How NOT to Personalize a Document

By | December 7, 2010

In a classic Seinfeld episode, the comedian joked, “There’s good naked and bad naked.” So it is with personalization. There’s good personalization and bad personalization.

The goal of personalized communication, whether it’s in print or email, is to create a message that is relevant to the recipient and engages the recipient in a relationship with the marketer. While some may think that more personalization is  better, that’s not always the case. You have to be careful what and how you personalize.

I got a personalized contact today that unnerved me out and made me want to immediately end my relationship with the sender. If it had been from a marketer rather than a potential client, I would have.

The sender is a someone who, as part of his ministry, is beginning to send out daily inspirational emails.

The first contact was a welcome email, addressing me by name. Nicely done. Although adding names to emails is easy these days, I appreciated the extra effort.

The next day, I received my first daily email, which could be accessed using an email link. Clearly, he was tracking responses. So far, so good.

The next day, I received my next daily email. I didn’t have time to read it, so I left it unopened.

Today, I received the daily email and gasped.

Dear, Heidi.

You haven’t read your last lesson so this is a reminder to login and read your latest lesson below.

Agh! Personalization gone amuck.

First, there had only been 24 hours between the initial email and the reminder. Then there was the issue of the wording. I am tracking you—watching you from afar—so I know you haven’t opened the email yet. You signed up to read these, Heidi, and since I’m monitoring you, I’ve noticed that you are slacking. Get on the stick, girl!

That may not be what he intended, but that’s what he wrote.

It drives home just how important it is to think through how, when, and why you (and your clients) contact customers and prospects with personalized information. How is this personalization being used? How will it be received by the target? Will it be welcomed as a relevant, helpful communication? Or will it make them feel invaded?

Remember that personalization, on its own, does little. Done wrong, it actually can be harmful. Personalization is simply a tool. Be careful how you use it.

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5 thoughts on “How NOT to Personalize a Document

  1. Thaddeus B Kubis


    Great comment, as a long, active and strong supporter of personalization marketing I would agree that many efforts could do more harm then good. My favorite “bad” example is the direct mail effort from a major corporation that invited me to a one-on-one training event, which took place the week prior to when the mailing was received. The follow up mailings and emails supported this now week old event. Even when I replied that the event was now two weeks old and unless I had some sort of time machine I could not go back a few weeks, the request to attend kept coming. When developing a marketing effort, personalized or not, I use the RIIM/ROI formula; Relevance, Interaction, Integrated, Measurement and ROI. Yes correctly dated and accurate contact information are more then a bonus item.

  2. Patrick White

    Totally on target. The sender might have delivered a reminder:

    Your latest lesson is now available on-line: Please login to read it!

    …that might not have been so offensive. Also, one would hope the sender could have used the correct punctuation in the personalized line. And always remember to use conditional logic if your list includes folks for whom you lack a first name, to avoid the Dear : disaster!

  3. Marty Thomas

    Ahh.. the classic big brother is watching! It reminds me of following up sales leads received from a PURL. Many business use PURLs to track who is visiting their website, and forward the leads to their sales team. Quickly following up with new leads is proven to increase conversion rates. But I warn people not to instantly follow up the second they get the lead. For the ones visiting the website, that is just freaky!

  4. Eddy Hagen (VIGC)

    I also got an interesting one today, from my bank: their newsletter, with a very poorly personalised letter. It only had name/address personalisation on top, the letter itself started with ‘dear reader’…

    But a bit lower, it became really interesting (translated from Dutch): “If your assets exceed 1 million euro, you can use our private banking.” Wow! I don’t even come close to having 1 million euro in assets. They know that. They know what I earn per month, they know my mortgage, they manage all my investments (the few I have), I only have a second savings account with another bank. But they send me a

  5. Eddy Hagen (VIGC)

    (Oops… hit the ‘submit comment’ by accident, here’s the rest)
    But they send me a letter with information about a very exclusive service which I ABSOLUTELY don’t qualify for! This is unbelievable…

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