Manage the Message
Use data-driven personalization to create more intimate customer communications.
By Michael D. Nelson
There's a good deal of talk about personalization in direct marketing, made possible by the convergence of data intelligence and digital communications technology. We now have the ability to personalize Web pages, direct mail and e-mail to individuals, but does that capability translate to increased response rates and more intimate customer communications? Or is it just more marketing gimmickry?
It depends on how you define personalization.
According to Webster's Dictionary, personalization means: "to have printed, engraved or monogrammed with one's name or initials." If this is what we're doing—dropping names on printed materials—then it probably isn't very meaningful and in fact, with privacy an increasingly sensitive issue, it may be causing the opposite effect as intended.
Wear Your Customer Hat
Marketers would be wise to take a consumer point of view. As we sort through the mailbox clutter and find direct mail solicitations with our first name used in headlines and copy, from companies or individuals we don't know or care about, does it make the communication any more personal and the information more relevant? Is it perceived as sincere, or pretentious? Do we even give it a second look? Statistics would indicate the answer is no.
Conversely, when we receive an offer or information that is highly relevant to our interests, needs and desires, we are more likely to take notice and read on. Personal relevance breaks through the communication clutter, and personal gain motivates response. It's the difference between database-driven marketing and production.
Advanced digital imaging technology allows marketers the flexibility to change text and images on the fly during the production process, so content can be tailored to narrowly defined audience subsets, down to an individual level. Unfortunately, most marketing professionals still are not aware of the possibilities offered by this technology and aren't pushing the applications. On the other hand, most print service providers lack the necessary data competencies, content management and workflow systems to do more than basic versioning. Data personalization too often is limited to name and address fields.