Copywriting tips – Personalisation vs Over-Familiarity

Journalist Colm O’Regan wrote a rant for the BBC online magazine  raising the issue of what he sees as overly familiar email and website text. In the article he raises umbrage with the overuse of his first name and copy which adopts an overly familiar tone.

For some time now online marketers have been stressing the importance of ‘personalisation’ when communicating with customers because people tend to respond better to messages directed specifically at them. However based on O’Regan’s experiences, it would appear some copywriters have taken the concept too far.

Picture of a man receiving a free hug - example of over familiar copywriting

It may seem warm and cuddly from your side but overly familiar copywriting may not be as well received as you hope.

Over familiarity can be threatening

We all know that our every online move is tracked by various advertisers with a view to selling us more widgets or providing more grommets. The problem is that people don’t like to be reminded of that fact. Every time we try to matey-up to a website visitor with jovial content, we may actually be alienating them. And alienated customers don’t buy – a definite copywriting fail.

O’Regan points to his mass email service provider who send him an update whenever someone unsubscribes from his newsletter. “Nuts, a few people jumped ship. Ah, who needs them anyway?” reads the body of the message. If this is how the provider encourages you to regard your customers, does it also accurately reflect their opinion of you?

Personalisation doesn’t involve being mates

When your customer says that they like to receive personalised emails, they are not talking about chatty copy stuffed with uses of their name. In fact the Adestra Email Subject Lines 2012 study found that consumers are 33.4% less likely to open a message that had their name in the subject line and 53% less likely to click through the contents.

For your customer personalisation means giving them information about products and offers that are relevant to them. This could be messages based around abandoned shopping carts, discounts on items stored in wish lists or special offers based around previous purchases. Clearly this requires more data-driven analysis than it does your finest friendly copywriting techniques.

Getting the tone of your copy correct

When copywriting for websites it is essential that people trust what they are being told. Your brand needs to establish its expertise and encourage clients to accept what they are reading. Who do you trust more – the slightly drunken lad who throws his arm around your shoulders before slurring his product recommendations in a loud voice, or the savvy recommendations of an approachable expert-type who seems to know what you actually want?

A conversational tone works well for the web and encourages customers to engage with your brand. However treating them like a lifelong mate could backfire, as O’Regan’s article demonstrates.

Need help getting your website content written? Professional copywriting services from Tech Write could be the answer – I promise to avoid matey clichés. Drop me a line for more information.


6 comments to Copywriting tips – Personalisation vs Over-Familiarity

  • Peter G McDermott  says:

    Great points. I hate it when people act like we’re best friends in their marketing materials. Most of the time I haven’t even tried or purchased their product. The sad truth is that most of the time people read “junk mail” is because they don’t want to waste the time filtering or unsubscribing. If you can draw the reader’s attention without insulting them, you’re doing a great job. Good points!

    • Ben Lloyd  says:

      Thanks Peter. Everyone likes targeted and relevant offers, but most of us can live without the chatty text!

  • Jason Darrell  says:

    That’s an excellent point, Ben.

    There’s a similar tightrope when liaising with potential clients on freelance sites, as I found to my detriment at the outset.

    Simple common courtesy, until you’ve made verbal communication and established a rapport, wins hand over fist every time.

    Good call, bud – as always.

    • Ben Lloyd  says:

      Thanks Jason. My experience of freelance sites suggests that if you adopt an overly familiar tone early on, you run into problems with professionalism later on in the working relationship!

  • BrittneeFoster  says:

    Unique and active points, you have pointed out Ben! If you can drive the attention of your readers, I believe that you have achieved a lot. For that, you must have an appealing thought-process but it should be well within the familiar level, that gives your readers something to follow.

    • Ben Lloyd  says:

      Thanks Britnee. I believe in engaging readers, not frightening them. Inform, engage, entertain by all means, but please don’t pretend they are you best mate!

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