Virtual Sticky Notes: No More Fake Personalizations

This morning I got an email invitation to an event. I probably won’t go though.

It is a busy time of year and I do have a conflict on the calendar. I probably could have moved it, but I didn’t. Why not? Because the email had that ‘mass communication’ feel to it that made it seem, rightly or wrongly, that no one would even notice or take it personally if I didn’t reply. When you get something like that, you have no idea whether it went to ten, a hundred, or even ten thousand people. Had the invitation had more of a personal feel to it, my relationship with the person who sent it most likely would have gotten me off my butt to move things around on my calendar and make it happen. But instead, the entropy of my desktop sucked me away to something else. Not all connections lead to shared purpose.

In my last job, I used to write lots of personal notes to people. It was one way to let them know I was investing in the relationship. Yes, it took some time, but eventually I got pretty fast at it, and I do think it made a difference. The note doesn’t have to be much, by the way. It can even be a little sticky note attached to a form letter. But that little marker that says “a machine didn’t do this – I did” makes a lot of difference. And that brings me to the reason for this post.

Back in 2003, I tried an experiment with an electronic fundraising appeal for  Groundwire. I started with a nice-looking HTML email newsletter and added a little section that looked like a fake yellow sticky note. I then jury rigged some process for helping me fill out a personalized note for each recipient. I went out of my way to ensure it was clear from what I wrote that it wasn’t just the same text that I was writing to everybody. It was a hack to be sure. But it worked. I don’t have the response rate anymore since this was a while back, but I can tell you that we had lots of people open those emails and even thank me for sending them. The fake sticky note seemed to register as personal – like the real ones I often sent in the regular mail.

I didn’t stick with this approach because the tools for doing this trick were so cumbersome at the time. But I’ve been thinking…with the extremely flexible CRM tools out there today like Salesforce, it seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to finally build this solution the right way.

How would it work? You would have a field in the database that indicated which people warranted a personalized note, as well as who in your organization would be the best person to write the note to that particular person. You then build your email newsletter template the way you normally would with a solution like Vertical Response or ExactTarget, only now you create a little area that looks like a sticky note – either as an image, or just a yellow HTML table. Then comes the tricky part that would take a little coding (or one of the email solutions to simply add this as a feature). You need some UI to very efficiently enable you to add a little note to each of your priority recipients. It would be text constrained to fit into the box of your virtual sticky note. The UI might also expose some key facts about the recipient to help jog your memory as you personalize your note (e.g. the names of their spouse and kids, the last gift they made or product they purchased).

You get the idea. Maybe somebody’s already done this. If so, great. If not, you’re welcome to the idea. I can clarify it more if you want.

Here’s why I think something like this is important. We all get mass mailings – and we all know when we’re getting a mass mailing. What we need is a way to publish generic content like this in a way that allows us to also attach a personalized note. Not a fake personalized note – a real personalized note. We need to be able to do that efficiently and in a very discriminating way. If you’ve got a large base of people, not everyone warrants receiving the truly personalized note. But there is a segment of your total base with whom you are trying to build deeper relationships. These relationships need periodic “touches” to keep them alive and strong. All the light little touches we’ve come to take for granted with Twitter and Facebook suggest that it actually doesn’t take all that much to tell someone you care.

Do that and I’ll probably come to your event.


  1. Great post, Gideon.

    I remember that effort. It really is a smart way to help break through the noise.

    I am going to forward it on to the people at eROI and ActOn software down here in Portland. Both of these companies have electronic communications platforms that would be a great place for this idea to get rolled out.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Not only is it so easy to say “no” with the delete button when you see that you are just one of many recipients to a bulk email or letter, but you are also left with the feeling that no one would notice if you didn’t reply. Not so with the personalization! Hope to see ideas from your readers on the range of new solutions out there.

    • Agreed. Thanks Liz. Would love to see other ideas from other people who see this same issue and have the creative juices to solve it.