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In 2021, Charles Duhigg wrote an article for the New York Times, titled: “How Companies Learn Your Secrets” after a shocking public incident took place.

An angry father stormed into a Target store and demanded to know why his teenage daughter received coupons for baby products.

Later, he found out that his daughter was, in fact, pregnant!

Target was able to predict her pregnancy and subsequently, personalize the promotions she received. This was all thanks to a ton of (completely legal) collected data. Creepy – or GREAT marketing?


How does Personalized Marketing Work? How Have Other Brands Put It into Practice-Without Coming Off as Creepy?


Pick ‘n Pay rewards Shoppers with personalised discounts every two weeks, and they are automatically loaded to your smart shopper card.

The Target Store took this personalisation a step further. Their marketing analysts formed a “pregnancy prediction” score, which allowed them to determine which purchasing patterns indicated a customer was in the early expectant stages.

They focused on everything that women buy. What they found is that if a woman starts buying things that they do not usually buy like unscented lotion, zinc, and magnesium, those are all signals that she is pregnant, even if she has not told her partner – or in this case, her parents.


It was revolutionary! “Once a consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained,” Duhigg writes, “It’s incredibly difficult to change them.” That is, until, a major life event takes place, like finding out that a baby is on the way.

People start to buy products that they never previously considered and this change in buying behaviours triggers. The Target Store’s pregnancy prediction score, prompting the customer to receive special deals on baby-related items.


The Takeaway

While this level of personalised marketing is admittedly fascinating, it could backfire. Although it is completely legal, there is no law prohibiting companies to profile shoppers based on buying habits. The problem arises when shoppers find out that companies are profiling them, they tend to get freaked out about it!

This does not mean that marketers should do away with personalisation. Whether you are creating social media content, placing an ad, or sending out an email campaign, it is in your best interest to make sure your message speaks to each of your customers.

Why? Because when done correctly, personalized, and highly relevant messages yield a much higher Return on Investment (ROI). Statista found that emails with a message personalized got an 18.8% higher open rates. Compared to a non-personalized email that got a 13.1% open rate.


While the value of personalisation is clear, the task can seem challenging. This is especially true for industries like Travel, your audience can be a senior citizen looking to explore the Met-Art Collection to an 18-year-old look for the cheapest hotel room on Long Street in Cape Town – and everyone in-between.

However, with the right tools, personalisation is quite possible and can go above and beyond just including your customer’s name in an email.


Tailor your Digital Marketing Messages

Use tools to collect and combine data about customers and their preferences. This could include things like gender, location, website behaviour, and engagement with your brand. This can then be used to send incredibly targeted, personalized, and relevant follow-up offers, tips, and opportunities to customers.

Additionally, you can use information about past interactions and purchases to retarget your audience on different advertising platforms.

The aim of any personalization effort is to let your customers know that you are paying attention to them, that you understand them, without being intrusive. Striking a balance between, “We think you might find this helpful” and “we are watching you” is not a simple process.

Are you curious to learn how to do that with MDH Digital? Book an appointment to talk to a consultant here.