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Dear Blog Reader: What's the Point in Personalizing Communication?

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Marketing response rates rise when communication is personalized. That's what the stats tell us. But, what's the point in doing it if you do it BADLY?

Continental Airlines sent me a promotional e-mail today. Here's the subject line: Specials - Not that exciting.
At the top, underneath the menu bar, here's the personalized touch: Specials for Elaine Fogel
Since I have to book a flight for an upcoming speaking engagement, I click on the specials link to see the departures from my home airport. Guess what? None there.
OK, so they got my name right. After all, I am a OnePass (loyalty) member. But, that's where the personalization ended. Why send me a teaser for travel specials if they don't have any from my city? That's a waste of my time. What are the odds that I, or others in the same situation, will open the next e-mail promotion? I'd have to guess that open rates will decline considerably.
Lesson not yet learned by Continental...
Use personalized communication if the message is relevant to the recipient.

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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 Lewis Green Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, I like the way you cut to the chase. Personalizing isn't personalizing if it's simply about getting my name correct. Personalizing is personalizing when the marketing piece offers me something I want or need.

  • by john harper Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    The other side of the coin - Attempting to make a personal response to an email like this or the corporation behind it.

  • by Claire Ratushny Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Good post, Elaine. You point out something that peeves us all from time to time. Question: why would a company like Continental not use all of the information it has garnered about your needs and the way you use their service (you are a OnePass Loyalty customer, after all) to tailor a marketing message just for you? Without relevance it's a missed opportunity for Continental to solidify the strength of their brand for you as a loyal customer. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect. "That's a waste of my time. What are the odds that I, or others in the same situation, will open the next e-mail promotion? I'd have to guess that open rates will decline considerably." Exactly. Well stated, Elaine. I hope Continental is paying attention.

  • by Andrew B. Clark Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Hi Elaine. Simple and pointed... I really like the fact that your "frustration" with Continental's sad attempt at communicating TO you instead of AT you missed its mark. I have been a huge advocate of one-to-one marketing through direct response (either direct mail or email) for a long time. And it's the biggest challenge to get the companies to understand that a TRUE (truthful, relevant, unique and engaging) brand is 50% RELEVANT and ENGAGING! I just posted my second article in my series on TRUE Branding. It addresses Relevance in branding and the pitfalls of assuming that the ghostly whisper "if you build it..." (from Field of Dreams) should be your company's marketing plan... As you pointed out, it's SO much more. Keep Cooking! Andrew

  • by Cam Beck Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    This is a great point. I received a DM piece a few months ago. One of the central messages was about how important I was to the company. I suspect the other central message was the same, but it was written in Spanish, so I can't know for sure.

  • by knowhow Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Thanks for the great comments. I laughed when I read yours, Cam. What a hoot!

  • by Elaine Fogel Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Oops on the "posted by" name above. It was me.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, this particular airline has come along way. Sounds like they need to extend their good work to marketing databases and functions...

  • by Elaine Fogel Wed Feb 20, 2008 via blog

    Thanks, Paul. I wasn't intending to "pick on" Continental. I used their e-mail to make a point. There are bound to be countless others that do the same thing. Isn't everything in this world about timing? :)

  • by Aaron Siegel Thu Feb 21, 2008 via blog

    I think it is evident that the airlines industry is trying to reduce costs while performing so called personalizing.

  • by Dusan Vrban Thu Feb 21, 2008 via blog

    I think this happens every once in a while when people get a new version of Office with "Outlook business contact manager" included. And they find out it is possible to send "personalised" emails. :-) Yes, the programming houses marketing departments did it again. Convinced the businesses across the world marketing is about databases.

  • by Doug Pruden Mon Feb 25, 2008 via blog

    Despite all we have heard for years about the personalized travel history that frequent flyer programs provide to the airlines it's amazing that this kind of one-size-fits-all junk email continues to flow. I agree it can only lower the open rates over time. For those who feel Continental has been singled out here's another example: American emails me with weekly listings of special saver fares. I seldom read them anymore since despite knowing my home airports, the roundtrip fare listings they include are 90%+ for other airport cities. In the short term it would cost more to write a program to improve the relevance of the communications, but in the long run it would make me feel that American knew who I was and indeed was trying to give me a heads-up about the good deals and provide greater value to me.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Feb 25, 2008 via blog

    Thanks for your comments, Aaron and Dusan. I agree with you, Doug. It is an investment from the back end, but unless e-mails are relevant, why send them if the company risks so many unsubscribes and deletes?

  • by Scott Abel Wed Mar 5, 2008 via blog

    Well, that's too bad for Continental. This situation wouldn't happen if they used a service like VDP Complete: I won't bore those who already understand personalization technology with the technical details. But, there are a few great success stories out there that illustrate where Continental fell short, including Caterpillar, ThermoSpas, and Strike Yachts, among others. Read the case studies:

  • by Matilda Wed Mar 5, 2008 via blog

    I use Southwest. I've probably bought 40 tickets from them over the past three years. I live in Boise, Idaho. Every time I leave I fly out of Boise. So when I go to buy a ticket, the site ALWAYS asks me what city am I flying from. WTF? You KNOW what city. It's the same damned city every time. How hard would it be to at least use a cookie to remember my departing city from my prior order? Marketing isn't just about an email promotion. It's about showing the customer that you actually notice them, and adjusting your day-to-day operations accordingly.

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