Are marketers romancing or stalking their customers? It’s a worthwhile question and one that deserves an answer in this era of increasing data and growing personalization.

Consider, for instance, today’s typical online prospect. She’s searching for a striped shirt for her son’s birthday. No sooner does she peruse the offerings at a couple favored brand web sites than her email inbox is flooded with shirt-selling retailer pitches, ads for striped shirts appear on her Facebook page, and shirt marketer messages crop up prominently in her smartphone apps.

It can — nowadays — happen to her in a matter of a minute or two. Is she feeling the love — or the creepy?

There is a fine line between romancing and stalking prospective customers, and brands and advertisers might want to find it. True, consumers today offer up details about their lives, habits, and activities willingly and often. It’s not the spying of marketers into private lives that’s accelerating personalization — it’s the propensity of consumers to make their private lives entirely transparent (even to “friends” on Facebook that they have never met).

There are ways that marketers can begin to back off the stalking and start working the romance. For instance, maybe using a customer’s name repeatedly is too forward. It can make the prospect feel too known, too boxed in, too spied-on. Also, using “larger segment” data — working demographic channels, geographic regions, and other slices — can create efficiencies and possibilities every bit as remunerative as inundating solitary consumers. It will also help identify and motivate consumer behavior without customers being so aware of the business’s tracking process.

For marketers to be most effective, they need to be creative, not creepy — to get subtle, and drop the sledgehammer. Sometimes less really is more.