The Power (And Pitfalls) Of Personalization

Sarah Stone
The Power (And Pitfalls) Of Personalization

Key Takeaways:

  • Personalization is a winning strategy in direct mail, as long as you are mindful of your audience and careful about the information you use.
  • When mailing prospects, too much or too detailed information can come off as crossing a line — but there are proven tactics that allow you to personalize your mail without being perceived as creepy.
  • Your current customers and clients want assurance that you understand them, so use the information you collect to personalize their mail and prove you know about their needs and preferences.

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Don’t Be Creepy: Best Practices For Using Variable Data In Direct Mail

It’s a long-held tenet of direct marketing that the more personalization you include, the more likely your efforts will be effective. And that’s been proven true time and again. But in a world where consumers are constantly tracked, marketers must be careful about the information they use to personalize direct mail.

What Is Personalization?

Personalization is anything that makes your marketing communications more relevant to a specific prospect or customer. Historically, DM uses readily available data — like the recipient’s name and/or geographical info — to grab their attention. It may be a decades-old tactic, but don’t knock it, it’s still effective!

In recent years the possibilities of personalization have exploded! There’s more information available about prospects and customers than ever before, and digital printing has opened up a world of personalized images. But handle this info with care.

Don’t Be Creepy

Marketers now have access to more individual information about prospects than ever before — info like how many children live in their home, and how long they’ve lived there — and transactional data even tells us where they spend their vacations. But marketing that uses too much or too detailed information can come off as creepy, especially for prospects who don’t already have a relationship with your brand.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a prospect will wonder where or how you obtained a piece of information, don’t use it… or at least don’t use it blatantly. Commonly available personal data and the information needed to deliver the mail — such as name, address, county — should be safe to use. But using more obscure personal information, especially in prospecting mail, is likely stepping over the line from attention-grabbing to downright disturbing.

How Not To Be Creepy

But there is a way to use personal information in your mail marketing without being perceived as creepy – and subtlety is the name of the game. Simply leverage your personal info about your prospects without printing it on the piece. For example, if you know Jane Doe has owned her home for 12 years, don’t say, “Jane, you’ve lived in 123 Main St. for 12 years, so you likely need…” Instead try, “Jane, if you’ve lived in your home for more than 10 years, you likely need…” By obliquely referencing prospects’ personal information without stating it explicitly, privacy concerns make them less likely to be distracted from your sales message.

Providing useful or actionable information to recipients based on basic mailing data is another proven tactic that personalizes mail for prospects while avoiding being seen as stalker-ish. For example, use variable printing to provide the address of the branch or store closest to the recipient, or the agent or sales rep’s contact information covering their area. Even better, use digital printing to include a map of that store’s location or a photo of the agent the prospects will work with.

You can also utilize personalized URLs or QR codes. As the name suggests, personalized URLs are personalized, usually with the recipient’s name. So instead of directing a prospect to visit companyname.com or even companyname.com/discount, send them to companyname.com/JaneDoe (for example) to garner extra attention and increase the likelihood of their visiting.

Personalized QR codes are less about grabbing your prospects’ attention and more about providing a tool to help them respond more easily. In addition to directing them to a specific landing page (with embedded tracking information if desired), personalized QR codes can pre-fill a responder’s information (name, address, offer number, etc.) into an application or response form — making it that much easier to get prospects into your funnel.

Prove It With Personalization

Mail that targets your existing customers and clients can take personalization further than is recommended with prospects. Why? Because this audience wants to know that you understand them, their preferences, and their needs. And you can use personalization to prove it.

When targeting this segment, use as much of the information you collect about them as possible in your direct mail. For example, remind them of products they’ve already bought or services they currently use before introducing new items or an upsell offer. Use their purchase history to recommend new items that might spark interest if possible. Do you collect birthday info? Send a card during their birth month with a special birthday offer. Have a lapsed customer? Remind them of what they’ve already bought and include the elapsed time since their last purchase along with a compelling offer to win them back.

Tried & True

Whether you’re targeting prospects or existing customers, personalization in direct mail is a proven successful tactic, as long as you execute it carefully while keeping your target audience in mind. And always remember: Personalization drives response — creepy doesn’t.


Gunderson Direct has long-lasting relationships with some of the country’s largest corporations, helping them to lower their customer acquisition costs and increase profits using address-based integrated direct marketing programs.

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Sarah Stone

Sarah is passionate about marketing, project management, relationships and results! With a keen eye for details and a solutions-oriented outlook, she shepherds direct mail campaigns to success while keeping a smile on her face. When she’s not executing campaigns for Gunderson Direct, Sarah loves traveling, trying new restaurants and recipes, and exploring everything the Bay Area has to offer.

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