No friend of mine

Mailbox We know the drill.  A company wants to do a little one-to-one marketing.  They determine their right audience, design their direct mail piece and buy a list.

My full name is Andrew.  But really, unless you’re my mom and I’m in trouble, no one calls me that.  So when I get a letter  addressed to Andrew, I know its no friend of mine.

Here are the options available to the mailer (not counting the option of not sending the piece.)

  • They can address each letter individually, knowing that some Kathryns, Andrews, and Elizabeths are going to be on to them.
  • They can "guess" on nicknames.  In my case, they’d guess Andy.  And they’d be wrong.  Kathryn could be Kate not Kathy and Elizabeth could be Betsy, not Liz.  So perhaps risky business but odds are they’d be right as often as they’d be wrong.  So have they reduced their risk by 50%?
  • They can address the envelope but not personalize the letter (just use a letter block format) and reduce the impact of potentially using the wrong name.

What do you think?  Do consumers excuse the misuse of their name?   Or does it make them feel less kindly towards the sender?   Do you think they even notice?  In a recent post, Seth Godin suggests that people thrive on seeing their name.  Does that mean it really ticks them off to see it incorrect?

Salutation or irritation?  That’s my question.

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12 comments on “No friend of mine

  1. Chris Cree says:

    Drew, (Andrew?) I’m with Mike (Michael?). I think it is mostly funny.

    When I receive a communication the thing that will make me feel it is personal is whether or not I know the sender (or, on rare occasion, whether the sender genuinely wants to get to know me). It doesn’t matter to me whether it is addressed Chris or Christopher.

    Besides I live in the South and a whole lot of folks down here use non-name related nicknames. I don’t think any company would be able to successfully derive Buddy from Walter or Bunny from Angela. Yet both of these friends go by these nicknames so much they are printed on their checks.

  2. Mike,

    Perhaps it is only a irritant if people dislike their full name?

    Agreed, everyone is onto the secret. You’re writing to me to sell me something!

    Really one to one marketing is called a sales call. Otherwise, at best we can genuinely put ourselves and our offerings out there to see if any fish in the pond bites.


  3. Chris,

    All good points.

    We have some family friends where the husband’s real name is Laverne (I always thought his parents were a bit cruel) and the wife is Keitha. He goes by Bud. But the direct mail people almost always think he’s the wife and her name (as the husband) is really Keith.

    I’ll bet they get some very interesting mail!


  4. Mike Sansone says:

    Neither salutation or irritation. Humorous.

    It’s not really one-to-one marketing anymore (was it ever?) because we all know it’s one to many, but with a list.

    That said, leave the name off altogether unless it’s really a one-to-one effort.

  5. The one that particularly irks me is when it’s addressed to Mr. Carolyn Manning

  6. One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is when their dog, Santa’s Little Helper, gets a credit card offer addressed to Santos L. Halper.

    I agree with Chris. Not too many direct mail pieces addressed to Tater or Bub, though I know two who do business under those nicknames. Now that would be some serous list making if they could pull that off.

    I did work with one small company who asked for a nickname when someone entered a raffle or other promotional thing. They would try to address stuff to the nickname if possible. I always thought that was at least showing that they were trying. They seemed to get the benefit of trying to develop a relationship.

  7. Carolyn,

    Ohhh, you’re right. Hard to imagine a guy being named Carolyn!

    It certainly does not create a sense that they’re attentive to details, does it?

    The worst part — it was probably a mail house who provided the list and the sender doesn’t even know they made a blunder like that.


  8. Tony,

    Yup…reminds me of when my daughter started getting credit card apps when she was about 2.

    You’re right — making an effort to actually personalize is so unique it gets noticed. But in the end, perhaps they should just call a spade a spade. Hi stranger…


  9. Getting personalization right is one of the hardest aspects of DM production … you’re at the mercy of the database and the original entry.

    So I don’t mind the usual prospecting mail. What I DO mind is when companies/organizations with which I do business and am a customer screw up my name. I expect them to know better.

  10. Roberta,

    All very true points. That’s why perhaps it makes sense for them not to pretend to know you when they don’t. I’m curious, what do you recommend to your clients in this regard?

    And agreed…when someone I have done business with gets my name wrong, I’m a little insulted. And I make an inference in terms of how much they value my business.


  11. As far as what I recommend to clients is to use personalization lightly. Even tho I know a piece of standard class mail is generally from folks I don’t know, as Seth Godin say, I prefer my name over something like Dear Friend (hey, I don’t even know you!) On the other hand, if you can make a letter opening specific, like Dear Cross-Stitch Lover (or something far more creative than that), that’s a decent compromise.

    Bottom line, if you trust the database (your own prospecting list or you’re using a response-generated list as opposed to a compiled list), personalization is fine. Otherwise tread lightly.

  12. Dear Mom and blogger, (how’s that for personalization?!)

    Very sage advice. Tread lightly indeed.

    Or my version…when in doubt, don’t. People hate it when you mess up their name.


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