I received a text message recently with my name—my full name—in the salutation. “Heidi Walker, it’s [so-and-so].” It was a political pitch as if it had come from the candidate himself. “Hey, it’s me. I have a request.” I didn’t know we were buddies, so that’s cool. Maybe next time my husband and I need a place to bunker in his hometown, we’ll give him a ring.
But what struck me more than the overly informal tone was that the campaign had used my full name: Heidi Walker. Kudos that they didn’t send a generic text, but when was the last time you walked up to a friend and said, “Good morning, [FIRST NAME, LAST NAME]. Nice to see you”? Probably never. It’s not the way people speak. So by using both first and last names, the intent of making it seem personal was undermined.
Not that many people, if any, would mistake a broadcast text, even one that uses their name, as a personal communication. But good grief. Just because software makes it easy doesn’t mean that you should be sloppy about it. At least separate the first and last names into different fields and use the first name only in the salutations.
It caused me to think about the impact of such sloppiness. I remember the days when putting someone’s name in a salutation or in the design somewhere was enough to raise response rates. I don’t know whether that’s still the case, but certainly it’s not unusual anymore. Not because marketers are catering to people’s expectations for true personalization, but because it’s so easy to do —and it is precisely for this reason that marketers often aren’t putting any effort into it. Separating out first name and last name into two separate fields might not occur to them. They just hit a button.
The result is a level of sloppiness that communicates very clearly to the recipient that it’s not actually personal. It’s just a computer-generated field like an address label and nothing more. When I see my first and last name in a subject line, my eyes just glaze over. Just another marketing gimmick to get me to look a little longer—attention: canceled.
Isn’t this what happened with QR codes? The technology was great, but in the vast majority of early cases, it wasn’t used properly. Marketers were also sloppy, sending people to broken links, non-mobile-friendly pages, or irrelevant content. The result? People tuned them out. Just more noise on the page. Is name personalization suffering the same fate? It’s yawn-worthy, second only to when I receive emails and printed pieces asking if I need to “get more business traffic at Heidi Tolliver-Walker.” Is no one scrubbing this data?
The type of personalization that actually works is the kind that isn’t overt. It’s a relevant offer, a call to action selected based on past response patterns, or messaging crafted based on a persona. Sure, marketers mess that up too, but it’s not as in your face when it happens. When it happens, it’s just an offer I’m not interested in, not overtly sloppy marketing.
I might look slightly longer at a subject line if only my first name is used. Right away, I recognize that this marketer has taken the time to separate my first and last names into separate fields, which happens much less often these days. In that micro-second, my brain filters that either this marketer cares enough to take the time to do it right or that this is a communication that I actually took the time to sign up for. That elevates it to a status of “look slightly more carefully.”
What’s my point? Just because technology makes implementation of certain types of personalization easy doesn’t mean it takes the human element out of it. On the contrary, it makes the human element all the more important. It just reminds us how important it is for us to think through how we’re using our data, why we’re using that data, and whether we’re using the right data to accomplish the goal. Otherwise, it’s just software driving pages based on formulas, which increasingly doesn’t fool anyone.