Personalizing Communications: Dear . . . Whoever

Photo by victor.ramos
04.15.2013By

Photo by victor.ramos

We live in an age of no online privacy and oversharing, would you agree?

We make it easy for marketers to get to know us, our likes, our dislikes, our browsing habits, our personal information. And yet, impersonal, or oddly personalized emails can still show up, sometimes from mailing services we opted in to. To wit, many of the “Dear (blank),” emails that show up in my inbox. A bit baffling in this day and age of data mining, no?

Now, as a marketer and a cagey customer, I understand what the challenges are. As a marketer I try to connect with you any which way I can. But as a customer, one who routinely parts with as little information as I can possibly get away with, it’s not my job to make the marketer’s job easier.

So what is the solution? As a marketer, I don’t know. But speaking as a customer, here is what I think might help:

Honesty.

If I believe your brand, and trust that you really will be responsible with my information, I’m more likely to give you my information.

Manners.

I once got a mass email from someone I’d met at a professional mixer, and spoken to on the phone a couple of times. The email had no salutation—at all. She just announced her new services, and linked to her blog. Wanna bet how fast I reached for the delete key?

Apart from the fact that she’d simply assumed it was okay to add me to her professional database after a couple of conversations, I was mostly struck at the sheer lack of manners. You don’t have to get chummy, but basic courtesies aren’t dead yet. Salutations matter. Especially if you’re asking me to do something for you.

Personalize.

Make me feel special, wontcha? As someone with an unusual name, I get that sohini.baliga[at]whatever[dot]com doesn’t tell you whether my first name is Sohini or Baliga. (For the record, Baliga is my last name.) But you know what, “Dear Friend” works fine. It’s certainly much nicer than a bald email with a call to action.

While we’re at it–and I realize this a matter of purely subject opinion—singular is better than plural. It helps me pretend I’m not in a herd of potentially millions. Unless you’re a politician with millions in your database, in which case the plural is probably a better choice—because we don’t really know each other, do we?

(Don’t) Mispersonalize.

Ah yes, the emails that come to me beginning “Dear Baliga…” I never know what to make of them. It’s like I’m being politely yelled at by a drill sergeant at bootcamp. “Dear Baliga, drop and give me ten!” Right when I see these notes, I know the person at the other end is trying hard to win me over. Once more, I refer you to part about personalizing with a polite but safely appropriate salutation.

De-automate.

I’ll ‘fess up. I’m a customer who parts with the bare minimum information. Which means I get more than one email that begins, “Dear             ,” because the field for first name was left blank. In this day and age, there has got to be some way to fix that. If you’re a large company, I beg you, please pay for the code that’ll automatically fill a blank first name field with “friend.” And if you’re a small company, make it a point to have your databases cleaned up periodically. It’s not impossible, and the tedium is well worth the good vibes I feel as a customer who notices when I go from a blank to a friend. Assuming I stuck around.