Whenever I get email examples that spark ideas, I feel the need to share them with my fellow Topliner-ers - and today that happened!


A little background, yesterday I became an Aunt! Yipee for me! My youngest sister had the first baby of the family. Not surprisingly, I was all over Facebook commenting on family photos, posting my own, reposting hers, etc. Important note: I personally did not have a kid. Nor do I have any kids. Nor am I pregnant! (At least I hope, unless this predictive marketing thing is getting too good -- yikes!)


Today I woke up and saw this email from Shutterfly:


[Insert blank stare here]


My first reaction was disbelief. Then I was totally creeped out. This card calls me out as being a new parent, congratulating my on my non-existent baby. Perhaps this was some accidental coincidence that Shutterfly sent this out to me today, the day after a new baby entered the family. But at the end of the day, I'm still left having to wonder! And not in a good way.


That brings me to my best practice recommendation: don't over-personalize! To be clear, I'm speaking to non-user supplied information. If someone filled out a form on your site and told you they just had a baby yesterday, I think the email above is awesome. It's easy to get data from third party sources, but as soon as you dip into more personal information (think kids, kids names, number of kids, known address, travel plans, recent trips, etc.) I caution you to be careful when using this in your email marketing. Will the user remember giving you this information? Will the user have a better experience if you use this information in your marketing efforts?


There was quite a huge backlash when re-targeting/re-marketing was first introduced, because most people didn't (and perhaps still don't) understand why they were seeing the shoes they were just looking at on Nordstrom.com are now showing up in their Facebook feed. But even that is not really using personal information. And, it's not in your email inbox! To me, online ads are quite a bit different than something sitting in your inbox. It feels more personal; it feels more like they've tapped into something they shouldn't have as opposed to cookied me on a website.


As a consumer, I'm now sitting here racking my brain for where the heck they would have gotten this information - and the only places I can think of are Instagram and Facebook. I didn't sign up for any baby newsletters, I didn't send any flowers, I didn't check in at a hospital, I didn't buy any baby things yesterday - I did nothing that I can think of online that would let this vendor know that I (or anyone in my family) had a baby recently!


The more streamlined that big data becomes, the more important it will be for us as marketers to tread lightly, and protect that data. At the end of the day, we want our customers and prospects to have a good, useful experience, and to feel safe. I'm all for personalization where it makes sense, and I think it makes for an awesome user experience, but I definitely think that there's a line that needs to be drawn. At least for now. Perhaps ask me again in a year or two when this kind of thing is much more mainstream, and I might sing a different tune


What do you think? Have you ever had any creepy encounters in your inbox?

UPDATE: I'm starting to hear that more and more people also got this email, which makes me think it was a strange coincidence. However, that brings me to my next point...triple check your send lists before launching a campaign;) But you all knew that one, right?

UPDATE (5/15/14): It turns out that this was a total coincidence in my case, and that thousands of people got this email. It blew up almost immediately on social media, including on their own Facebook page, given the sensitive topic, and was covered on numerous news sites. Many others had similar feelings to mine "Are you stalking me?" "Is this because I just uploaded my baby's pictures to your site?" And others, sadly, were in sad situations where they had recently miscarried, they are unable to get pregnant, or had just lost a child.

At 9:40pm PT last night I received the below apology email. In my opinion timing is very important with something like this, and I would have liked to see this go out a) much sooner (20 hours seems excessive) and b) during normal hours. Not many people, including myself, are checking their personal email at 9:40pm (work email is another story ).


While my initial tune has changed from "don't stalk me", my key takeaway (which at this point I'm hoping is glaringly clear) is to protect your database data like it's your own. Had the topic of this email been about Halloween cards, I'm sure that the reaction from everyone would have been much different. Double, triple, and quadruple check your send lists. Especially when you're sending out such a sensitive email, have multiple people take a look at your data and send list. I'd even recommend running a send like this one by someone from a completely different department, go call up your friend on the web dev team, who is not familiar with the list and won't just 'gaze' over it, and have them take a look.

Also, pay attention to the details of an even more important email, such as an apology, and don't end your apology email with a footer that says 'This offer is exclusively for the account of ....@email.com.' *Face palm*