Personalization Provides the Foundation for Profits"Give the lady what she wants."
- Marshall Field
One of the wealthiest, most successful businessmen of his time, Marshall Field was on the money. He knew that creating and sustaining customer loyalty depended on acknowledging and meeting the special, personal needs of each shopper who entered his store.
With today's technology driving the intensity of competition to unparalleled heights, yet making business interactions increasingly impersonal, Field's marketing philosophy has taken on a greater sense of urgency.
Wise sales and marketing executives know that no business asset is more valuable than a longtime loyal customer. They also know that prospects and clients have unprecedented choices in the marketplace today. The ability to cultivate and maintain top-of-mind awareness and nurture a preference for doing business with your company differentiates winners from losers.
One of the most powerful differentiating tools is a well-written, personalized letter, which can serve as a proxy for a face-to-face visit or a personal conversation. Personalization is the heart of the relationship you want to build with your prospect or customer.
A personalized letter can become the cornerstone of a direct mail campaign. The higher the prospect is on the corporate ladder and the larger the company, the more it pays to personalize. In creating a personalized letter, many make the mistake of not taking advantage of the power of their data, merging only the address block and salutation line.
Does this qualify as a customized letter? Yes and no.
It is personalized to the extent that Mary Smith will get a letter addressed specifically to her and a "Dear Mary" greeting. But it is not far removed from the old "drop in," where address and salutation were added after the body of the letter was offset printed.
Contemporary technology allows highly sophisticated personalization, incorporating many pieces of data that apply only to the individual recipient.
To execute a powerful personal document, the mailer must spend some time preparing the appropriate data for each recipient. For the moment, let's not address the world of variable data (graphic) printing and concentrate on what it takes to produce a quality letter that speaks directly to the individual.
Today's database managers can store numerous bits and pieces of information that pertain to individual clients and accounts. Data can include dates of sales, items purchased, guarantee/warranty expiration dates and even personal facts gleaned from conversations, such as a wife's name, children's names and ages, hobbies and the family's last vacation destination.
Such information can soften barriers and enhance the relationship between a supplier and customer. And when used correctly, it provides an invaluable direct marketing tool, affording many opportunities to change an impersonal, boilerplate letter into one that can't help but attract the recipient's attention because it is clearly and expressly written to that individual.
For example, ABC Company has devised an accessory for its widget that will improve the product's versatility and efficiency. Using the client data collected over time and stored in its computer, the company can produce a letter to the purchasing manager of Acme Products Company that reads and looks like this: (The data specific to the recipient is in bold.)
Mr. Gary Jones
Acme Products Company
123 Main St.
Anytown, US 99999
Dear Mr. Jones,
Great News! The widget that Acme Products Company bought in April of 2003 has just become more powerful.
Our new 2004 attachment will increase your widget's efficiency by 20 percent, and it even comes in yellow to match the one you currently own.
As purchasing manager, you know how important increased production efficiency is to your bottom line.
Please call Lenny Gold, to make your widget an even more effective Acme Products asset. If you place your order today, we will reserve your 2004 attachment in yellow.
To achieve this level of customization, the database had the following information: client name (with segments, including prefix, as separate fields), title, company name, street address, city, state, ZIP code, month and year of purchase, item purchased, color of item purchased and sales rep responsible for the client's account.
Studies have shown that letters individually tailored to such unique segments of a target audience can boost response rates, speed response time, increase repeat orders and improve overall revenue.
Perhaps more important, such letters can communicate a sense that your company is paying attention to this specific client relationship.
Personalized letters can be as elaborate or as simple as required to achieve your goal. At a minimum, try to make personalization speak directly to the recipient in some way.
Your flexibility will be governed by your database and the data collection process. But to maximize the use of this awesome marketing tool, you must plan ahead, and today is the time to start.