It takes more than data to be personal

By | October 6, 2016

This morning, I was scanning my email and saw one of those “personalized” subject lines that drives me crazy: “A seat has been reserved for Heidi Tolliver-Walker.” Come on, nobody actually speaks that way. We all know that a robot wrote that. Even though they used my name, it didn’t feel personal. It felt condescending. Did they think I wouldn’t notice?

Whether it’s a postcard, sales letter, or email subject line, personalization takes more than data. It takes more than customer personas and profiles and algorithms. It has to sound human.

I recall a conversation I had with Kate Dunn years ago. We talked about this humanness as being one of the hidden challenges of variable data. The example she gave is buying a mailing list of alumni from a specific university and the degrees they hold. You can’t just dump that into a marketing piece, she said, or you’ll end up with “Hey, John! Since getting your BHist at The Pennsylvania University, you’re experiencing great success!” Someone has to go through that list and translate that into natural language. “Hey, John! Since getting your Bachelor’s in history from Penn State . . . ”

That was several years ago, but nothing has changed. Except that data-driven marketing has become so common that it’s easier than ever to spot the robot writers.

In order for personalization in marketing to feel personal, it has to feel like a real person wrote it. It has to speak to the recipient in natural language about their issues and problems in a relatable way. That’s not just for direct mail and postcards. It goes for the subject lines of emails, too.

How are you making sure that your data-driven marketing sounds personal?

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