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Collecting customer data: The thin line between stalking and personalized marketing

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Let's start with a poll! If you have another answer, leave a comment.

Do you feel like companies collect too much data about you?

  • Yes, and it's creepy!

  • No, they don't.

  • I'm not sure. I hope it's not too much.

Do you feel like companies misuse the data they collect on you?

  • Yes, they definitely do.

  • No, they don't.

  • I don't know, but I'd like to find out!


Ever been stalked by a brand? It's not nearly as fun as it sounds, but it is a reality. Brands collect data on their customers in order to understand them better and use that information to better target them with ads and offers. And while this might make you think of Big Brother, it can actually be an effective (and ethical) way for brands to market themselves to the people who want their products and services most!

The thin line between stalking and personalized marketing

There's a thin line between stalking and personalisation when it comes to collecting customer data. Collecting customer data is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s necessary to drive your business forward and make customers feel like you care about them. But on the other hand, collecting too much data can make customers feel like you're stalking them—and no one likes feeling stalked.

So in order to walk that thin line between stalking and personalized marketing (without going off into stalker territory), let’s take a look at some important considerations before getting started:

  1. The more data you collect about your customers—the better your understanding of their behaviour, interests and preferences—the better equipped you are to deliver customized experiences that keep them coming back for more. That said...

  2. When collecting so much information about your audience, it’s important not only how much but also how deeply you dig into this information. For example: If most of what I know about my target audience comes from knowing their shoe size or favourite colour (which may be useful), this might be enough at first glance but doesn't give me any insight into why these things matter or how they relate to buying decisions made by others who share similar traits (but may have different preferences).

Instead, I need to understand how these things influence purchasing decisions, and how they might influence people who are similar but different. For example, if I know that most of my customers tend to order a size 10 in shoes but also know that some of them have purchased an 11 or 12 based on the recommendation from their doctor for arch support... then this is useful information (and could be used to tailor my marketing efforts).

When it comes to collecting data about your audience, there are two main ways that you can do this: by gathering information

  1. directly from them (through surveys, focus groups, etc) or

  2. indirectly through secondary sources such as social media and review sites.

Did you know that even your toilet can collect rich data about you?

You may be surprised to learn that even your toilet can collect rich data about you.


Well, it's simple: a smart toilet automatically sends information to a cloud server every time you flush. This includes things like the time of day, duration of flushes and temperature in the room—but it could also include data points like your weight, height and even your diet (if you have one). The important thing to remember is that there's no need for this information to be sent if it's not useful or relevant.

Collecting customer data doesn't have to make customers feel like they're being stalked.

Do you read the terms and conditions around what data websites and companies collect from you?

  • Yes, I skim through them when I don't trust the company

  • Yes, I read them but never understand them

  • Yes, I read them and understand them

  • Nope. Too long; didn't read (TL;DR)

Collecting customer data doesn't have to make customers feel like they're being stalked. It's all about transparency, trust and making sure that customers have control over the information they share with you. Here are some ways to keep your customers from feeling stalked:

  1. Communicate clearly what information is being collected, how it will be used and how long it will be kept. If there are any situations where those rules might change (for example, if the company decides to sell their customer list), let them know about it in advance so that there can be no surprises later on. You can also give your customers options for how much personal information they want to share—and whether or not this information should follow them around even if they stop using your services.

  2. Create a process for accessing the data that has been collected about a particular user—or deleting this info altogether—in case she chooses not to share everything with you anymore (or simply forgets!).

  3. If you collect sensitive or private information, make sure it's protected by strong security measures. This means using encryption and password protection for any data that may be accessed by unauthorized users.

The key to finding the right balance is transparency and trust.

You can't build a good relationship with your customers if they don't trust you. And to do that, you must be transparent about how you use their data and why.

If you're using customer data in an ethical way, then it won't seem like stalking at all—it'll feel like personalized marketing that makes the customer feel special. But if customers don't trust your company, or feel like their privacy has been violated, then any data collected will be seen as stalking and cause them to disengage from your brand altogether.

To avoid this outcome (and ensure that everyone stays happy), here are some tips for building trust between your company and its customers:

  • Be transparent about what personal information is being collected from users of your product or service

  • Don't make promises about how long the information will be stored or when it may be deleted—this could come back to haunt you later on down the line when there's an issue surrounding storage or deletion rights

  • Make it easy for customers to opt-out of any data collection by making them aware of their options and providing ways to easily do so


So, there you have it: a brief overview of the privacy-respecting approach and some examples of what it means to be more transparent about your data collection practices. We hope that this article has given you some ideas for how to make customer data collection more transparent, and helped clarify what exactly is involved in respecting privacy by design.


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