How can marketers know exactly how far is too far to go with personalization? A survey shows which data consumers are most willing to share, and who they trust the most—and least—with their personal information.

Tom Silveri, senior vice president of corporate marketing, Infogroup

Tom Silveri, senior vice president of corporate marketing, Infogroup

It’s no secret that consumers prefer personalized messaging from brands. Past research conducted here at Infogroup found that 90 percent of consumers say that messages from companies that are not personally relevant are “annoying,” and an astounding 44 percent of consumers are willing to switch to brands that better personalize their marketing communications.

But as we know, there’s a thin line that marketers must walk when it comes to personalization. If your personalization efforts aren’t aggressive enough, your brand will come off as uncaring. But personalize too aggressively, and your brand is likely to freak out some of the consumers that it was hoping to woo.

When it comes to sharing data, it matters who is asking—and what they’re willing to offer in return.

So how can marketers know exactly how far is too far to go with personalization? To bring that line into greater focus, Infogroup recently surveyed more than 1,000 consumers to gauge the level of connection that they most desire with brands.

The Line Between Invasive and Caring

Having a great product is essential, but it’s not everything. While 58 percent of consumers ranked excellent products and services as the surest way to win them over, more than a third ranked some form of messaging driven by personalized data as being most important to them. Such personalization might take the form of meaningful content (preferred by 15 percent), relevant advertisements (11 percent) or amusing messaging (11 percent), but they all have one thing in common: If a brand can get these messages right, it can establish authentic connections with consumers.


Overall, consumers want brands to have certain details about them, but they’re split on where they draw the line. For example, we asked consumers to imagine they recently moved, and that their favorite brand sent them a housewarming message and associated deal without the person having updated the company about their new address. Thirty-six percent of consumers said that would make them feel as though the brand cared about them. But another 20 percent said it would make them feel concerned or uncomfortable. In other words, this is a high-stakes environment where the jury is still out on what exactly best practices look like. Therefore, the execution of personalization and the value exchange delivered is more important than ever.

Finding Consumers’ Data-Sharing Comfort Zone

The best way to walk the line between caring and invasive if to have a strong understanding of how consumers view their personal data. Our survey found the following to be the five types of personal information consumers are most willing to share:

  1. Email address
  2. Full name
  3. Age
  4. Employment status
  5. Phone number

However, when it comes to sharing data, it matters who is asking—and what they’re willing to offer in return. Our survey found that 27 percent of consumers are most comfortable sharing their personal information for marketing purposes with local businesses. This is followed by larger enterprises (11 percent), government departments (6 percent), regional brands (5 percent) and non-local small businesses (4 percent). To be clear, that means that consumers would trust their local pizzeria with their personal information more than twice as much as enterprises, and more than four times as much as government departments (which include everything from the IRS to the Department of Health and Human Services).

This would suggest that consumers tend to think emotionally and not rationally when it comes to who they trust with their data. It also means there’s an opportunity for advertisers to more clearly indicate, within their creative executions, the value exchange that they’re providing in exchange for a person’s information.

Consumers are also happy to trade personal information for deals and special offers. According to our survey:

  • 56 percent of consumers will share personal data for membership in a rewards or loyalty program.
  • 55 percent of consumers will share personal data for free shipping.
  • 49 percent of consumers will share personal data for a discount or coupon.
  • 41 percent of consumers will share personal data for a free gift with purchase.

Finding the Right Channels for Personalized Messaging

Of course, the channels brands use to connect with their audiences are just as important as the messaging they use. Our survey found that an overwhelming 71 percent of consumers say email is the best way for a brand to contact them. Another 23 percent of consumers prefer to get in touch with a company with a phone call—but only 7 percent want a brand to initiate a phone call. In other words, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

That said, there are demographic differences to how consumers interact with brands, particularly in terms of channels. For example, adults over 60 are three times more likely than Millennials to prefer brands to make contact through the mail. Meanwhile, Millennials are 11 timesmore likely than Baby Boomers to download a brand’s app. In addition, 92 percent of Millennials are willing to share personal information for a good deal.

In short, the line between caring and invasive when it comes to personalized brand communications isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition for consumers. For marketers to get it right, they must understand who their audience is and what type of personalized communication is most likely to resonate with each individual. To get started on this path to forging meaningful connections with today’s consumers, marketers must seek out data that can power such truly actionable insights.

Infogroup provides data analytics and marketing services.