When I was a child and visited my grandmother in the summertime, she would often warn me to be careful of what I said on the porch of her row home. She didn’t want the neighbors to “know too much about her business.” My great aunt took her privacy issues even further. She cut her name and address off of every piece of mail before disposing of it. She didn’t want anyone to figure out where she did her banking or shopping or anything else about her. Somehow, I don’t think the garbage men were fooled.

Subsequent generations don’t seem to share those concerns. Social media has changed attitudes about privacy. Now we’re comfortable sharing information with family, friends, neighbors and sometimes the whole world! We’re also inclined to share information with the businesses we deal with, especially when we feel that we’re getting some benefit in return.

“Do you want to sign up for our rewards program?” “Can we have your email to send you notices of sales and special promotions?” “Will you take our short survey about your shopping experience?” We say “yes” most of the time.

As advertisers, these are golden times for gathering data about clients, and you don’t have to be a big business to do it. Email marketing and online surveys don’t require big budgets and can give your business a lot of insight into your customer base. Where do they live? What age group are they? How often do they shop or use your particular service? What kind of promotion motivates them to purchase more often?

Clients today are looking for “a relationship” with a business. They are more inclined to purchase from a business that they feel knows them. Collecting and analyzing data allows you to design custom advertising campaigns to increase sales. A prime example of this is a direct mail piece I recently received from my grocery store, where I have a rewards card. The piece contained about eight coupons – all of them for items I regularly purchase. This wasn’t coincidence. Combining information collected about my shopping habits and marrying that with variable-data printing, they sent me a very personal marketing piece to entice me back into their store, where hopefully I will buy more items than just those few I have coupons for.

Customized marketing doesn’t mean that you have to create a different message for every single client, but you might have two to six different messages that would be targeted to clients based on age, geography, previous purchase habits or other parameters. Media outlets, such as variable data printing, email marketing and digital advertising, are cost-effective ways to send customized messages.

So, gather that data; it’s time to get personal with your clients!