Personalized Marketing Can be Ineffective — and Creepy

Based on the research of Jacob D. Teeny, Joseph J. Siev, Pablo Briñol, and Richard E. Petty

Simply having a compelling message isn’t enough.

If you scroll through your inbox right now, you’ll probably find a message from an online retailer, touting a selection of products handpicked “just for you.”

Emails like these are one form of personalized matching, a persuasive tactic that dates all the way back to Aristotle, who believed speakers must consider the emotional state of their audience when making arguments. Modern technology has bolstered the effectiveness of this ancient strategy, making it possible for marketers to gain ever more detailed information about potential customers—and use that knowledge to grab and hold their attention.

At the simplest level, matching (also called segmenting, targeting, tailoring, customizing, or personalizing) takes place when “a persuasive message has a characteristic in common with the recipient of that message,” explains Jacob Teeny, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School.

But despite the ubiquity of matching, we know surprisingly little about when, why, and how it succeeds.

Here are 3 research-backed tips for getting it right.

Originally published on December 2, 2020