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Personalized Direct Mail: From Wow to Whoops!

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Variable data printing allows companies to personalize their consumer communication. It's a nice touch and certainly gets my attention more than, "Dear Customer." But, when Citibank changed my surname to "Forgel," my positive first impression went downhill fast.

First of all, some background info into my previous customer relationship with Citibank...
I applied to Citibank for a credit card when I moved to the U.S. from Canada. I was using a Canadian Citibank card almost exclusively, so Citibank Canada was making a few bucks from my family's purchases.
Even though my credit score was in the 800s, the U.S. company declined to give me a card stating that the Canadian company is totally different and they couldn't check my history or status. How short-sighted. Strike one.
Yesterday, when I received the letter addressed to Elaine Forgel, I was dumbfounded. Of course, this could have been a data entry typo, but it sure seems like a careless error. My brand experience with Citibank isn't that great, so I'm now disinclined to read any of their direct mail. Strike two.
So, if you're going to send direct mail using variable data printing, it pays to invest in accurate data as much as possible. What's your experience? Has this ever happened to you? Has your company made significant boo-boos when you personalize your marketing materials?
P.S. Thanks to Shelley Ryan for the inspiration for the title of this post.

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A Canadian who relocated to the U.S., Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of SOLUTIONS Marketing & Consulting LLC, a boutique marketing and communications agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona. During her career, Elaine has worked for, and with, many organizations, associations, and businesses, across North America, on marketing strategy and communications tactics.

From her earlier agency career assignments freelance copywriting Procter & Gamble, Nestlé Carnation, and Kraft materials, to “inside” senior-level marketing positions, Elaine’s passion for marketing has evolved to helping clients reach new heights through strategic brand-building, integrated marketing communications, and customer orientation.

She has been a contributing writer for The Business Journal and her articles have appeared in many publications, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Marketing News, The Arizona Republic, Advancing Philanthropy, and several association publications. She has been interviewed by CNN, Connect Magazine, and The Capitol Times, and her content was included in Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins, and Chris Forbes. Nonprofit Consulting Essentials by Penelope Cagney. and Share of Mind, Share of Heart by Sybil F. Stershic.

Elaine is a Faculty Associate at the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation and a professional member of the National Speakers Association – she does keynotes and presentations on business and nonprofit marketing, branding, customer orientation, and cause marketing at conferences and meetings.

Elaine’s career has also included stints as a cookbook author, teacher, singer, and television show host. A golf and tennis enthusiast, Elaine is enjoying life in the sunny Sonoran Desert while serving clients across North America.

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  • by Pete Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Elaine - try this. Change the first name on your magazine subscriptions to your dog's. Then see how many credit card offers they get. You'd be amazed.

  • by Paul Barsch Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Elaine, you make a compelling case for integrated data, a single view of the business (across global geographies) and master data management to reduce redundancies, errors, discrepancies...

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Pete, what a hoot! My Snickers has a few things on his wish list. Maybe Citibank will oblige! Paul, how true. I've worked for organizations with multiple databases and it can create a nightmare, especially when there are redundancies. Sometimes, we'd hear back from people who claimed the adressee had been dead for years! Now, that's embarrassing. I know it happens, but it surely can't create a positive brand experience.

  • by Matt Hamilton Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Elaine, We do a lot of variable direct mail at our company because we have a digital press in house. The situation you described is familiar - we now only send variable stuff to our customers. We are fairly confident in the accuracy of that list. By the way, we're happy with the results of adding the variables and also use personalized URLs to continue the personal touch.

  • by TJ McCue Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Elaine Great post. I just wrote about something similar on the Sales & Marketing Management blog after a friend and I discussed this sort of thing. It is a tough, tough nut to crack. My friend's company, Intrasight Marketing, does this mainly for hospitality market, but they do some financial industry work. He offers some tips at the following blog post: E-mail makes it easier to create that customization, but many DM experts would say Citi just dropped the ball. I also link to a funny video that's just been making the rounds about an advertiser and a consumer. You might have seen it and might get a chuckle out of it.

  • by Nancy Adams Thu Jun 14, 2007 via blog

    Elaine- I guess you can be thankful that they didn't spell your first name wrong, too. Personalizing a direct mail campaign can be very effective or, as you well know, a disaster. But when it's done well, the results can be quite spectacular. At Deliver magazine we recently offered companies the chance to submit their best customization campaigns for a little contest. We ran the best of them in a recent issue. (I've included the link) They are some incredibly creative and successful ideas. It kind of makes me wish I'd been on the mailing list. Sure beats all those credit card applications made out to Nacy Addams!

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Fri Jun 15, 2007 via blog

    The question is would you trust your dog with a credit card? They tend to spend like drunken sailors. Cats, on the other hand, seem to be more frugal and pay the balance off every month.

  • by Elaine Fogel Fri Jun 15, 2007 via blog

    TJ, good suggestions on your post. Thanks for the link, Nancy. Neil, if my dog had his way with my credit card, he'd buy all the doggie junk food in the store! No healthy treats for him - he abhores them. As for cats, I'm highly allergic, so their frugality can't help me! :)

  • by Shelley Ryan Sun Jun 17, 2007 via blog

    Elaine, I love this thread, for two reasons. First, MY dog is named Snikkers the Wonder Schnauzer. Small world! Second, I am obsessive-compulsive about keeping the names clean in our mailing list! Not for all 274,000 members, mind you, but for the paid members that I write to on a regular basis. I personalize those emails, and I would hate to address anyone with their names in all lower or upper case, so I periodically review the list and make corrections. Does that make me weird, or what? I think that my hyper-diligence pays off. One of the members I chatted with on the phone recently said she feels like she has a real connection to MarketingProfs. That made my day! :)

  • by KermitFan Mon Jun 18, 2007 via blog

    Shelley -- that doesn't make you weird, it makes you a great human being. I have been known to spend /hours/ going through our lists pulling out people's names in all caps. My personal favorite: I've seen people's names and the pronunciations in databases, i.e. - "Dear Susan (suz-ann)," Data cleanliness -- does it ever end?

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Jun 18, 2007 via blog

    Shelley, it means that you are providing top-notch customer service for MP customers! And Kermit's right - it also means you're caring.

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