When Apple first revealed its plans or iOS 9, mobile professionals were disappointed to learn that, despite all predictions, they will be unable to personalize their product based on other apps installed on a user’s device. The mobile giant’s decision symbolizes one of the more challenging battles in the mobile arena: personalization vs. privacy.
Looking at the recent studies on the subject, it’s easy to see why the industry struggles: Marketers have failed to deliver personalization that lives up to users’ standards, even though they are prioritizing mobile personalization and investing in it. Simultaneously, marketers have been accused of overreaching on the number of permission requests they ask users for during the onboarding process; it’s been called a data-theft epidemic. If you’re a mobile marketer, you may find yourself between a rock and a hard place, feeling like you simply cannot win.
But there’s hope just yet. There are a few ways you can find the right balance and give users a personal experience that feels comfortable but not alarming. Here are three of them:
1. High quality segmentation
Every day after sunset, as Waze and Google Maps users open their apps, they are welcomed with a nice little treat that most remain unaware of. The backgrounds of the apps switch to “night mode,” making it easier to navigate after dark. This is a great example of personalization that users can appreciate without worrying about its consequences.
Instead of giving users the feeling that you are after their personal data, there’s always the possibility of high quality segmentation. With segmentation, we look into the behavior or environmental settings that affect a group of people. Weather conditions and time of day are perfect examples of that. If your product is a cooking app, for instance, you can highlight soup recipes when it’s raining at the user’s location. Segmentation provides a significantly better experience, using details that most users would feel at ease sharing. It gives users a sense of “they’re looking after me” rather than “they’re after me.”
2. Mobile personalization transparency
When you opt for mobile personalization transparency, users will not be amazed to discover that your app can “read their minds”; they’ll know how this magic was done and for what purpose. In order to encourage collaboration, give users instant gratification by delivering personalized content right after you ask them to participate.
Another great thing about the transparent approach is that is gives users the sense of control over how their information is being used. They can choose to expose their data or not. It’s up to you to convince them by creating a compelling experience that will provide real value.
3. Under the radar
Now that we’ve discussed the transparent option, it’s time to talk about the opposite approach. An interesting study revealed that when it comes to email marketing, sometimes a personalized email containing the contact’s name can actually cause a negative reaction, decreasing the opening rates. Researchers believed that this response is based on fear of privacy invasion. One lesson we can take from this is that sometimes the best personalized user experience is the one that goes unnoticed. If you can resist the urge to let users know just how hard you’ve worked to make their app better, you could enjoy stronger conversion rates.
The idea of hidden personalization is that the app simply provides users with a customized experience in a seamless, natural way. For instance, if your user’s behavior indicates a certain field of interest, highlight that topic in the app without announcing, “We’ve noticed that you like this.” Your product will become more relevant, without users even noticing that you’re using their data to get there. It’s important that you keep the personalization subtle and at low frequency, because if you take it too far, it will actually increase concern.
A big part of our struggle with mobile personalization comes from a somewhat twisted notion of what personalization means. Personalization is all about building strong, authentic relationships. Mobile marketers should listen to users and give them the most relevant product possible. By truly focusing on creating a better mobile user experience, the industry can improve its reputation and convince users that their personal data is being put to good use.
Shai Wolkomir is cofounder and CEO of Elasticode, a Techstars company helping mobile app owners create and deliver mobile user onboarding experiences. He has been an entrepreneur for over a decade, with extensive background in the mobile development and cyber fields. You can reach him on LinkedIn and Twitter.