Dear Heather,

Let's Get Personal! 


From my standpoint much has been made of the idea of personalized communications and the value they can add to direct mail. Yet so few people really seem to understand it or take advantage of it, why is that? Based on my experience it has to do with misconceptions about implementation, benefits and cost.


First of all when I talk about personalization I typically include; variable data printing, list segmentation with versions of text and images to match and actual personalized information. There is some overlap in these terms, however I think it's important to consider them together as they help you attain the goal of relevant communications.


Say your data is limited to first name, last name and gender; most of you probably have at least that amount of reliable data.  How can you personalize your communication? For starters you can address them by first name on the envelope, again at the beginning of your communication and you can effectively use it once more in the body or end of your communication. You can use images that identify them as male or female or use an opposite sex image to attract them, depending on the piece. Next you can have two versions of text that relates to their gender, not necessarily the whole letter, perhaps only a paragraph or a sentence. So with even a very basic data base you can utilize multiple methods to communicate with them at a more personal level.  

As you get to know your audience better, and we can help you do so by providing data appends or brand new lists, you can start to use other factors like; age, income, self reported interests, past donations or purchases, home values, assets, ethnic background, religious affiliations, life position like married, single, homeowners, renters, children, etc. You can vary your images and offer/call to action based on this information to further personalize your message. The key is relevance and it is created by knowing your audience and communicating with them in a personal manner. In many cases using versions of text and images to match preferences based on list segments along with some simple personalization is sufficient to boost results. The use of additional variable data based on factors listed above and below will only serve to reinforce your connection and further improve results.


Colleges might want to use data such as graduation year, course of study, extracurricular activities, clubs, past gift amount, past fund donated to or other relevant data points.  


In terms of benefits, let me share some recent statistics: 

  • According to PIA, Printing Industries of America personalization or variable data printing can increase response rates upward of 30%.
  • According to a Response Rate Report conducted by Caslon, a PODI affiliate (Print On Demand Institute) in 2008 fundraisers increased response rates by 55% when using personalization.
  • A Vertis customer focus study asked adults, "Which of the following makes a difference to what direct mail you open?" Sixty-six percent responded with "customized name". Because using a name is only the beginning of VDP, consider how much better response can be when all the capabilities of text, imagery and offers are properly leveraged on a mail piece. 
  • In 2009, 28 percent of mail pieces were personalized. In 2010 that number jumped to 34 percent, a 21 percent increase. Meanwhile, 2011 surged even higher, as seven of the 10 months recorded demonstrated another 21% increase from 2010. A whopping 46 percent jump from 2009 levels.

* This data is derived from the Who's Mailing What! Archive and extends to October 2011.


Cost is always subjective, what is inexpensive to one might be very expensive to another. What I can tell you is many of our direct mail clients have used personalization successfully. One of our small college clients has recently chosen to incorporate personalization into their general fund appeal and they are very conservative and fiscally responsible. 


I cannot encourage you enough to use personalization in your direct mail initiatives, no matter the application. Nothing helps you connect with your audience more than information that is personal and relevant. It is key to higher response rates. If you'd like to discuss methods to personalize your next campaign please contact us. We'll be happy to provide one hour of free consultation, just reference this newsletter and contact us by June 15th. 

Thanks for Listening,


Bill Strobridge