Dear “| FIRSTNAM |” Personalization in an Age of Scale

Both Andrea Howe and I are experienced bloggers; 15 years and 1500 blogposts between the two of us.

We are far less experienced at newsletters and email marketing, but have been dipping our toes in that water. Yesterday we both stubbed those toes.

The Offers

Andrea wanted to announce a books-for-keynotes offer; I wanted to announce a sales event in Chicago. Each of us was very concerned to keep the personal quality we have tried to hard to develop over the years.

Rather than use an automated mailing program, Andrea went with her personal Outlook.  I chose the automated mailer route, but using a first name field where possible.

Murphy had a field day.

Andrea overdid the bcc capabilities of Outlook, generating error messages and returned emails in such a manner that she didn’t know who had actually received an email and who hadn’t.

My case was a little more blatant; not all the contacts in my database have been stored with first names, and the program, being the logical automaton that it is, addressed them by database field name. Thus some of you may have received an email addressing you as “Dear |FIRSTNAM|.”

Oops. I’m sorry.

The Minefields

We are all tip-toeing through minefields these days, attempting to keep deep links, while exploring weak links at the same time. Trying to keep things personal while looking for scale.  Figuring out how to be trusted, while trying to develop business online.

Sigh…sometimes it ain’t easy.

On top of it all, much of the market has become cynical. Not without justification! Note the headline in Time Magazine this week: LIBOR Scandal: The Crime of the Century?

I like to think I’m a little jaded, but I must confess I wasn’t expecting the following response from a now-former subscriber, who gave this reason for his desire to be taken off the mailing list:

“Because you started sending me emails with a fake person’s name as the sender. I guess not enough people are opening your emails so you think you have to fool us.”

Turns out he was used to receiving email from “Trusted Advisor Associates,” but when he saw mail from the same source with a person’s name, he figured it was a phony.

I guess the good news is, we’ve managed to create a trusted brand. But did it have to come at the price of my own name? (I can assure you, Andrea exists; I’ve met her. At least, that’s who she said she was…)

It’s an interesting problem. Andrea and I believe it’s not qualitatively different than at any other time, but the quantitative extent of things sure has ratcheted up.

The best solutions lie in transparency and collaboration.  That’s what we wrote about in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.


Since we both feel strongly about this, here are two things we can do.

  • If you’d like to get a free copy of our eBook Creating a Culture of Trust (taken from our new book) and be put on our mailing list, email me, personally, at

We do believe there are people out there, and we want to continue to find ways to help us all to remember it.