Washington, July 2 : A new study suggests that firms using personalised marketing e-mails containing people's names, hobbies, and other personal information to pitch sales may be at risk of losing prospective customers.
"People bristle at personalization just for the sake of personalization. It comes across as too pushy. They want personalization that is relevant to them," said Tiffany Barnett White, a University of Illinois marketing professor who headed the research.
She said that personalised e-mails could click only if they offered value, and also quickly explain how personal information like buying tastes and leisure interests relate to the sales pitch.
"When messages are highly personalized, but lack value and justification, they have unintended effects. They can actually have a boomerang effect and cast the firm in a negative light, sending customers running to the competition," she said in the study report, which appears in Marketing Letters, a peer-reviewed journal.
During the study, undergraduate students were surveyed to gauge response to marketing e-mails with varying amounts of personal data, ranging from just names and hometowns to more detailed information like reading or cooking preferences.
The results of the study eventually showed that the degree of personalization was less important than whether the pitch had value, and whether it told customers how the deal and their personal information intertwined.
"If the offer was valuable and justified, the level of personal information didn't matter. Firms were no better off for throwing all of your personal information at you," Tiffany said.
According to her, the results of the study were surprising because it was purely based on personal data provided voluntarily, rather than from credit-card companies and other third-party sources.
"Even when someone has volunteered their personal information, they still have preferences about how firms use it. They don't want to be bombarded with a mountain of facts about themselves unless they perceive a very good benefit," she said.
Tiffany pointed out that her study only looked at responses to messages with varying degrees of personalization, and that further research was required to determine whether marketers should consider abandoning personalization completely and just focus on offering value.
"I can't make any statements now about whether firms should just not spend money on personalization. But I think the big takeaway from this research is that personalization might not matter and it may actually hurt," she said.
Meanwhile, she suggested that marketing firms used personalized e-mails to convey value, instead of trying to "wow" prospective buyers with detail about them.
"Don't just use a tool because you have it. Use it with the consumer's perspective in mind. Think about the psychology, not just the technology. There needs to be a perceived value to personalized messages," she said.
Tiffany said that personalized e-mails without value might backfire, making consumers feel threatened by sales pitches they consider over the top.
"That can really give smaller businesses an advantage. At the extreme, it could make consumers go searching for competitors that they might not otherwise have gone searching for. Those smaller firms probably don't even have the technology to do that, and consumers find that somehow refreshing," she said.
"Nowadays, consumers are so much more savvy. They're so bombarded with tricks of this nature that they start to seem like tricks. So the onus in on marketers to convince consumers that this isn't a trick, that it has some value," she added.