How to Win Clicks and Influence Subscribers: Adding Value Through Personalized Messaging

  • by October 28, 2008
Dale Carnegie's classic "How to Win Friend and Influence People" brims with time-tested advice for business success. The second part of the book, "Six Ways to Make People Like You," argues that the best and perhaps only way to win people's allegiance is to focus on their interests. We can understand this in terms of personalized email, our own attempts to present subscribers with what most interests them.


A report put out this past summer by the Aberdeen group found that top performing, or "Best-in-Class," organizations collected and used data to personalize email campaigns, resulting in an average order value increase of 57%. But a 2007 report by Tiffany Barrett White cautions against too much personalization, or personalization for personalization's sake. Personalization needs to serve recipients in an obvious and meaningful way rather than just attempting to "wow" them.



Let's discuss how Carnegie's tips can be interpreted in terms of personalized messaging and when we should (or shouldn't) personalize.

Carnegie's Principle 1: Become genuinely interested in other people, and Principle 2: Smile.

We can't literally smile at our subscribers through cyberspace, but Carnegie's "smile" is all about making people feel special and cared for, and we can do that.

Carnegie argues that successful people are those who take genuine interest in others, so individualizing your subscribers' messages should genuinely improve their experience with your brand.

White's report found that consumers not only feel uncomfortable when receiving unsolicited personalized messages, but also when receiving solicited messages that express "too much" knowledge of their personal characteristics.

So the solution to standing out in busy inboxes, then, is not to personalize whenever possible (something which can get out of hand even outside email), but to personalize when it adds value -- when the personalization seems naturally integrated, whether in dynamic modules within messages or in messages that are wholly personalized with offers specific to birthdays, locations, loyal shopping history, or other subscriber characteristics.

Carnegie's Principle #3: Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. 

Carnegie reminds us how important it is to remember people's names -- but just because we know them, should we always use them? There's some debate surrounding the use of first names in subject lines and in letter-format emails. The folks at Bronto have been debating this issue at some length, and it seems that the answer they've lighted on is: it depends.

The use of first names could flop due to faulty data ("Dear ," when someone doesn't enter a name or "Dear Stupid," as Ken Magill has managed to solicit from the Obama campaign) or due to clumsily designed, strange placement of names. It could also fall flat due to the wariness of subscribers who associate the use of their name with spam. Or it could charm the subscriber. There's only one way to find out: test.

Despite the debate, everyone seems to agree on one point: the best way to figure out whether using first names will work with your subscriber base is to start testing and keep testing.

Carnegie's Principle #4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

Preference centers give subscribers control over which messages they receive and how many. Sephora is always one of our favorite examples as a brand that adds value through data collected in preference centers. Their Beauty Insider program is optional -- subscribers have to sign up in order to receive the personal info -- and the personalization is on-brand and helpful to subscribers.

Some brands, like Horchow, go out of their way to make sure that subscribers know that they can control the number of incoming messages, and Gap, Inc. sends each of its brands' messages only to the people who request them.

Try to gather only the data that you need to provide a valuable experience to your customer -- asking too many questions can feel too invasive and/or time-consuming, and could deter potential subscribers.

Carnegie's Principle #5: Talk in terms of the other person's interests.

Carnegie writes, "A show of interest, as with every other principle of human relations, must be sincere. It must pay off not only for the person showing the interest, but for the person receiving the attention.  It is a two-way street -- both parties benefit." Carnegie's idea falls nicely in synch with ExactTarget's Subscriber's Rule! Philosophy: subscribers' preferences and interests should govern the one-to-one marketing relationship rather than marketers' needs.

A common way that brands use noninvasive and valuable personalized messaging is by including segmented local store info in their messages.

Utilizing data from preference centers is a good way to respond to subscribers' interests, as is responding to customer behavior. makes it clear that it's sending messages based on your preference center choices and purchasing history, and the message is direct and subtle enough that it seems helpful rather than creepy.

Carnegie's Principle #6: Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.

Principle #6 really encompasses all of the above. The idea behind all personalization is to make your subscribers feel singled-out and special, but to do it sincerely means to personalize when it adds value to the experience of the subscriber, and not just as a gimmick.

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