Editor's Notebook: Dear
Throughout the 13 years I have spent analyzing direct mail, I have witnessed the disaster of personalization gone awry as well as the triumph of a personalized promotion executed perfectly.
Direct mail's whiz-kid sibling, e-mail, holds great potential for personalized communication, especially in the way that it suggests to customers that you are not simply pressing the "blast away" button when creating e-mail campaigns. A secondary benefit is that it also helps your e-mail stand out from the fly-by-night spammers who have not one bit of interest in a long-term relationship.
But herding data for the e-mail channel is just as difficult as it is on the direct mail side, as exhibited by the following two examples. About the second week of January, I received the following:
A special birthday is on its way! Our records indicate that in the past you sent a thoughtful birthday wish, and we'd like to remind you that it's almost time again ... See the Order Ship Date and Recipient information below as a helpful hint of who's getting ready to celebrate.
The timing of this e-mail would have been perfect, if the person listed actually was having a birthday soon. Instead, she was someone to whom I sent a flower arrangement to congratulate her on the birth of her baby girl ... two years ago. Thankfully, I'm aware that her birthday is in May, otherwise I might have taken the flower and gift company's word as truth and sent a birthday gift four months early!
Puzzled about how my previous purchase could have been mistaken for a birthday greeting, I surmised that I must have selected an arrangement from the company's assortment of birthday bouquets. But I doubt that I'm alone in wanting to go out of category to find the right arrangement or gift, so this seems like flawed purchase categorization on the part of this direct marketer. And it resulted in an e-mail promotion that was completely off-base. The average Joe Consumer wouldn't spend any time wondering how this mix-up happened; he would simply question this firm's handling of his customer record.
The second crash-and-burn instance: One of my colleagues got married
more than two years ago. She recently received the inaugural issue of an e-mail newsletter from a bridal magazine. Beyond the fact that it has missed the boat and then some on the timing, the publication addressed the newsletter to "Roberta" for all recipients. In trying to fix the mistake, it then sent a replacement newsletter that was addressed to "NONE." This is an example of what easily can happen when you don't have the extensive proofing process involved in a print communication.
Data audits aren't fun, but sophisticated, accurate personalization requires that you be absolutely sure of your information before you try to prove to customers how helpful your service can be ... or not be.