Calling your customer ‘babe’ is taking personalisation a step too far

After Jessica Hodkinson fell victim to an over-familiar EDM ambush, she wondered if marketers might have finally crossed the personalisation line.

Last week, I received an email with the following subject line: ‘Babe, those shoes you wanted are now on sale.’

Even though it caught my attention, it also made me cringe and feel a little uncomfortable.

So I decided to post about it on LinkedIn.

My issues with the ‘babe’ situation were threefold. Firstly, I simply don’t like the word. It’s grating, and is something I can only just about deal with when a friend addresses me in this way. A brand will never be my friend, so I can’t give it a similar pass.

It wasn’t just ‘babe’ I had a problem with – the retargeting was all off, too. The shoes weren’t the ones I wanted, so the attempt at coming across like a mate felt even more clunky.

If you’re going to try and act buddy-buddy with your customers, at least make sure you’re offering them something they actually wanted in the first place.

After all, your friend would know that you didn’t actually like those shoes, wouldn’t they?

Finally, like it or not, babe is a gendered word. It presumes all females talk to each other in this way, and has the potential to turn a lot of customers who are sensitive to this kind of thing off – myself included.

Babe… is a pig

When crafting an email subject line, it’s important to try and capture attention in as few words as possible. This isn’t always an easy job.

In order to succeed, you need to know your audience. To do this, marketers need to avoid alienating those who may not be familiar with colloquial or unnatural language – like ‘babe’, for example.

So why are brands trying quite so hard to be our friends?

As the market becomes increasingly cluttered and we hear more and more about the importance of personalisation, marketers are trying harder than ever before to connect with their customers on a personal level, and make them feel more valued.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this approach in theory, but somehow ‘babe’ seems to take things to the next level. It reads a that generic girly way of greeting someone, which outside of teen movies doesn’t actually exist. All it does is make me, as their consumers, think they don’t actually know me at all.

Ultimately, the reminder for marketers here is the importance of language. If one small word has the potential to turn customers off for good, then you’d better make sure you’re paying attention to every single word you use to communicate.

Using smart and witty one liners can be a risky game. Sure, you might find bold headlines lead to more initial clicks, but are you really going to forge a genuine relationship through shock tactics and gratingly over-familiar language?

A/B testing is a great way to get around the uncertainty.

And when all is said and done, ask yourself the question: would you do the same in person?  Or it is easier to push the boundaries a step too far because you’re behind a screen and can’t see them?

After all, would you dare call a customer babe if she walked into your shop?

Jessica Hodkinson is a content marketer and blogs at www.onlineprpixie.com.


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