Personalization Improves Effectiveness – “Reciprocity Effect”

No matter what form of marketing you employ the most important goal is to post-it-notestand out from the crowd. Personalization of a marketing piece by adding a post-it note or a handwritten note can greatly improve the response. It also produces a “reciprocity” effect according to the Neuromarketing blog, where the recipient recognizes your effort and feels more obligated to respond.

In 1984, Brigitte Maheux, Md, Phd, Claudine Legault, Msc, And Jean Lambert, Phd conducted a study entitled “Increasing Response Rates in physicians mail surveys“.  They tested the effectiveness of two techniques among 604 Quebec physicians who had not responded to an initial letter; a handwritten thank you note at the bottom of the letter accompanying the questionnaire and a more personalized mailout package. The results were remarkable with  increased response rates by 40.7 per cent and 53.1 per cent, respectively, compared to control groups.

According to the researchers, “even though personalization was undoubtedly effective in increasing physicians’ returns, it is unclear why it worked. It is likely that it plays at different levels by increasing the probabilities that physicians will open the mailout, read the cover letter, and accept to complete the questionnaire. As others have emphasized, more research is needed to understand the principles underlying people’s behavior in relation to mailed questionnaires and to uncover significant interaction among survey techniques, survey content, and population.”

In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Robert Cialdini describes an interesting twist on the handwritten note. A survey was mailed with three cover letter configurations:

  1. A printed letter.
  2. A printed letter with a handwritten message.
  3. A printed letter with a handwritten message on a Post-It note.

The results were as follows:

  1. A printed letter generated a response rate of 36 percent.
  2. A printed letter with a handwritten message boosted this by one third to 48 percent.
  3. A printed letter with a handwritten message on a Post-it note pushed the response rate to 75 percent.

According to the Neuroscience Marketing blog it seems that what is causing the boost is a “reciprocity” effect. The recipient recognizes that the sender apparently put some personal effort into the mailing, and is more likely to reciprocate with some effort of his own.  The recipients who received the handwritten Post-It note were not only more likely to respond, but they also responded more promptly and answered the questions more thoroughly. And, as suggested by the 1989 Maheux study, adding a “Thank you!” and initials to the note further lifted the response rate in yet another Post-It test.

The reciprocity effect is evident when we send a thank you card or even when we hand write an address on a Christmas card or thank you card envelope. And always remember to sign everything and where appropriate add a P.S.

What to Personalize
Roger Dooley of the Neuroscience marketing blog suggests a few kinds of mail Thank You Cardcommunications that could be improved by enhanced personalization:

1. Event invitations – both non-profit and for-profit.
2. Surveys and questionnaires.
3. Donation requests.
4. Requests to schedule an appointment.

Even communications that don’t require an action by the recipient, like a “thank you for your donation” note, can be enhanced by stronger personalization.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Maggy says:

    I just came across your blog about and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here. I also have a web site & blog about advertising so I know I’m talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!
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  2. Kathy Hrach says:

    Hi Mike,

    Great post. It’s interesting that you mention the reciprocity effect of handwriting. This may likely be what triggers a response from those who receive handwritten mail. Plus the simple fact that real handwritten mailings are more eye-catching than laser-printed pieces.

    We recently hand addressed envelopes for a non-profit client who was concerned that they would not be able to match their donation numbers from the previous year. They just reported back that the handwritten mailing helped them to more than match their 2007 campaign results – in this tough economy! Whether it was reciprocity at work, or the fact that these envelopes were simply opened, we may never know – but it worked. Our client was delighted.

    Kathy Hrach
    Write On Results

  3. Steve says:

    I absolutely love your posts, they are all great. Thank you and keep up the good work!

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