Personalization Ain’t Personal

My first job out of college was working as a bank teller, at the Brookline Savings Bank in Brookline, Massachusetts (yes, as a matter of fact I do have a liberal arts degree). I trained under a guy named Steve, who had already been at the bank for a couple of years when I arrived.

In addition to showing me how to cash savings bonds and count money, Steve also insisted on demonstrating his, “sure fire way to meet women on the job.”

Steve’s system was simple. He kept detailed notes on his 10 or 12 favorite female customers on a scrap of paper inside his money drawer. When one of these women showed up at his window to cash a check or make a deposit, he would read her name, check his notes, and without missing a beat, make a very specific reference to something they had talked about in a previous conversation.

As you can imagine, the longer it had been since her last visit, the more flattered a woman would be regarding how much Steve had “remembered” about her.

Steve dated a number of customers while I worked there, and all in all his system worked pretty well. That is of course until the day he accidentally handed his cheat sheet through the window to one of his favorite customers, along with her money. Needless to say, she paid him little interest from that day forward (bad banking pun intended).

I’m reminded of Steve’s disingenuousness when I look at the newest trend in E-Newsletter technology: Personalization.

Most of the more established E-Newsletter vendors now allow their newsletter publisher clients to add a “Dear Jonathan” (or whatever) at the beginning of a newsletter. The idea is that each subscriber now gets a personalized issue.

Frankly, I don’t get it. Rather than making the newsletter more effective, I think it has exactly the opposite effect.

Here’s why:

• It’s a blatant technique. I’m pretty sure you know that I send this newsletter out to more people than just yourself. If I were to put your name at the beginning therefore, you would know that it was done in an automated fashion, and it would only serve to shine a light on the fact that the newsletter is mass produced.

• It requires more data collection. When you signed up for this newsletter, the only thing I required of you was your email address. I deliberately make the bar as low as possible, since I know that until you get to know me, you may be reluctant to divulge any other information about yourself. In order to personalize the newsletter, I would have to ask for your name as well, which I’m certain would have scared some of you away at the beginning.

• It introduces one more opportunity for error. When you personalize your newsletter in the way we’ve been talking about, you increase the likelihood of making an error. Newsletter publishing is complicated enough, and I don’t like to add difficulty to the process unless there’s a clear payoff.

Bottom Line: You’ll get a lot more relationship building mileage out of speaking in a personal tone in your newsletter than you will by faking a relationship through automation.

Well (name), I can see we’re almost out of space here. Until next time, I’d like to wish you and all your neighbors in (city, state) a wonderful weekend.

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