Have I got an offer for you:

“Junk mail” is just not what it used to be. Impersonal, generic, uninspiring pieces of mail have become less and less prevalent – at least in my mailbox. Part of this, of course, is due to the rise of mass e-mails and online advertising: different media, same problem of low response rate. But more interesting is the takeover of personalized offers through the mail. Whether from transpromo (transactional promotions – i.e. targeted offers enclosed as part of statements) or from actual personalized pieces of mail with individualized offers, response rates go up as targeting becomes more focused. We have many customers for the Adobe PDF Library and other technologies who create software to enable these personalized offers; it’s a large, large industry with many different members. From these tools one can make very compelling personalized mailings and capture the attention of many more recipients. A very effective way to compel someone to pay attention and take action is to include a reward.

However, once a piece earns someone’s attention, it must tell a compelling story. This will not be a tale of such a compelling story. In fact, this will be a piece about what can go wrong – and how stumbling in the execution of a personalized marketing piece can create an even worse situation than never having attracted one’s attention at all.

The piece:

(content obscured so that the provider may remain anonymous)
I’ll admit, this got my attention. It’s brief, it’s to the point, and it’s rewarding me. I’m sure that it’s not a huge reward, but it’s infinitely better than an email survey where I could have a “chance” at winning some low-value gift. Yes, I know someone usually wins these – but one never knows how many people are actually signing up. Is getting a bunch of emails worth a chance that might be 1% – or might be 1/10000th%? Not usually to me. But here, I seem to have the guarantee of something. All I need to go is go to a URL, enter a personalized code and trade some of my attention to learn about what HP Enterprise offers. As a tech person, this even seems like it might have some relevance to me and might teach me about a useful offering. Great! What a refreshingly effective mailer, I think to myself. So all I need to do is to go there, and…
… and like that, this personalized marketing piece goes from Almost Hero to Less Than Zero! This has turned from a call to action into a very tangible demonstration of loss aversion and the notion that, once someone has something they are more negatively sensitive to losing it, than they were desiring it before they had it. Mentally, this mailer gives the recipient a reward – and then takes it away immediately. This is much worse than never having provided the reward at all! After all, I’ve offered to hold up my end of the deal here (offering my attention) and approached this company, just to find out that they are unwilling to reciprocate. Of course, this doesn’t impact negatively my feelings for Amazon, or HP, or for any other company involved – the only harmful impact is on the company who provided this offer. The impacts are several:

  1. I’m likely to toss without looking any other mail or offers I get from this company,
  2. I’m likely to be a bit more skeptical of offers like this from other companies in the future, and
  3. If I need to recommend a company to run such a campaign, then this company went immediately from interesting to the “actively mention negative experience” file

Much worse than not being a recommended provider is to become one that is actively dis-recommended.
So while response rates on large-scale mail campaigns may be low, you can increase these through personalization. You can increase further through offering a gift for someone’s attention and time. But for the increased response rate to lead to positive results, you must make sure to follow-through on the personal promise your marketing piece offers!

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