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Things I’d Like to See Go Away – Fake Personalization

by Hank Barnes  |  June 19, 2018  |  Submit a Comment

I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of a message that starts like this:

“Hi Hank,

It’s great to talk to you again.   After reading your LinkedIn Profile, I realized that you might be in the market for Web design services”

But the reality is the sender has never spoken to me and they never even look at my profile (if they had, they’d see my message to marketers and sales reps that makes it clear that I don’t influence any purchases by Gartner at all).

Source: George Becker on

Source: George Becker on

This is just one form of what I call Fake Personalization.   It’s an approach that tries to present an informal, “we know each other” (or at least that the sender knows the receiver) tone to earn more attention.

In the past, when technology to do this was first introduced (think MailMerge and E-mail tools), it might have worked–but things were different then. You didn’t have a “profile” you could claim to review.  Being friendly was nice.   And receivers were not deluged with messages.

But now it doesn’t.   That same approach makes everything look the same (check out a recent #FridayFails post for examples of how bad it’s become).  And it’s driving the people you want to engage with crazy.  (I just spent the week trying to help my mother get control of her e-mail box.  I must have unsubscribed from hundreds of lists.  The volume of messages is so great, it’s next to impossible to find what really matters.

But, what is the alternative?

My suggestion would be to be different.   Don’t try to fake personalization, but show preparation.  Provide a good reason why you are reaching out.  Acknowledge if it is truly a first contact.  Maybe even open with “I’m not gonna pretend we know each other like everyone else does.”   Authenticity can go a long way.

What can you (as a receiver) do to stop the flood of fake personalization?

Unfortunately, very little.  Perceived ‘best practices’ are embraced by the masses, even when they turn into worst practices.   I’ve tried calling them on it.  The good news is it usually gets me removed from their target lists (although they never respond to me.  They may read #FridayFails since I usually add a link to one of those posts as an example ).   But, as Dave Brock reminds me, this approach may be playing into their hands.   It means their metrics (see my latest post on metrics) go up.  Their message drove engagement! Its a win.  Not really, but it looks that way to their management.

The best approach might be just to delete and ignore.   If, somewhere down the road, you do engage with the company behind the messages, be very clear that their outreach approach made you more cautious and concerned and almost cost them from even being considered.  That might help.

Anyone else ready for fake personalization to disappear?


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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: e-mail-marketing  marketing-automation  personalization  prospecting  sales-effectiveness  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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