Design and Workflow Blog

Personalization with privacy, in email marketing and beyond

Personalization and privacy seem to be in conflict with each other. Here's how to fix that.

Apple's privacy note when updating Mac OS

The general theme of the talks during this year's Email Innovations Summit last week seemed to be around privacy, personalization, and managing user data. While the last conference I went to back in November had talks that were a response to GDPR regulations, this time around, it feels like there is an evolved discussion around the topic of privacy, along with some ideas for solutions.

The personalization carrot and stick

In his talk, Ryan Phelan guided us through the history of email and its stages of innovation, showing how we're in the tidal wave of the third age of innovation focused around personalization and privacy. Later in the day, Andrew Kordek, showed us that for years personalization has been, and continues to be, an on-going goal in email marketing, and that the thing to keep in mind when seeking out solutions is integrity in what we do with user data.

People want personalization and we best serve our customers by providing it. But we need to take care of how we use their data and do what's right. Companies like Facebook and Google are wrongfully giving people the impression that there is no privacy online. Because of this, we need to show our customers that they can trust us with their data. And to do this we need a better understanding of privacy from our customer's perspective. Privacy should not be a bottleneck in providing a personalized experience.

"Privacy should not be a bottleneck in providing a personalized experience."

Privacy is an individual decision

As a user, I don't mind getting ads curated to me by Facebook or Google, as long as I know why, and how that works. I need to feel in control of my personal information. I need to feel like it's secure. And I need to trust its usage. And unfortunately, in these three areas, Facebook and Google are striking out.

Here's a good visual that's getting passed around on the web of what the future of privacy will look like. A permission-based approach that gives you full control over the data you share. Apple's next big iOS update is already taking a step in this direction with its own "Sign In with Apple" feature that asks you upfront what information you want to share with the app you're creating an account for.

Personalization and privacy working together

So what can we do to help our customers feel like they're in control over their information? We ask them permission and provide a clear context what their info is used for. Only then can we give them a personalized experience they'll feel comfortable with.

"So what can we do to help our customers feel like they're in control over their information? We ask them permission and provide a clear context what their info is used for."

Going back to Apple as a good example, they include short, clear privacy notices as you share various kinds of information with their products and services. In another talk at EIS, "Personalization Without Being Creepy," Dan McGaw starts by showing us just how much data we can get on our customers, and takes us through how it's up to us to decide what's necessary for their needs. He concludes with a couple of examples of tools we can use today: audience segmentation, and a preferences center for emails.

They seem like basic concepts that we're all familiar with, but put through the privacy lens, they meet the criteria for building trust with our customers' data. Segmentation filters them out from emails they don't want. And a preferences center gives them control over their personalization options. The last important component is to include why they are getting certain emails in our messaging. These methods respect our customers' concerns. And puts us on the right path towards personalization with solid privacy in mind.

Keep in mind privacy when it comes to your email production with Blocks Edit, a standards-based, platform-agnostic, visual editor for your campaigns.

Photo of Ovi Demetrian Jr Ovi Demetrian Jr