevant advertising left me feeling disconnected with this company’s brand.

3 Steps to a Better Approach

So, what could this advertiser have done differently? They could have:

  1. Learned a bit about me and found out I was planning to renovate several rooms for which I would need new fixtures.
  2. Determined the types of fixtures that most appealed to me, based on the kinds of products I was looking at online.
  3. Recorded my initial purchase and then promoted other products to me with additional advertising and email marketing.

With this information, their marketing would have been truly personalized and relevant, and they might have squeezed another purchase or two out of me. Instead, they kept showing me advertising for the same light that was already sitting in my house waiting to be installed!

Our industry makes this same mistake every day. It happens whenever we send another impersonal “batch and blast” email about programs that we have no idea a customer either has interest in, may have participated in already, or will ever be a fit for. While it may not be as creepy as a zombie ad, it certainly doesn’t help to drive program goals or build a strong, trusted relationship with the customer.

Rules to live by…

So, how do you make sure that the personalized marketing you’re doing doesn’t dial up the creep factor? Follow these key principles:candy-corn-525475

  • Ask permission, or make it obvious to customers that they are giving you permission, to track their data (i.e., by opting-in to ongoing email marketing or approving use of cookies on a website).
  • Speak in the language of your customers. Your goal is to appeal to their emotional drivers and engage their unique persona.
  • Message customers in a way that is most relevant. You want to reflect their recent activity as well as their current stage in the decision-making journey.
  • Provide a true value exchange that solves the customers’ active problems and will make their lives easier.

Now that’s the kind of approach that moves a lot of candy corn (…or energy savings).


At Fiveworx, we put ourselves in the customer’s seat everyday in the design and delivery of our custom-built email marketing and marketing automation platform.  With our new, next-generation adaptive learning engine, we are using data tracked for each customer to personalize their experience so that they see only the most relevant energy-saving measures and are prompted to take action. This proprietary approach drives greater participation in utility programs.  For example, for one of our clients we were able to boost participation in energy efficiency programs by 150%.

Contact us for a live demo of this exciting new tool and learn more about how Fiveworx can help you achieve your program and marketing goals.