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Personalisation means writing to the individual

More than ever, in an age of online marketing, the concept of “personalisation” in marketing communications has been confused with what we used to know as “mailmerging”. In other words, most companies’ idea of a “personalised” email is to have the recipient’s first name automatically inserted into the text. While that’s always worth doing (unless, like one company I get emails from, the email ends up starting “Dear %firstname%”), this is not “personalisation”.

Personalisation means making the communication a personal one to the individual. As you might expect, it works. If you had the time or money to write to every one of your prospects with a different letter addressing their particular situation, you would do. And the response would be spectacular. So is there an automated halfway house between true personalisation and just mailmerging data into a template?

Smarter marketing managers realise that there is, and it’s tied up with segmenting your audience. For example, if you’ve got a display at WidgetEx Cornwall next month, you’ll probably want to let prospects know that they’ll be able to see your latest product there. But one call to the organisers will confirm that nobody travels to WidgetEx Cornwall from further afield than Bristol, so why would you email every prospect on your list?


Now, if I invest time opening your email, to find it’s about an exhibition I’d never dream of attending, your name on the sender line will become associated in my mind with one of the many whose communications I don’t bother to read. So you’ve made the effort to send me an email and the only effect it’s had is to make me less likely to read future ones. What a waste.

However, an email which only goes out to prospects in the West Country is going to be considered much more personal, especially if you take the opportunity to make it seem as if the communication has been personally written for each recipient. The clever marketer sets up three lists, for readers in Cornwall, Devon and slightly further afield, and “personalises” them accordingly: “Dear Brian, we know that many of our customers in Devon travel down to WidgetEx Cornwall each year, so we thought you’d like to take the opportunity to see how our new Widget can save you thousands of pounds”. Brian is not under any illusion that you’ve personally crafted the email just for him, but he does start to associate your name with somebody who treats him as an individual and cares about not wasting his time.

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