CMO Magazine published a post with a provocative URL a few weeks ago: “Why Your Customers Don’t Want Personalization”. The actual headline is less pessimistic, but the point is: it’s easy to confuse truly valuable personalization efforts, with personalization that your customers view as intrusive.

It’s worth reading the entire article. But the basic point is that customers want control of their own shopping journeys (see this Deloitte report for more). In fact, the same technologies that give you more data about them (the Internet, mobile, and search) give them more data about you and what you sell. Customers are better-equipped than they have ever been to make an informed purchase decision without your help. And they want to exercise that power.

So how can you use personalization effectively? The key is to create value for the customer on their own terms. Create value that the customer recognizes as value, and that fits into their buying process. If your customer is going to carry you around in their pocket all day, they need to know how it benefits them.

The article’s author, Lisa Cramer, identifies three things you can do to communicate these benefits:

1) Customers should be able to tailor their content preferences. This goes beyond opting-in, or opting-out. It means that customers choose what types of offers are valuable to them, when, how, and how often they’re delivered.

2) View the information you’ve gathered as a way of improving the customer experience, not as a way of reducing the amount of effort required to sell to them. Use privileged information thoughtfully.

3) Consider not using personalized data directly. Instead, aggregate it and use those profiles to better your target your customers.

The key is to be thoughtful. Don’t freak your customers out. Use their data to support them, not to extract more from them.