The personal information your prospects provide to you has to be treated not only with total security, but also with exceptional sensitivity. To maximize your customers’ comfort, realize that they are uneasy about sharing that information with you and ensure that your email marketing messages reflect your care.

Innocuous Information Used For The Wrong Purposes

By the early 1930s, the Netherlands had established a very thorough population registration system similar to an extensive census in order to simplify municipal administration. The government collected extensive personal information on each Dutch citizen and in order to ensure that they received correct burial procedures, also asked the religion of each person.

Once the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, the records were all easily in their grasp. They used this information to determine which citizens were Jews and Gypsies, and proceeded to execute them within weeks. As a result, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of Jews killed by the Nazis, fully 73% of that population as compared to 25% in France.

This historical event not only demonstrates that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” but also that data which has been collected on individuals for completely innocuous reasons can be skewed to dark purposes.

The AOL Blunder That Revealed 650,000 Users

The early internet powerhouse AOL committed an enormous personal privacy violation in 2006 when they, completely by accident, posted the complete search records of well over 650,000 AOL users in a massive 4.4 GB file. Although these individuals were not directly identified, it turns out that most people conduct search engine queries on their own names or even social security numbers, so many are very easily determined.

Suddenly, individual web surfers were no longer anonymous and every single search term they had queried was public information, revealing every manner of eccentricity or outright perversion. “User 927” even became a bit of a cyber-legend as their search history was particularly chilling and became the subject of a major theatrical play. These AOL users would likely not have typed those terms into the search box had they known that it was not a strictly private event and might even end up on stage!

Permission Based Marketing Treasures Privacy

The sensitivity level of most online users towards protecting their privacy seems to diminish each passing day as the prevailing view is that it’s hopeless anyway. However, that does not translate into active approval of privacy violations, and this discretion should be very carefully noted by email marketers. Permission based email marketing is a covenant between the brand and the consumer: the brand asks for permission to send email messages and the individual agrees. It is also understood that along the way, the brand will be collecting information about the individual’s preferences for the sole purpose of offering products and services that best suit their proclivities.

Most consumers are more or less in agreement with this process as it has become nearly universal, but what they don’t want to see is their personal information flaunted. This does not only apply to revealing that information to third parties, but even by direct reference within the email marketing message itself.

Nuance & Subtlety Are The Keys To Considerate Emails

How the personal information is embodied in the email is where nuance comes very much into play. An elegant reference to their item of interest is always preferable to a clumsy direct statement. If we consider the rather extreme example of a pharmaceutical company communicating with a sufferer of a highly contagious disease, subtlety in portraying the clinical information is going to be preferable to “Hi Typhoid Mary, don’t infect everyone you know, buy…”

Compassionate consideration of your readers’ personal privacy will be appreciated and rewarded. Keep that in mind when planning your next campaign.