The 5 Golden Rules of Personalized Communications

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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?

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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