Personalization: Serendipity Vs. Deeper Relevance

By | July 31, 2012

I received another personalized direct mailer yesterday (Kohl’s) that caused me to think more deeply about last week’s discussion spawned by my post about Sherwin Williams’ use of a naked Microsoft Tag in its direct mailer promoting its new line of paint.

The Sherwin Williams mailer offered no discounts. It offered no incentives. It simply promoted a new line of premium paint, with a naked Microsoft Tag floating next to the copy. Our family is looking to relocate to an old farmhouse, so for us, this was good timing. I took the time to scan the Tag and was pleased to see that on the mobile landing page, the company is also offering a mobile color selector and color matching apps. I don’t know about the paint, but the tools were exactly what we need!

We aren’t quite ready to move, so we aren’t looking to purchase paint immediately. But even so, when the time comes, Sherwin Williams has just made itself top of mind. At that time, we won’t be looking for a gallon or two. We’ll be looking for enough to paint the entire interior of a house. That was a good score for Sherwin Williams.

In the comments area of last week’s post, however, I was chided for thinking naked barcodes were a good idea. After all, people want discounts. They want incentives. “Give me a reason to scan.  Naked barcodes don’t offer any of the things that most consumers want.”

Okay, I get that. But in this case, our paint needs are very specific and go beyond incentives. When you are looking at restoring an older home, the ability to color select and color match is far more important than a few dollars discount. Our life needs are incentive enough.

The other day, we received a different kind of personalized mailer. It was from Kohl’s, with our personalized offer and $10 off coupon if used by a specific date. With multiple children about to head to school in the fall, this is a nice thing to land in the mailbox. But unlike premium paint in historic colors that needs to be matched to woodwork, area rugs, and antique furniture, back-to-school clothing can be bought pretty much anywhere. In this case, the coupon makes a difference. I’m likely to do a certain amount of shopping at Kohl’s over, say, Target or Ross.

For Kohl’s, it was serendipity that won my business. In the case of Sherwin Williams, however, it was the relevance of the product and the add-ons themselves. Wal-mart can offer me 50% off paint and it won’t win my business. Likewise, if Sherwin Williams had offered me a coupon, it wouldn’t have made me more or less likely to buy their paint. It just would just erode their margin.

This doesn’t mean that for Kohl’s, it’s always going to be serendipity that wins my business. I have a very specific preference in style of clothing, and not everywhere sells it. Should Kohl’s profile its customers by clothing line, it might want to drop me a postcard when another bohemian-style shirt in rich earth tones hits the shelves. In that case, the relevance of the personalized contact falls into the same bucket as the Sherwin Williams promo — the relevance is in the product itself, not the broader umbrella of “clothing” — and so discounts might not be necessary at all.

It got me thinking again about matching the goals of the campaign to the target audience, and then choosing an incentive that matches the goals of the campaign. I still need to find someone inside Sherwin Williams to find out exactly what their goals were, but the contrast between the two mailers illustrates a great point about relevance. Sometimes serendipity. Sometimes it’s something deeper. The trick is to know which is which.

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One thought on “Personalization: Serendipity Vs. Deeper Relevance

  1. Gary Titus

    I could not agree more, Repeating what you have already stated; products like those offered by Sherwin-Williams are performance based and target a specific need. So they do not need the gimmick of discounts to sell, but could benefit by touting the tools that tailor their product to your needs. Kohl’s needs to get you into the store so they can profit from any secondary purchases that you may wish to make. Maybe someone from Kohl’s will see your article and choose to take advantage of the idea that you have presented to them? Tracking can serve a very useful purpose other than selling your info to another company.

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