I received a data-driven direct mail piece the other day that made me scratch my head. It had some helpful elements, I suppose, but while it was “personalized” in the sense that it contained information about me from a database, it missed the mark in terms of actually being personal. In fact, it missed the mark by a mile. What do you think?

The mailer was from Dell. We purchased a new laptop about a month ago, and the mailer was designed as a thank you and follow up.

The 8-page mailer was saddle-stitched, four-color, and printed on heavy glossy card stock. It wasn’t cheap to send. It included my name on the front, although it would have been easy to miss, and on page 3, included information on my purchase, including purchase ID, service tag, and date of purchase. It also listed support numbers and a link to “get started” tips.

That’s a significant number of key data points, but did Dell accomplish the goal of increasing relevance and increasing my engagement with the company? Not at all. Let’s take a look at why.

My name was on the front, but it was in relatively small, light colored type. Underneath the large, more intensely colored generic image, the use of my name did not stand out at all. I only noticed it because, as someone who has written about personalized printing for the past 20 years, when I saw the huge WELCOME on the mat, I wondered why Dell hadn’t taken advantage of the technology to include my name as part of the image. In other words, I noticed that the cover was personalized, not because the piece was effective in engaging me on a personal level, but because as a member of the industry, I simply wanted to know if it was there.

The front cover also said, “Imagine the possibilities with your new Inspiron Desktop.” However, with the focal point being a doormat, I had no reason to think this mailer had anything to do with computers. In fact, at first I thought it was a real estate mailer. At that point, if I hadn’t been a member of the printing industry, I would have thrown it away.

A much better approach? “WELCOME, HEIDI! Here’s some important information on your new Inspiron Desktop,” combined with an image of the model of computer we just purchased.  That would have told me instantly that this was information directly related to me.

On page 2, the missed opportunities continued. The mailer reads, “You’re a part of the family. . . It’s nice to meet you.” Then there are nine pictures of smiling people with no names — just headshots that look like they came from a stock photography catalog. They all had perfect smiles and perfect, stylized body positions, and the images were shot on plain white backgrounds. It looked like a business web page template. There was nothing here that tied these people to me—or even to Dell.

A better approach? “Heidi, now that you’re part of the family . . . “ with text that says something like, “When you call us for help, here are a few people you might meet.” Then overlay on the picture the names and job titles of the people pictured (Deepak, technical support, Kathy, customer service). This way, I know that these are real Dell employees I might actually encounter when I call. Otherwise, these could simply be actors, and maybe they are. If they are really Dell employees, who knows what department they work in? Maybe they’re one of Dell’s other 100,000+ employees—say, in finance or IT.

Then we turn to page 3, which I was told contained “information you’ll find handy,” along with a link to helpful tips on getting started. We purchased the computer in February, so that link had ceased to be relevant weeks ago. Plus, while the page does have some useful information, marketing people think ALL product information is handy. The headline itself is meaningless, and the design of the page screamed “corporate contact page.” The personalized data was contained in only three lines in small type next two columns of generic information. Again, it was easy to miss unless you were looking for it.

Dell would have done better to say, “Here’s some information on your new Inspiron you might keep on hand.” Then highlight the information that was unique to us. This way, I’d know that there was information actually related to my product purchase. There was also no QR Code or AR marker to allow me to access the information on my phone. I would have had to type in the URL by hand. Not the worst thing in the world, but unnecessary. The online content was already there. All Dell had to do was provide a mobile bridge to it.

The next five pages are static marketing. Discounts, promo offers, and advertising for third party services. With the personalized elements buried and the headlines and images generic, if all I had done was flip the pages quickly, I would have missed all of the personalized elements and tossed the mailer into the recycling bin as irrelevant.

This is a great reminder that personalization is more than data. Dell had all of the variables to create a very compelling printed communication that welcomed me as a customer and engaged me more deeply. Instead, it looked like a generic prospecting mailer and risked being thrown away before being opened.  It was just poorly concepted and designed.

What are you doing to ensure that the same fate doesn’t befall your customers? How are you walking alongside them to ensure that “data-driven” actually results in more relevance and engagement rather than just a more expensive (and ineffective) printed piece?