Who’s bright idea was it to personalise marketing communications? This strategy emerged alongside the introduction of computers as business tools in the eighties. To begin with I imagine it was a novel experience, getting mail with your name on it, but back then it was novel to actually own a television – things have moved on.
I don’t mind receiving personalised post, but the thing is for it to work it has got to be correct. This is something that marketers have forgotten, by and large, and I should know because I’ve been a culprit of this kind of thing myself. It does make me wonder if anybody ever thinks about why they are personalising a mass-communication before sending it out though. It’s a default action for most marketers and its significance has been forgotten such that it is bolted into communications. The design has been considered carefully, the copy has been expertly written and then they go and spoil it by presonalising it… incorrectly.
Every piece of direct mail I receive from BT spells my name “Niel” and not “Neil”, a simple error yes, but it’s also one which serves to stop me from reading further than the envelope the communication comes in. If they just sent an unpersonalised mailer I might actually read it.
Why we shouldn’t presume we know about the person we are talking to
The problem with database-driven marketing is that it is actually very dangerous to make assumptions about the person you are trying to communicate with. I’ll give you an example here. I once asked a lady if she was pregnant…
She looked pregnant, she sounded pregnant, she even smelled of pregnancy, I imagine. I didn’t actually smell her to confirm things one way or another. Maybe if I had I would have saved myself from myself? In the future we may well greet one another as if we were dogs, now there’s a thought and not a very nice one (I’ll stick it in my Futurology thinking file nonetheless).
Anyhow, she wasn’t pregnant. So the moment I asked the innocent question the world went into slow motion and the room fell silent – I forgot to say that this was in a meeting at work so there were plenty of witnesses. She replied, “No, why do you ask?”. I had no choice but to reply “…you have a certain glow about you.” Needless to say, this didn’t suffice as an explanation. However, in my defense, she did look pregnant and really the onus should have been on her to dress appropriately to avoid any confusion – why people blamed me for that moment I’ll never know.
That moment however was actually pivotal in my thinking about personalised marketing communications. If in doubt leave it out(TM). I like that, so I’ll just trade mark it for now.
The trouble with business to business communications is that people change their jobs every few years, so there is always a large percentage of your audience who are not going to be who you think they are. In these instances you’ve got to ask yourself the question of whether you should run the risk of personalising the communication.
There are some products where personalising the communication is a big “no-no”. Take incontinence products for example. Imagine the look on the postman’s face when he hands you the mail knowing about your little secret, it doesn’t bear thinking about, especially if he shares the issue and gives you a wink and asks you to open up about the problem.
All of this explains the rise of social media marketing, because you get the customer to do the bulk of the work for you. You don’t need to buy-in data lists to identify possible customers, they’ll do the job for you. That said, you can bet that what seems innovative and novel now will be over-played and used again and again by ignorant marketing departments such that the same mistakes will happen all over again.
Finally, I’ve been waiting for a platform to share this piece of direct mail I received from Orange recently. I won’t talk about it. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking for me, and yes I know that personalisation wasn’t the problem here.