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Personalisation has become one of the biggest marketing trends in the industry in recent years. You’ll hear countless marketers talking about personalisation as an essential strategy for every brand and all kinds of marketing tools offering a wide range of personalisation features for email, landing pages, website copy and newer marketing channels, such as chatbots.

The statistics are heavily in favour of marketing personalisation, too. HubSpot research shows that personalised CTAs achieve 202% higher conversion rates, for example, and there’s no shortage of similarly impressive stats.

Personalisation done right is one of the most powerful strategies marketers have available and the latest technologies in data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence are making new things possible ever year.

However, personalisation done wrong is one of the worst ways to alienate your target audiences (precisely the opposite of what this strategy tries to achieve) and these seven fails show just how bad rogue personalisation can be.

#1: The “Hey {firstname}” fail

This is one of the most common marketing personalisation fails you can make. Most marketers start their personalisation efforts with email and addressing people by their first names is email personalisation 101.

It’s really simple to implement, too.

All you have to do is collect people’s first names when they sign up and automatically insert these into the emails they receive.

Source: Customer.io

The problem happens when people don’t provide their first name while signing up and you don’t have a back-up phrase to insert in its place (like the image above).

How to get it right

Source: Campaign Monitor

Make sure you have a fallback phrase (like the image above) so that you can still deliver a relevant message to people who don’t provide their first names.

#2: The insensitive message fail

Once you get past rookie mistakes like the first name fail, things can actually get even messier if you start delivering irrelevant messages to people – or worse, messages that are a little too relevant.

In the worst cases, you can end up sending insensitive messages to people and this is hardly going to help in terms of building a relationship with prospects, let alone encourage them to buy from you.

How to get it right

Be careful with campaigns related to health, mortality, finances or anything else that could target unfortunate life conditions.

For example, people searching on health websites for content related to specific illnesses might not appreciate receiving emails mentioning those conditions, unless they’ve specifically signed up to receive email content related to that illness.

#3: The excessive remarketing fail

Remarketing is one of the most effective ways to chase up lost leads from paid traffic and feature like Customer Match in Google Ads allow you to turn your email lists into new retargeting audiences.

Why is remarketing so important? Well, because users who see relevant remarketing ads are 70% more likely to convert.

However, like all good marketing strategies, overdoing it with the remarketing can cause more harm than good.

How to get it right

Wait 24 hrs before you start targeting users with remarketing ads – perhaps longer. Nobody wants to be bombarded with ads as soon as they leave your site – especially when they open up an entirely different app.

#4: The congratulatory fail

Sometimes, you can have the best intentions in the world and end up knee-deep in a PR mess. Sadly, this is always a risk when you automate something like marketing personalisation without the proper safeguards in place.

Life issues such as infertility are a daily struggle for many people and you don’t want to contribute to this. Building relationships is about showing you understand your target audiences and adding value to their lives, not twisting the knife.

How to get it right

Don’t create personalisation campaigns unless you have the required data to deliver messages accurately. How do you know that person has just had a child? If the answer is you don’t, then don’t create a campaign sending out congratulatory messages.

#5: The user-generated content fail

Most of the headline-grabbing personalisation fails we’ve seen over the past few years have been from brands reaching out for user-generated content. Sounds great, unless you allow people to upload anything they like without any verification process to block offensive content.

Remember that Walker’s campaign asking users to upload selfies, which was hijacked by people sending in pictures of convicted killers and sex offenders? Needless to say, having your brand associated with people like Harold Shipman isn’t a great look and people are pretty quick to point out such blunders, which quickly go viral.

Aside from the obvious PR disaster, personalisation fails like this tell the world you’re a brand that doesn’t understand the core basics of this technology and probably shouldn’t be trusted with personal data.

How to get it right

When you allow people to submit their own content, have clear policies in place and a system that’s able to filter out unsuitable content. If you don’t have the necessary team or algorithms in place to detect content that’s vulgar, racist or offensive in some way, you shouldn’t be running campaigns that allow people to upload content without restrictions.

#6: The real-world context fail

Marketing automation is a wonderful thing and personalisation at scale wouldn’t be possible without it. However, most personalisation fails result from using rigid automation workflows that can’t deal with certain variables – such as users not providing their first name or sending insensitive offers to people afflicted by certain life struggles.

Another variable you have to deal with is real-world events like natural disasters, conflicts, political issues and even terrorist attacks.

Adidas fell the wrong side of such a variable when it sent out messages to its running shoe customers as part of a Boston Marathon campaign. Congratulating runners for surviving arduous marathons normally wouldn’t be a problem but considering the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this is one event where such messages really aren’t going to evoke the desired emotions.

How to get it right

Consider real-world events when you’re creating campaigns and have an editorial process in place. Instead of thinking along the lines of “Congrats, you survived the [location] Marathon,” assess every possible version of this message and make sure there are no undesired interpretations.

Alternatively, you could create an algorithm to automatically search for any real-world events associated to every message variant and trigger a red flag for anything that needs attention. For example, an algorithm that inputs each message into Google and looks for trigger words in the SERPs that could be related to real-world tragedies or other events you don’t want to reference.

#7: The not personalising fail

Considering the personalisation fails we’ve looked at so far in this article, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth the risk. However, personalisation done the right way is worthy of all the impressive stats we’re used to seeing.

For example, Monetate’s EQ4 2018 Quarterly Report, which analysed more than a million sessions across the globe, finds that when customers were targeted with three personalised pages conversion rates doubled, going from 1.7% to 3.4% (compared to consumers who only see two pages) and when they’re exposed to 10 personalised page views, conversion rates jump up to 31.6%.

More importantly, consumers want personalisation with 80% of shoppers saying they are more likely to buy from a company that offers personalised experiences.

In fact, the worst personalisation fail you can make is failing to personalise altogether.

How to get it right

Create a personalisation strategy that improves the customer experience across the entire buying process, over multiple sessions. Understand that the consumer journey doesn’t end with the first purchase and create personalised campaigns that entice your customers to keep engaging with your brand and continue buying from you as their needs change.

Avoid personalisation fails by having the right safeguards in place (as we’ve looked at in this article) and make sure you have the right marketing expertise on board to help you prevent issues from happening. Personalisation relies heavily on automation and you need data experts who understand what kind of variables to protect against.

Finally, if the worst happens, admit to your mistakes and be honest with people about the challenges of delivering personalised experiences effectively.

Personalisation is only going to get better

Research from SalesForce finds that 57% of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for personalised offers or discounts. In the same study, 52% of consumers said they would share personal data in exchange for product recommendations, and 53% would do the same for personalised shopping experiences.

People want personalised experiences and the technology at our disposal to deliver them is only going to improve with time. Personalisation fails can hurt your brand image but the companies that are really going to miss out are the ones that fail to deliver personalisation at all.

Mistakes will happen but it’s the processes you have in place to avoid them and how you deal with them that really matters.

Aaron Brooks is a copywriter & digital strategist specialising in helping agencies & software companies find their voice in a crowded space.

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