In a post from a while ago, I talked about some bad behaviors regarding communicating with your customers through a form letter. My friend Victoria Kamm, President of Obviously Brilliant, commented on the post and wondered about how one would actually go about creating a personalized snail mail piece. It’s an excellent question and I think the answers apply to almost any customer communication.

Before we go any further, though, I do need to make a stipulation. All of these ideas are based on the premise that the purpose of the communication is to establish a better relationship with the customer. If all you really want to do is advertise to them, then you can ignore this stuff (just like your customers will ignore your advertisement).

  1. Use their name. Never, ever, ever address the letter to “Sir”, “Sir and/or Ma’am”, “Policy Holder”, or “Client”. You need to be personal. Most word processing programs have a “mail merge” capability. Use it. Oh, and wherever possible use the name they prefer to be called. I know when something comes in that says “Dear Gregory”, that I can usually safely dump it in the recycling bin.
  2. No advertising. I know I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. What you send should never be just one big advertisement. It must be information which will be useful to them without necessarily trying to convince them to buy from you. If you present the recipient with truly useful material, they will see you as an expert in the topic area and they will want to talk with you. Advertising is interruptive and most people today have learned to ignore interruptions.
  3. Be useful. This is something I learned in a recent seminar I attended by former National Speakers Association President, Mark LaBlanc. He told us that we have one, maybe two, opportunities to capture their interest and attention before they begin to ignore our communication. This means we need to make sure that those who are receiving information can use it. These means one of two things:
    1. Be general. The information has to be so general as to be useful to everyone on your mailing list. This has the danger of the piece being so general as to be obvious (and therefore not particularly useful). Still depending on the topic, it is possible.
    2. Segment. If you want to communicate some topic which is specifically useful to some smaller segment of your mailing list, only send it to that smaller segment. They will love you for addressing their specific needs. Those who aren’t in that segment won’t view you as being irrelevant to their lives and start ignoring you.
  4. Be generous. Many of us who provide information as a part of what we do, have a tendency to want to hold back that information. After all, if we give them that information for free, why would they bother paying for our services later? Listen, if that one piece of information is all they needed from you and they weren’t ever going to need anything else, then they can go out and buy a book to discover what they need to know. They were never a prospective client in the first place.
  5. Close with you. The signature should be from a specific person — preferably you. Poeple connect with people, not with companies. You may want to appear bigger than you are by signing “ABC Company, Customer Service”, but that makes the recipient feel like just another account. Not a good lasting impression to leave them with.
I will warn you. I am not an expert on direct mail advertising. There are those folks out there who know that stuff cold. I’m only telling you what I’ve experienced as the recipient of my share of form mailings. Be useful. Be personal. Make an effort to make me feel like this is a letter from a friend and I will be much more likely to respond.
After all, we’ll do things for friends that we would never consider doing for a faceless company that treats us as just another number.
Photo by Arianne van Noordt