Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Personalization Screw-ups - Innocent or Harmful?

Today I'm going to talk about the drawbacks to personalization marketing.

Why, what could possibly go wrong with personalization, you ask? It's the wave of the future! It allows marketers to talk to every prospect, by name, in a one-on-one conversation. We can insert copy elements fitted to specific demographics, even specific personalities! How could there possibly be any drawbacks?

Simple. You can make a mistake.

In January, I mailed in my business license renewal form like always. I'd never had any problems before. But since then, I've been receiving lots of promotional mail. Must have gotten on a list or five. This wouldn't be more than a typical annoyance, but for one thing.

Most of the promo mail is addressed to "Ferret Blue Communications."

Now, I'm pretty sure I didn't write my own company name wrong. In fact, some promotional letters I've received are indeed addressed to the proper "Blue Ferret Communications" business name. But I'd say at least 80% are wrongly addressed.

I've even had telemarketing calls - to my HOME phone number - asking for "Ferret Blue Communications." Today was the most ostentatious example - a corporate gifting company sent me a very good-quality leather 2007 day planner. With (of course) "Ferret Blue Communications" emblazoned on the cover.

Behold - the downside of personalization. One tiny error, and direct marketing becomes direct facial tic.

I grant you, this is not some grievous mishap. Someone in the distribution process simply copied down two words differently. I know how easy that would be. As such, I'm not taking the error personally.

However, it would be easy for someone else, in my position, to do so.

That's where a personalization screw-up can have serious consequences. One person's clerical error - say, knocking the Name field matchup to the list address down by one - could lead to hundreds of companies looking foolish in front of thousands of prospects.

My guess would be that their rates of return wouldn't be so hot if a letter addressed to Sally began as, "Hello Jim!"

Why am I talking about this? Mostly because I wanted to put it out there for others. I can't be the only person who's noticed mistakes like these. Plus, as a writer, I'm aware of how potent the first few words are to a potential customer. Why else would there be so many books and blog posts dedicated solely to writing headlines and subheads?

In a way, small direct marketers can use this problem as a competitive advantage. Giant publishing firms have many eyeballs on each piece, but things still slip through. (In fact, most every messed up piece I've received has come from big-name publishers.) Smaller firms can illustrate value through meticulously inspecting their work before it goes to the mailbox.

Should you be planning to use personalized direct marketing campaigns this year, be very mindful of how you address your list. Triple-check the outputs before you head into mass printing, if you have to. You don't want to have a large chunk of your target market become irritated - and dismiss your efforts - because of something as avoidable as names being flipped around.


P.S. - I'm waiting on an email reply, expected later today or tomorrow. There will be a mini-update once I receive it on my Zookoda distribution, and an addendum to Monday's BlogTip. Be sure to check back!


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