I’m taking an online class. Our writing assignments must be created in an XML editor. While this does give us experience using the format, it’s remarkably cumbersome. Curiously, the temporary licence we were given for the XML editor ran out partway through the course so we were directed to the software publisher’s site to request a trial licence of our own. I’d be embarrassed if this happened for a course I was offering but they’re not acting like it’s the least bit unusual. This certainly gives me pause.

I received a marketing e‑mail message today from the publisher of the XML editor. Of course they want me to purchase the program. What really amazes me is the sales/marketing people who composed the message I received seem to have forgotten their craft. The message starts with the salutation, “Dear Prospective Altova Customer.” Can’t you just feel the personal connection and how they really care about you? Yea, me either.

CBC Radio One runs a remarkable documentary series called The Age of Persuasion. The episode I heard last week, “The Myth of Mass Marketing,” dealt squarely with why the Altova message failed before it even started.

When radio was new, advertisers fell all over themselves to take advantage of it. Instead of talking to individuals or small groups, advertisers could reach thousands of people very inexpensively through broadcasting. The mistake they made was making their ads sound like a broadcast. So many of the ads that aired on early radio were simply a man shouting his obviously scripted message into a microphone. It’s not engaging, it’s not personal, and there’s no chance of connecting with the listener. Advertisers learned over time they are far more successful when engaging the listener/viewer as if he or she are the only person they’re talking to.

As the program said:

It was ad giant Fairfax Cone who said “there is no such thing as a Mass Mind. The Mass Audience is made up of individuals, and good advertising is written always from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.”

I’d go further and suggest the best advertising is written always between two people. An ad that makes you believe they’re talking to just you is good, but if it somehow involves you, it’s better.

If the Altova message greeted me by name, I would not be fooled into thinking someone had composed and sent the message only to me. My eyes would probably have slid over the personal salutation without much of a reaction. The salutation they do use however, goes out of its way to remind me that the message is automatic. It also shouts out that the message’s sole purpose is to rope me into becoming a customer. Of course I know this already, but being so blatant about it couldn’t be more mercenary. Clearly, they think me a walking wallet.

I’d go so far as to say that if a personalized salutation is not possible, no salutation would be far better than the one they use.