Valued Walgreens Customer, Thank You...Signed Emily

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Personalization is all the rage. Personalized emails; personalized web experiences; personalized direct TV ads, personalized direct mail...

But targeting a customer with a unique individual offer, based on a granular analysis of their digital footprint, isn't the only way to bring a personal touch to marketing. With the assistance of Hallmark Business Connections, and some creative thinking, Walgreens were able to build on existing customer loyalty simply by sending a thank you card.

And the execution was simple, said Tressa Angell, President at Hallmark Business Connections. "It's what we do. Emily had the data and she had the passion. She had the tone and the idea."

A warm, human message

Emily is Emily Miller, category manager in the Consumables Division at Walgreens — at the time, managing the greeting cards category. Emily wanted to reach out to the very best buyers of Hallmark cards within the Walgreens Balance Rewards Program, and reward them further.

It all started with a "flip comment," Miller told me. "I was really very thankful to our best customers, and I said 'I wish I could write them a thank you card.'" Hallmark's reaction, she said, was: "Wait a minute, I think we can do it."

Loyalty program data allowed Miller to identify 1 million dedicated purchasers of Hallmark cards. Hallmark Business Connections worked with her to tailor the design of a card to her personal style, with a message reflecting — Angell said — "an authentic human touch and emotional value."

Note: There was no attempt to direct unique messages to each of a million shoppers. There was one message, but, as Angell put it, "it was so well though-out and warm." (Read it above.) The card also included 5,000 bonus loyalty points.

The most amazing thing

Miller was involved in the creative process, of course. "I like to write at least one card a week," she told me, and for this message she looked for a card she would have chosen herself. Also — and Miller and Angell agree that this was key to their success — Miller used her own work return address. In other words, the card came from a human being, not from a major retailer. "That was the icing on the cake," said Angell.

"The most amazing thing started to happen," Miller said. She started receiving replies: "Thanking me for my thank you card." Many of the responses were heartfelt, even moving, and Miller answered a number of them. She is still corresponding with some of the customers. She recalled that a senior executive had once told her that the brand's job was to "create loyalty beyond reason." And that's what she feels she accomplished here.

Real results

Redemption of the bonus loyalty points exceeded forecast. The campaign generated an estimated $1 million in incremental sales. (Walgreens did not seek to measure results for total basket, only redemptions within the category promoted.) The success prompted campaign extensions; for example, a subsequent card featuring a spoken message from Miller on a sound chip, which played as the card was opened.

Within Walgreens, Miller has moved on. She's now responsible for the beverage category, but hasn't yet come up with personalization ideas specific to drinks. "I try to think of them every day," she told me. "Authentic, meaningful ways to reach the customer. I'm sure I'll find the right way to get there.

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