Saturday, January 14, 2012

On Fake Personalization

I often listen to NPR programs from other cities, via the NPR News app on my phone.  This morning I was listening to Car Talk as broadcast from station KCPW in Salt Lake City, Utah.  During a break, the station played a promo for the show that was coming up next, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, recorded by that show's host Peter Sagal.  He described the show, threw in a few light jokes, and then said, "Coming up at 10 o'clock right here on KCPW."

I know that Wait Wait is broadcast all over the country, so when I heard Mr Sagal pronounce the call letters of the station I was listening to, all I could think of was the whole afternoon he would have once spent in front of a studio microphone in Chicago, recording clip after clip for the hundreds of NPR stations all over the US.  It got me wondering whether he had to re-record the whole promo, or if they just cut in the last sentence since that was the only one personlized for each city.  I definitely did not image Peter Sagal sitting in Salt Lake somewhere recording this single message, or taking some time out to record a message for just this market, or even feeling some twinge of fond familiarity when it came up on the list during that long afternoon.

So that made me wonder whether it was worth the trouble they'd taken to personalize this message for this market.  If he'd recoreded instead, "Listen for Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, coming up soon on your local station," just that one time, and then gone home for an early dinner, would that really have been less effective?  Did my mind go to the image of the recording studio because I work in this field and I know too much?  Was the long list of station call letters in front of Mr. Sagal just too similar to the large customer databases I manage at work?  Do ordinary listeners of KCPW, the good people of Salt Lake City, feel a fond glow of affection and hometown pride when they hear this national radio star say their station's name?  Or would the more general phrase "your local station" have just the same effect?

That's the question, for all of us who work in CRM.  We do actually love our customers, and when we communicate with them we want them to feel like we know them as individuals.  But when you try to create that effect on a large scale, do you always end up in fake personalization, and do the customers always know that that's all it is?


Postscript: Listening to the actual show, I learned that Wait Wait was actually travelling to Salt Lake City in the near future to perform a live show.  So the city and station were in fact significant to them, and might have prompted the special promo.  But the fact that I just assumed the personalization was fake raises the question anew - is fake personalization not just worthless but actually damaging?