Marketing personalization tips and pitfalls

Personalization has been the marketer’s holy grail for a long time.

From 1998-2002 I instructed the Integrated Marketing Communications course at the University of Washington. The first few years, I used The One-to-One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers as one of my textbooks.

Of course, one of the key messages of the book centered on making messaging more personalized. “Dear Patrick” is way better than “Dear Customer,” after all.

Permission Marketing was another one of my texts. It raised the bar and said that every message you send must be “anticipated, personal and relevant.”

Now, technology has made it easy to personalize email marketing messages, web landing pages, direct mail, and more. Promotional items have been personalized for years, but the options today are mind-boggling.

Viral online games that you can personalize by uploading your own photos are now mainstream.

Here’s a video about my run for the Presidency that shows just how far you can go with personalization:

Patrick Byers for President - Click to view the video.

Most consumers prefer personalized messages, and personalization increases open rates, response rates and just about every metric that matters to marketers.

Should you start personalizing all your marketing messages?

Well, yes and no.

Personalization often backfires. My wife’s name is Arden, and I can’t tell you how many pieces of mail she gets calling her “Mr. Arden Byers.”

Privacy is a concern. Get too personal and consumers get nervous. You’d surely received the mortgage refinance letters that know exactly what you owe? “They know too much about me – that’s creepy,” is a common response. Personally, I get angry.

Personalized isn’t necessarily personal. Simply inserting someone’s first name after the word “Dear” may not be enough.

Today, Freddy Nager wrote an interesting post regarding the way rock bands, and in the case, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails connects with his fans.

His comments regarding personalization got my juices flowing and are the inspiration for this post.

No, the letter doesn’t address me by name, but fans are savvy enough to know that no rock star can personally address millions of fans, so Reznor simply avoids that pretense.

(Junk mailers take note: just because you use my first name in the salutation doesn’t make me think it’s personal.)

At the same time, he writes in first person, addresses the reader as “you,” and speaks to them in a casual, uncensored way.

Compare that to the emails many of us get from corporations: “Dear Freddy, We at Humongoloid Bank Inc. want to thank our customers for another record year…”

Chew on that for a minute, then tell me, while personalization matters now, how long do you think it will be before consumers get “personalization fatigue?”

Put another way, how long before marketing personalization becomes so prevalent it becomes irrelevant?

Comment below to share your thoughts.

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  • Justin says:

    This is an interesting topic, Patrick, that I think continues to resurface in my work with clients on a regular basis. Whether it’s creating a one-to-one e-marketing strategy or a mobile advertising strategy, I find myself always coming back to this premise: personal, but not creepy.

    With behavioral, attitudinal, and contextual data more available to marketing teams, it’s all to easy to blur the lines from helpful to super creepy. (You know, every marketing exec I’ve talked to about mobile brings up the “wouldn’t it be great if you walked by X and we could send an offer about Y right to their phone?” That’s creepy.)

    To avoid such an utter lack of privacy and disconnect with the real world, I always recommend my clients find what’s most valuable to their customers in the context of their brand. Use research to discover how their customers accomplish everyday goals, tasks, and needs with/around/through the company’s product(s). (I find this type of data usually comes from observational research, like contextual inquiry, and less from–arguably meaningless–focus groups.)

    Then, with that knowledge, one can provide content that connects customer value with corporate brand in a context that’s meaningful, and well, not creepy.

  • Personalization is only as good as your database. I get a lot of incorrect mail to “Ms. Shel Horowitz,” or worse, variations like Hortwiz, Morowitz, etc. Yeah, this really makes me believe this company knows me, riiiiight.

    Years ago, I was part of an org called Dance Spree. We got a lot of amusement from the mass-mailed envelopes that said “D. Spree” has won $ 1million.”

    Deception just doesn’t work. Properly used, however, personalization does work.

    –Shel Horowitz, award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First

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