Commentary & Analysis
Rarity: Another Reason (Good) Personalization Works
Despite all the talk about personalized mailings, how often do any of us really receive relevant data-driven direct mail? Is the rarity of truly personalized mail part of what makes it effective?
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: April 13, 2018
You know another reason that personalized mail works so well? Rarity. Sure, relevance is key, but personalization in print is still rare in the mailbox. When it arrives, it gets attention simply because consumers don’t see it a lot.
I’m trying to think of the last time I actually received a personalized mailer at home. I get “personalized” email all the time. “Heidi” this, and “Heidi” that. But in my postbox? The last time I remember receiving a personalized mailing was when the utility company cranked out its bi-annual mailer comparing our family to our “more [energy] efficient” neighbors.
Once in a while, I receive a triggered piece from the auto dealership telling me that my Honda is due for service, but since I use the garage up the street, that one usually falls flat. On occasion, I also get a “Your new membership card enclosed!” mailing from organizations I’ve never belonged to, nor do I have any desire to do so.
I am receiving “personalized” mailers in the sense that companies are using data about me, and even things I own. But not that reflect knowledge of who I am, what I enjoy, or how I spend my time.
The last time I remember a truly relevant data-driven mailer wasn’t mailed to me. It was mailed to my parents years ago. They love Mexican food, and it was for the opening of a new Mexican place in town. It contained a map from their house to the new location, along with a coupon for a free burrito if they stopped in. Of course, the restaurant had no idea my parents liked Mexican food. They just bought a list by ZIP code and used a mapping program. Still, my parents were so enamored that they taped it to the doorframe in their kitchen until they were able to redeem the offer.
Personalization remains about the person, not the data. Despite the volume of data-driven mailings being cranked out by marketers, I’m still waiting to be wowed with something relevant to me.
For example, I’m an avid trail runner, and my husband and I run races all over the state. Not only should my preferred shoe brand know what I’ve purchased on my credit card, but they should have access to the lists of all the races we’ve run. Trail running shoes lose integrity over time. Why am I not receiving mailings from my preferred shoe brand around the date they estimate that I will need to replace them? Why am I not receiving mailings for new flavors of energy gels, the latest advances in compression socks, or lightweight hydration packs or longer races? My husband and I also enjoy upcycling furniture on the side, and we buy large volumes of chalk paint and matte finishes. Why isn’t my favorite chalk paint brand staying in touch with me on design ideas and finishing techniques? Why have they not noticed that I don’t use their specialty brushes, too? Why are they not promoting the benefits of using their brushes designed specifically for chalk paint over standard ones?
I do receive “personalized” mailings, but rarely on anything I’m actually interested in or that reflects how I live. Isn’t that what personalized mailings are supposed to be about?
When was the last time you received a personalized mailer in your own mailbox? What was it? What made it effective or not? I’d love to hear your experiences.