Personalization and Direct Targeting

posted by Matt Ward in Advertising Direct Mail.

Update: The variable copy demo is currently disabled. We intend to revamp and relaunch it at some point in the future.

In our last post, Dave talked about our variable imaging and variable copy demos [disabled] (as well as our Addressed Admail postage savings calculator). After reading that article, I started to think about some conversations we’ve had with clients and associates over the past little while concerning these demos and variable print at large. As I pondered this, an interesting realization dawned on me. Actually, it was more like a two part realization.

First, it occurred to me that there is a distinct difference between personalization and what I would call variable targeting. Personalization involves taking bits of user specific information and dropping them into either the copy or the graphics of the piece. This could be a first name, a company name or a unique customer number. The classic personalized letter is a perfect example of this.

Variable targeting is somewhat different. Instead of inserting specific recipient information within the piece itself, this technique uses that information to group people into manageable groups, based on a certain demographics. Unique and relevant content can then be used for each of the groups.

For instance, here are three different cards from our variable imaging demo.

The first is sent to Sam, whose birthday is in February. The second is sent to Amy, whose birthday is in June. The third is sent to Greg, whose birthday is in October. In each case, the birthstone of the specific month is displayed on the card, and referenced within the copy. So, when Sam, Amy and Greg get their cards, they will each see their own birthstone featured prominently.

Clearly, variable targeting is a powerful technique, allowing you to truly craft and hone your message for different types of recipients. It is interesting to note, however, that most of those recipients will never even notice that there is anything variable at all. To continue the example from our variable imaging demo, if a fourth card were generated for Nicole, whose birthday is also in February, that card would look like this:

Other than the personalization of the first name, this card looks identical to Sam’s card (with the same gemstone), because they are both part of the same group (born in February). So, other than the inclusion of their name within the copy, there is really nothing to indicate to the recipient that there is anything all that targeted about the card.

At first, this can seem disheartening. After all, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of implementing variable targeting techniques, don’t you want people to take notice? Don’t you want them to sit up and say: hey this is really cool!

Not at all.

This assertion comes from my second realization, which is that personalization should be obvious and variable targeting should be invisible.

I think that the first part is simply inevitable. When you use somebody’s name or company name in the salutation or body of a letter (or any other marketing materials), there’s a very good chance that they are going to take notice. This is a good thing, since it helps to build a connection, and shows the recipient that they are more than just a number or a faceless customer to you.

Variable targeting is much more subtle, however. Through variable text and graphics, you are crafting a message targeted directly to the recipient, based on specific information that you have about them. However, you don’t want the message to appear targeted. Consider something we wrote within some of the commentary within the variable copy demo:

You don’t want to alienate the customer by revealing everything you know about them. Rather, you want to use that information to craft copy which will get your customers to think: “Hey, I can relate to that.”Variable Copy Demo

The same is also true of variable imaging. Whatever techniques you are using to direct your message to your recipients, they should blend seamlessly with the rest of your piece. This will help your piece maintain a natural continuity and prevent it from becoming too overbearing for your customers.

Remember, the purpose of direct mail is to help make sales, solicit donations or generate leads. To do this, you first have to build a connection with your prospect or client. Personalization and variable targeting are great tools to help you achieve this, as long as they are well implemented, with a proper balance.

Generally speaking, I think that sticking to this one simple rule will help to maintain that balance: keep your personalization visible and your variable targeting invisible.


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