Get Up Close and Personal With Personalization

There’s an element missing from much of the personalized email I receive.

Most companies get the basics right. They add my name in there somewhere. And the smarter companies customize each message so that I receive information that is timely and relevant.

(I’ll forgive for the time they called me Mrs. Smith. And I’ll even get over that fateful morning when the folks at BabyCenter told me that at that time in my pregnancy my uterus had grown to the size of a football.)

But there’s a step to getting the best from personalization that most sites just don’t seem to get.

In addition to sending timely and relevant information, each communication needs to be written in a style and with a voice that fits the nature of the message and the expectations of the recipient.

Here’s an off-Web example. You buy a coffee, and the sales assistant takes your money and says something like, “Come back soon, and have a nice day.” That fits. But you wouldn’t expect that person to say, “The pleasure that has accrued to me through the process of serving you this beverage leads me to anticipate your return with pleasure, and I wish to extend a comparable sense of goodwill toward your good self until the sun sets.” The words just don’t fit the moment.

The tone and presentation have to fit the message to be credible. And the tone has to match the expectations of the recipient.

Recently I signed up at iQVC. This is one of my favorite sites because it ignores a lot of fancy Web-expert rules and actually manages to sell stuff and make a profit. So I expected a no-nonsense, down-to-earth style from its emails.

But here’s what I received soon after signing up:

    Dear Nick Usborne,

    WELCOME to QVC’s EMAIL SERVICES. We’re delighted that you’ve decided to take advantage of the speed and convenience of QVC email communications.

Blah, blah, blah.

Think for a moment about that line “We’re delighted that you’ve decided to take advantage of the speed and convenience of QVC email communications.”

Really, it means nothing more than “We’re glad you signed up.” And “take advantage of the speed and convenience of QVC email communications” is the kind of language you expect from an internal marketing report. It’s puffed-up cubicle-speak. That’s not written by one person to another. It’s lifeless and holds no promise.

What a shame that QVC missed the opportunity to extend the character of its site into its emails. Because it’s through email that they can really touch me one-on-one.

And this is the missing element in so much personalization. It doesn’t matter if you get my name right and deliver timely and relevant information to me. If the language you use doesn’t fit the moment and my expectations, you’re not being personal.

How can you put this right? For starters, stop depending on that technology you purchased to do all the personalizing for you. You have to use real people within the process.

People who have a gift for writing and who can write emails that match the moment. And who have heart.

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