Whether we work in B2B, B2C or nonprofit organizations, many of us have done some kind of "we want you back" letter to former or lapsed customers, donors and members. If you've got one of these on your marketing to-do list, here's a cautionary tale.

Image from page 458 of "The Bell System technical journal" (1922)

Automated Marketing & Outreach:
Don't Phone It In

The challenge with marketing automation is human's tendencies to "set it and forget it". We put in the right information and then let the software do the rest so we can move on to "more important" things. I'm pretty sure that most of the time this works out OK. But when it doesn't, it doesn't. Case in point:

I was a member, committee chair and board member for a professional organization for a few years and then left to move onto to another group that better met my specific business needs. Though no longer a member, I do continue to volunteer for the original group.

After being off its membership rolls for at least two years, the organization sent me a "we want you back" letter yesterday. It was went wrong because it wasn't personalized:

  1. It was an unsigned form letter--not even fake-signed
  2. It was from someone I know professionally who knows I was on the board and am still volunteering but there was no acknowledgement of the relationship or the service

Now, I wasn't going to return to this organization anyway, so I'm not going to say that this misstep kept me from accepting the offer. But it definitely made me feel right about my decision to step away. And I'm pretty sure that's not what the writer intended.

Instead of filling me with the great feeling of being wanted (even if that was unrequited), I felt like I wasn't actually important to the organization at all. In the words of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, oops. 

Personalization isn't just a buzzword.
It's a powerful motivator of human behavior.

We all know form letters and automated signatures are facts of life. What we need to do is make personalization a fact of life, too.

If I matter enough to your organization for you to send me a letter, I should matter enough for you to acknowledge my past and current involvement or importance.

Personalization is an easy way to show, not just tell, that you care--and to prompt people to take the action you want.

4 Easy Steps to Personalize "We Want You Back" Letters (and Other Automated Marketing)

Here's a quick checklist for your next WWYB campaign.

  1. Scan the recipient list for people worthy of you special attention, such as donors, personal friends, community luminaries, your kid's best friend's mom. Denote the people who deserve a little extra attention so you can pull their letters later.
  2. Add the "relationship data" directly into the master contact record so it's visible for anyone in the organization (so they, too, can acknowledge the person correctly). If that's not possible, at least note it on your master recipient list.
  3. Make a quick note for yourself about why you want this person back. What did they contribute that was critical to you or what's a specific reason (not one you list in the letter) that they should come back? Even something light like "We miss your kooky sense of humor in the store" can have an impact.
  4. Pull these letters, write your personal note somewhere and sign it for real. Again, if possible, hand address the envelope, too.

I know we're all strapped for time. But few things are more important to your business than re-engaging former customers, members, fans with a personalize "we want you back" letter. If you don't have time to do that, you probably have bigger problems.

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