Combining Personal and Personalized in Your Email

How we say something is as important as what we say. Today, I am going to talk in a more detailed way about writing and delivering personalized messages. I’ll use examples of each type of message, ranging from the most impersonal to the most personal and personalized. I use the term “personalization” to mean communication directed toward a specific person. “Personal” communication is from a specific person or has its own personality.

The Nonpersonalized, Impersonal Message

This is the type of writing found on Web sites that are little more than online catalogs. There is no editorial and no attempt to merchandise products other than simply allowing access to them via searching or browsing. In the email world (when a company like this actually tries to do some merchandising), this type of email begins: “Dear Valued Customer. Here are our specials this week.” The response to an email of this nature is expectedly very low. You (the user) don’t particularly care about the contents of the email, because the message isn’t addressed to you specifically and the products are not necessarily of interest to you. This form of communication rates zero on the personalization scale. Neither the message nor the delivery is personalized.

The Personalized, Impersonal Message

Can I call you at 8 a.m. on Saturday? Whenever I get one of these annoying calls asking if I want to switch my long-distance service, I find the person on the phone insincere and impersonal. In reality, the call is very personalized. For starters, it’s a one-to-one conversation with a real person — how much more personal can you get than that? The caller knows my name and has an offer just for me. But why does the conversation feel impersonal? Because it sounds like the salesperson is filling in a template that starts with “Good morning, ’insert name here.’” He doesn’t care about me. The information and method of communication is personalized. The conversation isn’t. Emotionally, I even feel violated that he has personal information about me. I feel like I’m just a number to him.

The Nonpersonalized, Personal Message

Dear Valued Customer, Let me tell you about my dad. Last year, the email marketing manager at a company I worked with sent a nonpersonalized, mass email for Father’s Day. She didn’t have the budget to address recipients by their names; she instead used “Dear Valued Customer.” The message was also not personalized, in that it was not tailored to the individual recipients. Instead, the message was personal — she talked about what she was buying her dad for Father’s Day and what else the store had on sale that month. She also signed the message with her name instead of “The Staff.” The result? Responses were significantly higher than any other email campaign in company history. In this case, the correspondence felt personal, although it wasn’t. It touched people on a deeper level than simply “Here are our specials this month.” Porto Rico Coffee in New York prints a very personal catalogue I love reading. I learn a lot about the owner and his passion for coffee. I feel like I know him when I walk into the store.

A Better Personalized, Impersonal Message

When we refer to personalized email, this is what often comes to mind. A typical example of this form of communication would be the personalized email major e-commerce companies send containing product recommendations based on your past purchases or “my” areas of Web sites that promote products. In email, it usually takes the form of: Dear Jack,

Based on your last purchase, here some other products we think you will like:

Product 1
Product 2
Product 3

The Staff

This type of email is certainly better than the others I discuss above. It’s more effective. Yet, striving for this level of personalization is not good enough. There’s another level that can be achieved without too much extra effort.

Personalized and Personal Message

This is the holy grail of personalization — both the message and delivery are personalized and the message is personal. I can imagine an email like this reading: Dear Jack,

Father’s Day is here again! If you’re like me, you’re probably racking your brain trying to figure out what to buy your dad this year. Though a silk tie is the easy way out, I guarantee it won’t make a memorable day for your dad. Last year, you bought the James Bond DVD Collection #1 around this time. Was it for your dad? If so, he might also like the James Bond DVD Collection #2 or the Godfather DVD Collectors’ Edition this year. If you bought that for yourself and not your dad… well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? Maybe he would like these recommendations.

I bought my dad a new golf set last year. I learned never buy your dad a golf set because it will never be exactly what he wants. So this year, I’m opting for a book of golf stories.

If you’re really stuck for ideas, here are some other gift items my gut tells me most dads would like:

Product 1
Product 2
Product 3

Take care, Bob Jones
Gift Advisor (and son of a great dad)

Is this type of letter possible to send out? Yes. Is it possible to automate this type of letter using personalization technologies that currently exist? Yes. Does it have to be very expensive? No.

Take a personal and personalized approach to your communications. Use the combination that fits your budget and resources. Make certain your communications are more than mail merges of personalized information into cold, insincere templates.

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