Does Your Website Need an Ethical Personalization Strategy?

Does Your Website Need an Ethical Personalization Strategy?

Posted on May 22, 2024 0 Comments

Hyper-personalization is a big trend this year. While consumers crave personalized digital experiences, it’s all too easy for those experiences to go from feeling tailor-made to creepy and overwhelming. This post will explore why personalization is a good thing and an ethical personalization strategy is even better.

Consumers understand that data is being collected on them when they’re online. They also understand that brands can use that data to enhance and personalize the digital experience. That’s why they so often consent to letting companies use it.

But what happens when their data is used in ways that cross the line? While users might be forgiving when they encounter a 404 error or a page loads a tad bit too slow, they’re not likely to be forgiving when they find out their trust has been betrayed.

So, where exactly is that line when it comes to personalization? And how can you prevent your website, app or marketing efforts from overstepping it?

In this post, we’ll explore why personalization is an essential part of your website and marketing strategy. Then we’ll look at why it needs to be accompanied by an ethical personalization strategy and some things you should include in it.

Website Personalization Is a Non-Negotiable

Hyper-personalization in marketing can be a boon for business. When done right, personalization improves customer retention, increases customer loyalty and generates more sales.

But businesses aren’t the only ones who benefit from personalization. Consumers know that you have a wealth of data that you’ve collected from them. They’re willing to let you have it, too, so long as they reap the benefits.

According to McKinsey’s Next in Personalization 2021 Report, 71% of consumers expect personalized experiences.

Here are the types of personalization they prefer most:

  • 75% like when a brand makes it easier for them to find what they need.
  • 67% love receiving relevant recommendations.
  • 66% want customized messaging.
  • 65% like to get targeted promotions.
  • 59% want to receive timely communications.
  • 58% prefer a personalized follow-up after purchase.
  • 54% like when they’re addressed by name.
  • 53% prefer to receive reminders and recommendations based on their actions.

78% of those surveyed by McKinsey said that personalized content and communications makes them more likely to buy from a brand again.

But it’s not the mere presence of personalization that makes customers fall or stay in love with a brand. According to the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report, 80% of customers say they’re underwhelmed with experiences they’ve had with brands, considering how much data they collect on them.

Consumers might not understand how exactly the technology works behind the scenes. What they do understand, however, is that they can reap major benefits when it’s done well.

For instance, 65% of consumers expect companies to keep in step with them. As their preferences and needs change, so too should the personalized content and experiences they receive.

73% expect personalization to get better over time, too. Not just as a brand gathers more data on them, but as the technology improves. So if they’re finding better personalized experiences elsewhere, don’t expect them to stick around. 65% of customers give their loyalty to businesses that provide more personalization.

Why We Need Ethics in Personalization

It’s clear that customers want more personalization. And when a brand isn’t able to meet their expectations, they’ll gladly jump ship for a brand that will.

So, what’s the problem? Why do we even need to talk about ethics in personalization?

While customers demand personalized digital experiences, they have their limits. The second they receive the wrong type of personalization and it begins to feel exploitative or manipulative, they’ll ditch the brand just as quickly as if they offered no personalization at all.

According to Salesforce, 74% of customers believe that brands collect way too much personal information. In addition, 64% think that companies aren’t being honest about how they use their data.

Part of the problem is perception—users don’t trust that brands are being responsible with their data based on what they’ve seen.

In Valoir’s Navigating the value of ethical personalization report, 40% of consumers said they get messages they never opted into and that it’s impossible to opt out of the ones they don’t want. 33% also said that marketing today feels “way too creepy.”

It’s experiences like these that reinforce this mistrust.

The other part of the problem is that consumers don’t understand how data management actually works. Only 25% know what website cookies are or how they work, for instance.

What to Include in Your Ethical Personalization Strategy?

There’s a delicate balancing act that digital teams need to maintain.

How do you give your customers the right amount and type of personalization without crossing the line they’ve drawn in the sand?

This is where an ethical personalization strategy comes into play.

It all starts with a transparent data policy. According to Valoir, 10% of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands that have easy-to-understand data usage and privacy policies.

This data policy should clearly explain what data you collect and what it’s used for. It should also explain what levels of control your users have over the data you’ve collected. If data is shared with third parties, it should also be noted in the policy.

Data policies are important for building trust with users. They’re also useful for your team in establishing the ethics that drive your personalization strategy.

Once your data policy is set, you need to formalize a set of strategies to go with it. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Comply with data tracking and collection standards and regulations, like GDPR and CCPA.
  • Create cookie consent forms that require users to select their preferences.
  • Collect only the data you need from users.
  • Add a double opt-in to your subscription signup process.
  • Make the opt-out process easy to find and complete.
  • When subscription options are included in contact or checkout forms, leave the option unchecked by default.
  • Allow users to set preferences regarding the types of communications they receive as well as the frequency of them.
  • Time pop-ups, emails, texts and other notifications in a way that doesn’t feel aggressive, intrusive or shaming.
  • Keep communications outside of the website relevant to the agreed-upon terms between your brand and the user (i.e., if you say they won’t receive promotional emails, don’t send them).
  • Clearly label all sponsored content, ads and recommendations as such.
  • Never share data with third parties without express user permission.
  • When third-party sharing is agreed to, make sure to partner with companies that have their own ethical personalization and strong data management policies.
  • Set a data expiration date in your system so you’re not holding onto data indefinitely.
  • Allow users to request data deletion at any time.
  • Carefully manage and monitor AI-driven marketing as bias, discrimination and over-personalization are all risks associated with this technology.
  • Implement a strong data security policy.
  • A/B test different personalization options to find the approach that your users prefer most.
  • Use a content management system that makes personalization easy so you can focus on enacting your ethical personalization policy.

These strategies allow users to consent to data collection, understand what it’s used for, and have the ability to customize, opt out and/or delete it at any time.

Wrapping Up

Users are entrusting their data to you in the hopes of getting something back in return.

The only problem is, when they start to see signs of that not happening, the trust and relationship you’ve tried to build with them erodes. This can happen because your website content feels a little too personal and creepy. Or they’ve been bombarded with messages, some of which they never signed up for. Or now they can’t get off of your mailing list no matter how many times they hit the “Unsubscribe” button.

This is why ethics needs to be part of every personalization strategy. Because while the demand for personalized experiences is high, it can all backfire if the line between ethical and unethical personalization is crossed.

That being said, personalization can pay off big if you do it the right way—with more sales, better user retention rates and greater loyalty. The key is to give your users visibility into what data you’re collecting and how you’re going to use it. Then stick to those terms.

Suzanne Scacca

A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.


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