Here is something that you may or may not know about me: I'm a patient advocate for my 83-year-old Babushka.

While she doesn't speak English, she would love nothing more than to communicate directly with her care team (doctors, nurses, case workers). Instead, she's stuck with me, the novice translator. Together we compiled a list of personal directives to make it easier for everyone involved in her care. The OSU Medical team is endlessly accommodating to our directives.

It's the little things that have earned my Babushka's loyalty.

My own preferences become apparent in my travels. No matter where I fly, I prefer to stay at a Marriott. They know my best experience will include:

  • Foam pillows (I have insane allergies)
  • Wall Street Journal (I suffer from the fear of missing out)
  • High Floor (I'm an explorer at heart)

(Sheesh, I know, high maintenance!)

These little things, you see, they can mean the world.

As brand marketers we know that a remarkable customer experience is a differentiator. We also understand individualizing the customer experience surpasses one size fits all.

Salutations Set the Tone

Yet, it's been brought to my attention that one of the more seemingly simple but overlooked individual requests we make is the way we prefer to be addressed in person, on the phone and in writing.

Yes, salutations actually do matter!

And they matter A LOT when it comes to the mail we receive at home (the more personal, the more feisty we get).

If you don't think it matters, I want to share this story.

This is a valentine tweet posted by a Miami University alumni who continues to receive fundraising letters addressed to her by her husband's name.

For 10 years, she has waged protest. Needless to say, no donations have been made to the university from this family.

If you still don't think it matters…. Here's a follow up Facebook post from the same alumni.

Look at how much conversation it generated on the topic.

On the flip side …here's a story about a brand that is forward thinking on this topic. A friend of mine has been purchasing concert tickets from Cincinnati Pops for years for her and her partner. When Cincinnati pops noticed their subscription lapsed they sent her an invitation to come back. Notice how they addressed the envelope to Ms. and Ms. Susan Reynolds.

With customer data at our fingertips, it's amazing how salutations make a difference to our bottom line if used appropriately.

I do believe that salutations set the tone of our relationships with customers.

So, Do You Even Need the Gender in the First Place?

As traditional direct marketers we are trained to (infer or collect) gender whenever possible. We use gender to drive product inventory decisions and advertising. Yet, sometimes less is more.

Just because we have the data doesn't mean it's okay for us to use it to address someone on the envelope.

For many brands this struggle is real. They may intimately understand their community's needs but they're trapped. Unable to respond.

What I've learned, running direct marketing programs over the years, is that as every new channel (direct mail, email, social, web) comes into play, a new silo is formed (separate data, separate teams, separate workflows, separate tools). In our pursuit of adoption and hyper personalization we forget to focus on the simple things that matter in our relationships with customers.

I know what you're thinking. You are caught between old systems and carrying out old stereotypes. But as modern business leaders we don't have the option to stand still....right?

Technology Moving Society Forward

So, how's a leader to adapt?

Success will come to those leaders who can see the patterns and keep information flowing openly among their teams.

I had the chance recently to catch up with Josh Driver, Founder of Open For Service. Josh and his team are leveraging the integration between Salesforce Marketing Cloud Journey Builder and PFL's Tactile Marketing Automation app to automatically personalize mailings using the basic information its community provides. This includes being able to support the variety of salutations business owners request.

As Open For Service continues to grow and begins to learn about its community, the team can leverage the same solution to execute on more complex subscriber profiles without major process or system overhaul.

It's About A Changing Perspective

When I asked my 83 year old Babushka, a Holocaust survivor, what she thought about this issue, she said, "Yevochka, holding on to old stereotypes is something I deal with everyday. I don't know much about business. What I do know is what it means to feel welcomed at someone's home. The details are everything."

I think she's right.

This is an excerpt from a Dreamforce panel I participated at Dreamforce 2016 alongside Josh Driver and Avory Faucette to discuss how to "Apply Gender Inclusive Practices To Acquire and Retain Customers".

What do you think? I'd love to hear your stories. Leave me a comment here or connect with me on my socials.

About the Author

Yeva serves as Director of Salesforce Solutions & Alliances for PFL. Yeva is a marketing behaviorist who is part creative, part strategist, and part technologist and who believes in using her powers for good. Prior to joining the team in 2015, Yeva spent 15+ years in variety of marketing roles including managing database strategy and analytics for leading brands like Luxottica Retail and Cornerstone Brands. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Yeva has a deep passion for moving society forward by connecting people and evangelizing new ideas.