Getting (More?) Personal: Taking Things To The Next Level Without Creeping People Out

We've been long-time proponents of the idea that one of the greatest powers of email is forging positive, personal connections with subscribers. We've pushed an array of strategies to make this happen, including targeted messaging, putting human faces on brands (by highlighting designers, managers or other employees), incorporating subscriber-generated content, and improving segmentation and dynamic personalization. After all this talk about putting personalized touches on email, is it time to take it to the next level?

We recently read an awesome report from TrendWatching, "Random Acts of Kindness: Why kind, human brands will thrive in a connected economy," that pushes marketers to take things a step further. These days, through connections on sites like Facebook and Twitter, brands can actually get a fairly intimate picture of what is happening in the lives of subscribers: whether they are having a tough day at work, whether they just got engaged, whether they're frustrated by a long commute home, etc. TrendWatching suggests that we leverage that information into very individualized messages and offers to cheer people up or congratulate them. In other words, why not dish out carefully selected "random" acts of kindness? We're totally on board with the idea that the kindest, most human brands thrive in today's interconnected world. That said, how far is too far, at this point?



While it seems only natural that brand-consumer interactions will become more and more personal over the coming years, some of the hottest debates on the Web today are still about privacy, and we recommend taking things slow in upping your personalization. If you're into the idea of leveraging info gathered from networking sites to enhance your subscriber relationships, we have some suggestions for taking your email and cross-channel marketing to the next level without overstepping your bounds.

  • Have a cache of emails ready to go that let subscribers know that you noticed something about their lives, but that don't pry into the details. These could say something like, "Congratulations! We saw some good news posted on your Facebook page" or "Your tweet let us know you're having a rough day. Will some free [insert special offer here...chocolate? flowers? $10 off coupons?] cheer you up?"

  • Rather than sending a lovely, designed email that fits in with the rest of your program, have an employee or intern send a regular, personalized note from his or her company email account. Keep it short and sweet (and again, not too intimate). Let subscribers know that you saw they're having a tough day or experiencing some good news, and that you have a special offer to make their day better.

  • Rather than sending an email, reply to the channel in which the update was seen. If it's a bummed-out Facebook update, post a reply from your brand. Ditto with a tweet. Not only will this make it very clear to the subscriber that you're not stepping into territory that they haven't opened to you, but it'll also catch the attention of recipients' friends.  

  • Use an email or your social network to ask your customers to nominate a friend for a kind act. Your email, tweet or Facebook update could say, "Have a pal who's having a tough day? Show us his or her post, and we might send a free gift." This could be a great way to expand your network and impress the connections you already have (make sure to mention the nominator to the nominee).

    Obviously, making these individual connections will take time and manpower. But don't worry -- a little bit can go a long way. According to a report from the Keller Fay Group, a Word of Mouth Research and Consulting firm, consumers are much more likely to spread the word about positive interactions with brands than negative interactions - and readers are more likely to believe positive reviews than negative ones.  According to the report, of the total conversations among U.S. internet users (by product category), in August 2010, 70% of the conversations about shopping, retail and apparel were positive, with only 6% negative (the rest were "mixed"). Of all conversations about personal care and beauty, 72% were positive, and 51% of conversations about financial services were positive. People like to talk about the good things you do, and if you target individuals dispersed throughout different areas and demographics for some kind acts, word will spread.    

    As with all steps toward personalization, this will only work if it feels genuine to your subscribers. Truly personalized contact needs to happen within the context of an already-positive relationship. If a subscriber isn't accustomed to contact from your brand already, the sudden reach-out could seem self-serving.

    Let us know your thoughts. When it comes to personalization, how much is too much, and how much is just right?

  • 3 comments about "Getting (More?) Personal: Taking Things To The Next Level Without Creeping People Out".
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    1. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, March 15, 2011 at 7:13 p.m.

      Hi Alex and Lisa - Personalisation is a major strategy I use for all my small business clients. First you need to have garnered their first name via an optin lead. This could be via sign-up form on a website an in-store promotion. Once you have his then I recommend use it EVERY time. My results have shown a greater increase in Open & Read rates and in Sales when a first name is used. I preach email marketing is about 1. The List 2. The Relationship and 3. The Offer. - Kurt Johansen - Australia's Leading Small Business Email Marketing Strategist.

    2. Georgia Christian from Mail Blaze, March 18, 2011 at 7:57 a.m.

      What great ideas! I agree, can be a bit time consuming initially but certainly worth the investment.

    3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 12, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.

      Major creep out !

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