“Marketers need to rethink the way they treat customers online"

"Nathalie Nahai needs little introduction for many marketers. Her bestselling book ‘Webs of Influence’ was released five years ago, and with the 2nd edition published earlier this year, it is still one of the most relevant guides exploring how to offer customers a better online experience. The core message: the better you understand your customers, the better the experience you can offer them. The result: happy returning customers and more conversions. "The plan was to give my first book a small updates, but I ended up rewriting the whole thing,” Nahai smiles during an interview with Bloovi. During the interview we dive into the future of persuasive design, and the effects that overeager use of data can have on online conversions. "Yes, marketers can offer amazing experiences by using customer data. However, it’s important to not overdo it,” warns Nahai. “Moreover, I think it’s time to reconsider the way we think persuasive marketing as a whole.”

Facebook knows more about you than you think

A lot has happened in the world of web psychology in the past five years. That’s why Nahai decided to update her bestselling book. “Marketers are living in a golden age. After all, there are opportunities than ever before in order to reach the ideal customer. Moreover, marketers have loads of data at their disposal to reach out to them in a personal way.” A lot of brands are using data in smart ways, but according to Nahai there are more and more worrisome cases in which customer data is used in a wrong way, eroding not only online conversion rates, but also consumer trust in brands. Additionally Nahai sees that social media networks - such as Facebook - are increasingly experimenting with psychometric profiling in order to analyze its users’ state of mind and personality so that they can serve them better ads. The problem: the customer is hardly aware that this is happening. According to Nahai recent research has pointed out that Facebook knows a lot more about its users’ personality than most of them realize.

“Brands which are using customer data in a wrong way are actually harming their online conversion rate instead of improving it.”

“Facebook only needs to analyze your likes in order to infer (to a high degree of accuracy) your personality traits, sexual preferences, possible drug use & specifics about your emotional state,” Nathalie Nahai says. “Very few people realize that social networks are gathering this kind of information. But of those who do, many continue to use these networks because for the majority of us, convenience still trumps privacy,” Nahai explains. “Also, social media networks are trying hard to make us believe our data is safe by encrypting messages. But what people don’t realize is that while services such as WhatsApp might not know the contents of your messages, they still collect data on when you are chatting, to which chat groups, and also knows who you are chatting with…”, Nahai warns. “In the past it has also relayed this information to Facebook, in order to be able to serve more personalized ads, often without full consent of the user”. According to Nahai, this needs to change.

 “I must admit that sometimes I worry about the direction persuasive marketing is taking”

“It’s often only when people are confronted with a creepy situation that they begin to question how much of their personal data is freely available online”, Nahai says. “But, things are starting to change. Websites such as applymagicsauce.com - by the University of Cambridge Psychometric Centre - show how much social networks really know about you. An example of how Facebook is doubling down on psychometric profiling is the fact that it conducted a Newsfeed experiment a couple of years ago which implicated 689.000 people. During the experiment Facebook wanted to see if it could impact users’ emotions when showing more negative or positive content in the Newsfeed,” Nahai explains. “The experiment showed that the social networking behemoth actually can influence our emotions. Many lawyers, internet activists & politicians were outraged by the experiment that was held without consent of the people involved,” recalls Nahai. 


Time to rethink the way customers are being treated online?

photo: Nathalie Nahai (source: nathalienahai.com)

"I must admit that sometimes I worry about the direction persuasive marketing is taking. Although I am optimistic about a future in which marketers can deliver great experiences to customers in a mutually beneficial exchange, marketers should be cautious about not taking their ‘data obsession’ too far. A great experience can quickly turn into a creepy one if sensitive data is used inappropriately and without consent. That’s why I think it’s the right time for the marketing industry to reconsider the way they are approaching customers online".

"How did they get this information? I felt tracked and surveilled.”

Recently the author herself was targeted in an ad that totally creeped her out. “I was served a pre-roll ad by Burberry which used the initials that I sign my emails with. The fact that a brand that I’ve never engaged with is suddenly using my personal information in an ad made me very angry, and raised alarm bells as to how on earth they obtained this information. Moreover, I felt tracked and surveilled - to my knowledge, I hadn’t authorized my information to be mined and utilized in this way. If you think about this scenario in terms of building a relationship, it's the equivalent of a stranger in the street giving you a kiss without your permission. For most of us, it’s not going to be a desirable experience.”

"In the future, the brands that succeed online will be those that respect the integrity of the customer.”

Nahai thinks such experiences can be very disturbing for customers. “Today marketers can create a strong relationship with customers when they are using data in a smart and transparent way. If they fail to do that, a good experience can quickly change into a disturbing one.” That’s why she thinks marketers could benefit from reassessing the way they are approaching their target audience online.


Time to do it differently. But how?

"The problem is that most people still don’t understand how brands are using and obtaining their data,” Nahai says. “It’s basically a black box, and in many cases customers haven’t give brands explicit permission to use their data. We’re already seeing a rapid and widespread rise in the use of ad- and tracker blockers, and if brands don’t start taking a more respectful approach to their customers, users will continue to take matters into their own hands and businesses risk losing out altogether.”

"If there is one piece of advice I’d like to give to marketers, it would be to ask yourself: if this marketing campaign were used on me, would I be OK with it?”

According to Nahai, “successful online brands will be those that respect the integrity of the customer. Brands should see this as an opportunity to be more transparent and open about what data they are using and how they are using it. Moreover, they should ask their customers for explicit consent to use their data, and be clear on how and why it will be used. A similar approach is actually being legislated for in the updated European GDPR regulations which come into effect on the 25th May 2018, and those brands that fail to comply with the new laws will face heavy penalties” Nahai says. "If there is one piece of advice I would like to give to marketers, it would be to ask yourself: if this marketing campaign were used on me, would I be OK with it?”  If the answer is yes, chances are it’s OK. If you are not sure, don’t.”

Want to learn more about how you can earn the trust of your customers and boost your conversions as a result? Bloovi is bringing the renowned web psychologist to Belgium on Tuesday, November 28th. During a keynote speech at Conversion Day, Nathalie Nahai will share many interesting insights about online marketing. Interested? Book your ticket here! 

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