Take It Personally

"You are not my friends and I don't want you to be my friends." That's what a recent college grad proclaimed about using personalization in subject lines at the Email Insider Summit. (Read Kara Trivunovic's article for the full story.) How can a bombshell like that not make you stop and think before you add someone's name to a subject line or email?

 Without a doubt, personalization has become a tricky business. Just ask Loren McDonald , who talked about this very thing in his article, "My Name is Loren. BTW, I'm a He."Although Loren might be the masculine spelling of Lauren, a good number of companies were sending personalized messages with the assumption that this Loren was a girl. Proof positive that when you assume, you make an a** out of you and me.




As Loren put it, "The downside of wrong assumptions about your customers and prospects goes beyond potentially annoying them and even hurting your brand. It can also hurt your bottom line by continually sending subscribers offers and communications based on "bad" data -- or, almost worse yet, no data."

 Case in point: Nike's personalized  Web sites. How excited was I to receive Nike's winter catalog with my personalized web address on the front? Pretty darn excited. Although the front cover had a guy on it (I should probably know who the athlete is, but I don't), the inside cover with my personalized letter featured Maria Sharapova. So I figured they knew I was a girl. They even called out Maria's hoodie as something to check out. Going to my personalized address, I came face to face with the truth: Nike thinks I'm a boy. See it for yourself.


In this email (subject line: Darrah, Send Glennella a Gourmet Christmas Gift and Get a Free Cookie from the ProFlowers Family!), Cherry Moon Farms used my first name and also the name of my grandma, who I obviously had purchased a gift for in the past. The subject line and the body copy both refer to how much Glennella would love one of their beautiful gourmet gifts. And you know, she probably would, but my grandma passed away...  two years ago. Now there's a faux pas for the record books. 

So, the question is: how can we evolve our personalization strategies? One answer may be dynamic content. By using stated preferences or purchase history, it is possible to create a seemingly personalized experience. But, there is also a catch with that approach, as my colleague Lisa Harmon posted recently on the Make It Pop blog. If you don't monitor the products you're pulling, you may end up with an uninspiring mish-mash of randoms.

 Creating a relationship with your consumers that feels authentic and not contrived takes real strategy. Consumers are savvy to our marketing tactics and they're not fooled by our friendship overtures. For a while, adding someone's name to an email seemed to work, but times have changed. And so must we.

1 comment about "Take It Personally".
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  1. Annie Cooley from Swiftpage, December 21, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing those stories. Working for an email marketing company, I definitely notice those things. You really can never make a guess at who people are and the email marketing companies that still do that will face some losses.

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