The 5 Golden Rules of Personalized Communications

dimesThough we may not always be conscious of it, the web has turned communication from a pull process to a push process. Where once the primary means by which service providers would engage with clients and prospects was one-on-one, the web has given us the ability to broadcast information to our contacts instantly, and for free. In this kind of environment, personalization can really make a difference.

Of course, a pitch for work will always be tailored to a given client. But if you’re in “maintenance mode,” using fairly generic communications like newsletters or special offer mailouts to stay in touch with an existing client base, it pays to make those communications as personal as possible. There are a few golden rules you can apply to each piece or stream of communication — each phone call, or each electronic newsletter, no matter how generic — that can provide a solid sense personalization, and help each contact feel like he or she really matters.

1. Salutations
salutationWhenever I get a letter from the Tax Office, it begins “Dear Georgina Laidlaw” — and that’s if I’m lucky. Often it’ll just have the date, followed by something like, “Re: Tax owing for the period ending June 30, 2009.” A personal salutation, using either a title and surname or just the contact’s first name, makes all the difference. Flickr’s post-sign-in landing page salutation, shown here, is a great example of this philosophy in action.

2. Refer to readers in the singular.
Nothing tells people they’re part of a crowd more clearly than words like “all of you,”  “some of our customers,” or “you guys.” Wherever you can, refer to the contact in person, either using “you” or their name, or their company name. It’s a subtle difference, but I think it has a big subliminal impact.

Consider: “I know all of you are eager for the next version release, since it will help your business’ installations run more smoothly.”

This reads much more personally as: “I know you’re eager for the next version release, since it will help Hal’s Service Center run more smoothly.”

Not bad. But imagine if instead of the generic “run” you actually talked about what the software would offer Hal and his service center: “process customer inquiries more smoothly,” for example. Now you’re getting really personal, and Hal will definitely feel the love.

3. Refer to yourself in the singular.
Not all communications are signed off by a single person, but again, I think this is really valuable. Where you can do it, you should. And when you do, you should refer to yourself — “I” — rather than “we” the team or “we” the company wherever you can. Referring to yourself in the singular creates a sense of credibility and accountability, but it also indicates that your clients are dealing with a real person — someone who may have empathy and understanding for them.

4. Personalize wherever you can.
Review the communications pieces and tools you already use to promote your business, and think creatively about how you can personalize them to specific clients or prospects. Printers can easily laser personal details onto printed collateral, so perhaps you’ll consider personalizing your next brochure or mailout. Maybe you can reshape your regular email updates to include a salutation and signoff.

5. Look for new opportunities to personalize.
Go beyond your existing suite of communications to look for new ways to communicate on a personal level — even through generic, mass communications. Perhaps you can’t afford to personalize your next direct mail campaign, but you may consider following it up with a personalized call or email to your best clients to see if they’re interested. Maybe you can’t personalize your monthly electronic newsletter at this point, but maybe you’ll augment that offering by tweeting key prospects personally with an interesting link related to a story from the electronic newsletter soon after it mails.

These are my golden rules for personalization. Do you use any of these tricks? What’s worked for you?

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  • goldndog

    This subject has potential that you unfortunately did not deliver in this article. You began with vague generalizations and continued by failing to edify on implementation. What spurred me to comment is I some how missed the point in your article where your rules became “tricks”.

  • georgina

    Hi goldndog,
    Thanks for the feedback — sorry you didn’t enjoy my post.

    I’m curious: what did you expect the post to cover? If you can clarify your expectations, I’m sure the SitePoint blogging team will be able to address them, perhaps in another post.

    Thanks again,
    Georgina

  • Ben Hall

    I am sorry ‘goldndog’, I fail to see the reason for your misinterpretation of the article. If you would like to elaborate on further points then we are all ears.

    Very well noted Georgina, you convey an overall good point about personalised communication. It has certainly changed my way of thinking about target marketing. Could I ask though, for a small retailer such as myself their are some benefits for addressing customers as a whole. For one it perceives the organisation as being larger than it may actually be. Where do you think the medium is met in the trade off between personalised and mass marketing communication?

    Regards

    Ben Hall

  • cre8ivrob

    These are some great rules. But I have a question about using I instead of we. Would a small company want their customers to know there is a team looking after them?

  • georgina

    Thanks Ben and cre8ivrob. I like your question :)

    I think the balance must be struck on a piece-by-piece basis — some mass communications, like print catalogues, are often unable to be personalised very effectively, while others, like letters and newsletters, can.

    But I also wonder if addressing customers in the plural is the best way to make the company look large: what about just referring to yourself in the plural?

    As a customer, the fact that I’m receiving a mass communication from a company indicates to me that they’re big and they have a lot of customers. If they’ve then taken the time to speak directly to me (through personalisations like salutation and referring to me in the singular), as if I’m important among all their customers — a name, not just a number, as they say — I usually feel valued by them.

    So I think a good balance in the cases you mention might be to use your mass communication to address the customer in the singular, then sign off using something like “Ben the team at XYZ Co.” or “cre8ivrob and all of us here at ABC P/L”.

    This way, you communicate that your company is large (which can imply trust and reliability), but that each customer is still valued and important to you.

    What do you think? Does this solution sound like it’ll do the trick?