About Thinking Creatively

Thinking Creatively is about taking a step back... when you want or need to think strategically and creatively about your business... or about your customer's business... or about a solution to a challenging business problem. The goal is to be one part inspiration and one part motivation. We hope to provide - over time - thought-provoking advice, tools, ideas and company profiles that help get you to your next breakthrough. Your feedback and interaction is invited, welcomed and encouraged.

Thinking Creatively is made possible by the support of GMC Software Technology. Normally such features are for "Premium Members" only. However, because the topic is so timely and essential to all executives in the industry we asked GMC Software Technology to provide support for this series. Their support allows us to to present these articles free for all WhatTheyThink.com members.

The concept of personalized communications – in the way we all think of it today – has been around for well over thirty years. Initially, direct marketers experimented with the novelty of addressing people by name in mass produced communications. Along the way, they discovered the power of customizing copy and graphics as a way to increase response and purchasing. An industry capability was born.

Interestingly, acquiring the capability to create and produce personalized communications is still a hot topic in our industry.

Connecting with a single person – in a way that is tailored to that individual’s needs and wants – is a virtue that will never go out of style. More on that in a moment.

However…technology that enables customization and distribution of messages is widely available (and more affordable than ever) today. What I believe, though, is that this has led to an era of “communications pollution”.

We’re living in an electronic messaging free-for-all.

The cost and time to send emails, text messages, tweets, instant messages, photos, computer calls and Facebook comments is incredibly low.  But the result is that we seem to spend more time deleting and avoiding, than consuming communications.

So what does this mean for those of you involved with commercial communications?

Certainly, print and marketing services providers feel the need to keep up with current technologies. Yet, I would ask this: Does having a high end, gourmet kitchen, make you a great chef? Does having a toolbox filled with brand new tools make you a carpenter?

So how does would one reframe this personalization capability to create a competitive advantage? My humble suggestion is that we can all become better at crafting communications that better connect with the way people live today. What I’m talking about is putting an emphasis on creating “value-filled communications” that people will choose to consume. 

We’ve entered the era of Personal Choice Communications

...we can all become better at crafting communications that better connect with the way people live today.

Today, each one of us is honing our “deletion skills”. We are getting really good at choosing which messages to ignore or consume. And we do it hundreds of times a day.

There are all those emails that never get opened before we delete them.

There are the phone calls we just don’t answer and let go to voice mail…and delete when we clean the mailbox. 

With TiVo and DVRs, we skip through commercials. 

We’re encouraged to “go green, go paperless and get bills and notices online, eliminating paper bills and inserts.

Online, there are browser plug-ins to eliminate on-screen ads. Buttons tell us to “skip this ad.”

In social media, we pick who to “friend,” who to follow and of which companies we’re a fan.

We vote on, or critique the value of every message received, in just about every context and delivery channel. The implications for those of us who must create and deliver commercial communications are profound. We have to figure out ways to make our messages welcomed, valuable, compelling and desired.

Taking a simple step as a way to start.

I hope to write more about this topic in the weeks to come. The issue is big, so the answers are not easy. As a starting point, I’d like to offer a short checklist that you can refer to, before unleashing any new personalized communication. You may not end up changing a lot of what you do, in the beginning. My hope is to help you start thinking in a more disciplined way…in a more creative way…about the value of the commercial messages you create, produce and distribute on behalf of clients.

  • Relevancy: Is this communication really relevant to every person who will receive it? Or, am I just hoping a few people will find it was written for them?
  • Significance: Is there really enough value – to the recipient – to warrant this message? Would I take advantage of this offer or information, as a consumer?
  • Honesty: Is this an attempt to do something that isn’t really in the best interest of the recipient (is the real motive truthful or simply about salesmanship)?
  • Helpfulness: Will this communication be viewed more as a nuisance or is it truly trying to help someone achieve something positive?
  • Simplicity: How hard have we made it to understand what’s being offered…and what we want people to do? Are there terms and conditions where we’ve buried some “gotchas”, that people have to hunt for and find?

As food for thought, here are a few definitions of personalization, to reinforce the “purity of purpose” behind all the capabilities:

 “…personalization is using technology to accommodate the differences between people. Done right, it's a win/win strategy for providing a better outcome for both the service provider and the individuals involved.” (http://bit.ly/aISAqm):

“Personalization is a means of meeting the customer's needs more effectively and efficiently…”; “personalization in some ways harkens back to an earlier day, by making consumer relationships more closely tailored to the individual.” http://searchcrm.techtarget.com/definition/personalization.

In the end, for each communication you’re involved in, can you answer the question: Am I contributing to “communications pollution” or am I compelling enough to survive in the era of Personal Choice Communications?