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If it isn’t relevant, what’s the point?

Golf BallHave you ever received a “personalized” mailing that didn’t seem so personal?

Maybe you’re a tennis nut, and you received a sporting goods catalog personalized with your name on the front cover, plastered with an image of a brand new set of golf clubs. Or you received an incentive to bring in your car for a tune-up six months after your tune-up was actually due. Maybe the data itself was correct, but your name was spelled wrong. Or the marketer addressed the mailing to “Francis.” You hate the name Francis. That’s why everyone calls you Fran.

Data, by itself, doesn’t make a mailing relevant or compelling.

Data is just that—data. It’s a variable in a database field. Each is merely a piece of information that can be used well or it can be used poorly. Or it can be downright wrong.

This is why personalization and relevance are two different things. Personalization is simply the use of data to create unique pieces for every individual in a database. If those variables are not used in a way that increases the level of interest and engagement with the target audience, it’s not relevant. Relevance is created by sending a piece that means something to the person receiving it.

In fact, a mailing doesn’t have to be personalized to be relevant.

You can create relevance by segmenting your database and creating mailings relevant to each segment. For example, when you send a mailing to all inactive customers with, “Please come back! We miss you!” along with a 25% discount, that’s creating relevance even if everyone in that mailing receives the same piece. Likewise, if you market different insurance plans to households with children than you do to retirees, you are increasing relevance even if you don’t do any personalization at all, even by name.

The goal of great personalized communications is to do both—segment the mailing by gender, company size, market vertical, or some other demographic—then add relevant personalization on top of that. If you’re targeting by market vertical, for example, you might personalize by name, then adjust the copy and images based on the recipient’s job title. Even if you are marketing the same product (say, security systems to schools), you’ll focus on different features and benefits when speaking to the chief financial officer than you will when speaking to the director of facilities.

So before personalizing any mailing, ask yourself:

• “Why am I choosing the variables I am?“

• “How am I going to use them effectively?”

• “Do I need to add any other variables (append my database) to improve my targeting efforts?”

This way, you don’t run the risk of sending a personalized mailing without it actually being personal.