In his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie wrote, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Contrariwise, copywriter extraordinaire Bill Jayme quipped, “Do you really want as a customer some boob who gets turned on by seeing his own name repeated nine times in a single page?” So, who’s right?
I say both.
Personalizing a marketing campaign with someone’s name, company, or other details can bump response by 3–5 times, but it has to be done correctly to have the positive impact you’re looking for. Early on in email marketing (circa 1998), we saw insane response rates when a person’s first name was mail-merged in the subject line. Today, it can still bump response, provided you’re not overusing it on every email promotion you’re sending. One of our most successful direct mail campaigns used an image of our client’s website mail-merged onto the front of a card in a see-through envelope. We got a 30% response rate when we sent it to current clients — from direct mail! Another more recent direct mail piece got a similar bump (image below). It’s a mailer we used for promoting our Roadshow event this past fall that displayed custom Google Map directions from the person’s address to the seminar location. We only mailed people within a six-hour driving distance. Such personalization truly gets people’s attention and bumps response.
It worked because the personalization aroused the curiosity of the recipient, and we have a great relationship with our list. I suspect the mailer also reminded our clients that they weren’t really that far from the event and could drive. (We have found that our events pull from a six-hour drive around the city.) These combinations fueled the high response on both campaigns. If we were to send these to cold prospects, I would not expect such a response, but it would still be higher than the “normal” response of 0.5% to 1%, as is customary with business-to-business marketing. As I’ve said before, the list and your relationship with it matter greatly.
Cellphone scammers have figured out that using a local number to call you results in a much higher answer rate than “Unknown” or out-of-state numbers you don’t recognize. Again, the “personalization” of making it a local number causes someone to assume it’s NOT a telemarketing call (although people are catching on, of course). Not so long ago, Facebook advertisers could customize their ads to pull your sex, age, where you grew up, and where you’re living now to create insanely personalized ads. The first one I saw that really shocked me was for a sweatshirt that read, “I’m Just a Philly Girl Living in a Nashville World.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Facebook put a quick end to allowing advertisers to do this due to the backlash of seriously freaked-out users, but again, the personalization was powerful.
Here’s another personalization strategy: Send your clients and prospects a birthday gift. If you can friend someone on Facebook, you can find out when their birthday is. This is one of the ways we get our clients’ birthdays to send them something. Not too long ago, I had a client tearfully tell me our gift was the only gift he got on his birthday. At a minimum, you can (and should) do this for clients. Another personalized gift on the anniversary of them becoming a client is a welcome, serendipitous event.
Of course, we’re only talking about one form of personalization. Companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon are masters at using artificial intelligence to determine exactly what offers, products, and content you will be most likely to buy or at least click on; so, personalization really goes far deeper than simply getting someone’s name correct. It’s also about predictive behaviors.
So, when does personalization not work? Primarily, when you get it wrong. My husband’s name is Danilo Santini, but he goes by Dan. Any advertising that comes to “Danilo” is instantly suspicious. Often, Bank of America sends him promotions in Spanish, assuming he’s Latino due to his name. This is a major personalization misstep to him, but I’m sure it is magnetic to Spanish-speaking prospects and clients who get it. This is difficult for companies (like us) that must have the full, given name to process credit cards but that have clients who have nicknames not on the card. We do our best to correct it, but every time they buy something, it gets overwritten.
Another place where personalization goes wrong is in a sales meeting. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a salesperson who overuses your name, you know what I mean. It’s annoying.