Are you a fan of relative strangers using your first name in their emails and direct mail to you? No, me neither. Personalisation isn’t always a good thing in the world of marketing and communications…

Holly Bremner writes.

Holly profile pictureI love my job. I love it when that campaign, which started as a small acorn grows into a mighty oak and provides you with many more little acorns to reap and sew.

I am also fascinated by creativity. I love being taken aback by a new and innovative way of engaging, connecting and communicating with an audience.

Many years ago, I remember a copywriting friend and I discussing the potential for communications to return to traditional means – pen and paper.

Business and personalisation

The conversation came around the dawn of social media, or ‘new media’ as it was affectionately known then. Companies were just discovering these new and exciting tools for telling their story, listening to their audiences and gaining feedback. It felt like suddenly businesses had remembered that the audience was a person, they were no longer just the reader of a publication, but had a face and a name and voice, which they were happy to use.

“Businesses had remembered the audience was a person”

I was, and still am, excited by the potential held by social media. But my view, at the time, was that this new and exciting way of communicating would eventually become the norm. Potentially people would start to move away from using it, and we would need to find even more innovative ways of gaining peoples’ attention and breaking the noise.

I told my friend how much I loved receiving letters from my Great Uncle, as it was something beautiful, and tangible and meant the world that he had taken the time out of his day to sit and write to me. It also was a break from the norm to have something pushed through our door that was not a bill or junk mail!

With this in mind, I made my prediction, that possibly companies would seek to return to this forgotten form of communication to engage and communicate with their audiences. Postal communication would eventually be seen as unique – having someone put pen to paper, take time out of their day to engage with you on a personal level, giving something of themselves to say “hello, I’m here, I care and I am listening.”

“Communication’s role to engage and communicate with their audiences”

At the time, my friend gave me a massive smile and told me it was an interesting chain of thought!

Familiarity in marketing

Now a few months ago, I visited a very expensive fragrance brand to buy my sister-in-law a birthday gift. While there they took my address. At the time I thought nothing about it, but was quite taken aback when a few weeks after making my purchase, I received a hand-written letter from the sales person who helped me choose my gift.

In the note, written in fountain pen and presented on beautiful card, he thanked me for my custom and hoped my sister-in-law had enjoyed the gift. I felt special, listened to and of course will be returning to buy all gifts from there in the future – their return to old school communications has worked!

I meant to write about this at the time, but was only reminded about it this morning when I was reading a local magazine that had been pushed through the door. It’s not one we usually receive. As I finished flicking through and turned to the back page, I had quite a shock to find a hand-written note on the back cover, nestled in an advert for a local estate agent saying:

Hi Holly

I hope you are well. How are things coming for you with the marketing of your home?

Happy to offer any guidance and also keep eyes/ears open for you depending on where you are looking to move to.

Cheers (name removed to protect the innocent!)

Now, after my fragrance shop experience, you would have expected me to welcome this personal form of communication with open arms. Instead, I sat at my kitchen table with a half-eaten slice of peanut butter and banana on toast, waving in the air, with my mouth open like someone had just told me some seriously bad news.

I don’t think I know the person who wrote the note on the back of my breakfast reading, but they certainly know my name. They have also walked to my front door and posted this through. I felt a bit violated, and found myself questioning how did she find out my first name when I am pretty sure that is not on the Rightmove advert for our home.

You see, although I expect their marketing intent was good – let’s do something different, give the audience a surprise. But to me, this level of personalisation has crossed a few of my boundaries, I had no relationship with them previously, they have entered my personal space without an invitation and above all, they put me off my breakfast!

As a communicator, this is a big no-no in my book (not the breakfast bit!).

Communications is about relationships and trust, not forcing yourself into someone’s world without their prior consent.

Today has been a bit of an eye opener for me. I’ve been reminded that the pen is certainly mightier than the sword, my fragrance shop experience taught me that it has the power to strengthen a relationship and create loyalty for the sake of a few minutes and a stamp. But if you wield it in the wrong way, you will cut off any potential to build the bond you are trying to make with your audience.

Holly Bremner, is owner of HB Communications, and Vice Chair of the CIPR Local Public Services Group.

Thank you to Holly and Comms2Point0 – a version of this article was first published on Comms2Point0 on 10 July 2018.


How does your local public service organisation do personalisation?

The LPS is collecting examples of good personalisation approaches in marketing. Email us with your case studies.



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