How to Not Get Personal

The other day I got an email from someone that I hadn’t heard from in quite a while.  As I scanned through my inbox, my friend’s name and subject line caught my eye.  The subject sounded urgent – he wanted me to call him right away.  As I opened the email and read through it, my heart sunk – I was disappointed for my old friend.  With one simple mistake, he’d managed to destroy a great deal of trust.  Let’s take a quick look at the mistake he made so that you don’t accidently make the same mistake he did.

How to personalize your marketing the right wayWhat happened?

As I read through the email, something sounded a bit odd.  I couldn’t put my finger on it with the first pass, so I read it again.  Then I saw it.  The email “appeared” to be a personal email.  The subject line and opening sentence were all worded so as to provide the impression that this email was just for me.  But then the email footer gave it all away.  This was an email that had been blasted out to his list.  The result for anyone who noticed the unsubscribe notice in the footer, was the feeling that this message wasn’t completely honest.

Where the mistake was made

Most of the email was just fine and if the opening line had been changed, it would have been a great marketing message.  The mistake was that the opening line made a statement that could only be true if the message had been sent, individually to a single recipient.  That opening line about how “I was thinking of you in particular today” is nice to hear, but isn’t credible when sent out as part of a big mailing.

An attempt to personalize the marketing message had gotten too personal and had backfired.

Personalization the right way

Personalized marketing produces much higher response rates than their generic cousins – when it’s done right, that is.  When it’s implemented badly, lower responses and long term damage to trust is done.

Personalizing your marketing is really about tweaking your message so that it more specifically fits your target audience.  Your message should speak to your audience in such a way that when they read it, they realize you’re talking very specifically to them – that you understand their situation and their needs.  For example, a mailing to prospects letting them know about a new service that you offer should be worded differently than a mailing to customers letting them know about the exact same new service.

A great trick for striking the just right balance when it comes to personalizing your marketing is to imagine that your target audience is assembled in a room and that you’re going to speak to them from the stage.  In that setting you wouldn’t tell them that you were thinking of each one of them.  You would however speak directly to their shared issues and concerns.  Personalizing your marketing will increase the response that you receive, as long as you take care not to get too personal.

  • Eric August 9, 2012, 7:35 pm

    Great article. I receive multiple newsletters and I have seen people make this mistake. It is offensive and is a total credibility killer for sure.

    • Charles August 10, 2012, 9:31 am

      Thanks Eric. It sure is important to hit the right balance with personalization. Too general and your message gets ignored. Too personal and it ruins credibility because it doesn’t seem authentic. The subtle but important difference between talking to a single person vs. talking to a group.

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