Customers shun personalised marketing e-mails, study finds

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Customers shun personalised marketing e-mails, study finds

Marketing e-mails that include customers’ names, hobbies and other personal information could come across as “too pushy”, a U.S. study of e-mail marketing has found.

According to researchers at the University of Illinois, businesses run the risk of alienating customers with e-mails that use personal information without relating such information to the sales pitch.

At the extreme, personalised e-mails could benefit small business competitors that could attract consumers by not having the capacity for personalised e-mail marketing, researchers say.

“People bristle at personalization just for the sake of personalization,” said Tiffany Barnett White, a marketing professor who headed the research.

“When messages are highly personalized, but lack value and justification … they can actually have a boomerang effect and cast the firm in a negative light, sending customers running to the competition,” she said.

The study surveyed undergraduate students to gauge response to marketing e-mails that included varying amounts of personal data.

Data was provided directly and voluntarily by survey respondents, and ranged from names and hometowns to more detailed information such as reading or cooking preferences.

The degree of personalisation was found to be less important than the value offered by the sales pitch, and whether the e-mail told customers how the deal related to their personal information.

“Even when someone has volunteered their personal information, they still have preferences about how firms use it,” White said. “They don't want to be bombarded with a mountain of facts about themselves unless they perceive a very good benefit.”

“Nowadays, consumers are so much more savvy,” she said. “The onus in on marketers to convince consumers that this isn't a trick, that it has some value.”

White said more research is needed to gauge whether marketers should consider abandoning personalization completely and just focus on offering value.

“Don't just use a tool because you have it,” she advised.

“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.”
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