This morning, I received a personalized email that was anything but personal. While this was an email, the mistakes were at the messaging and the database level, so they just as easily could have ended up in print. Who knows? Maybe they did.

The email used my name and company name in the body of the message, but instead of making me feel as if the sender knew me, it read like the seminal effort of a company doing personalized email for the first time. While the company actually may be great at what it does, the lack of professionalism in the messaging cast an overall shade of doubt. If it had been a landscaping company, it might not have mattered. But the company offers a marketing product.

Here’s what I received:

Hello Heidi,

Should be “Hello, Heidi.” Comma after the salutation.

Just called, but rather than leave a voicemail I thought an email might work better for your busy schedule.

So we have the colloquial “Just called,” followed by the formal “email might work better for your busy schedule.” Nobody talks that way, and I actually winced when I read that.

The reason for my call, and email, is to ask if you are already familiar [company’s product], and if Heidi Tolliver Walker Digital Printing Reports currently has any systems in place to take advantage of [product category].

In addition to the punctuation error, it looks as if my name and company name had ended up in the company name field. Was this a singular error? Or a systemic blooper? Had the database ever been scrubbed for issues like that? Alternatively, why they didn’t go with simpler wording like “whether you have any systems in place,” which reads much more naturally? More uses of my company name don’t translate into “more personal.”

Would you be interested in a quick call to discuss your current challenges and goals for using customer feedback at Heidi Tolliver Walker Digital Printing Reports?

That’s painful even the second time around.

I wonder if the person whose name is at the bottom of the email had ever run a test email or seen proofs of how these communications read to the person receiving them? Or whether he was simply trusting the marcom department and had never actually read what was going out with his name on it?

This leaves us with questions for our own companies. Are you sending out personalized email? Either for self-promotion or for your clients? If so...

  1. Is the database cleaned up of duplicates, outdated information, and other bugaboos like having the recipient’s name in the company name field?
  2. Have you run test emails with a variety of scenarios and read back over them to make sure that, once dropped in, the personalized elements don’t read awkwardly?
  3. Have you set up defaults for all fields so that, if a field is empty, the text still reads naturally?
  4. Does the person writing the body of the email have the professional skills to do so?
  5. Have you had the email proofed by a second set of qualified eyes to catch typos, wrong words (form vs. from), and punctuation errors that even the best writers can miss?

Whether it’s print or digital, using data isn’t what makes something personal. It’s a human being behind the data. It still takes a person to create relevant, relatable messaging. This is something we all need to keep in mind.