When I was in college, I received a very compelling sweepstakes promotion. Were I the winner, the sweepstakes would build my beautiful dream home right there at P.O. Box 501! I have a healthy imagination, but I’ll admit I struggled with envisioning the home of my dreams fitting into a 5-inch by 5-inch post office box.

Few direct marketing techniques are as powerful as personalization. Carefully adding personal information such as name and address to a mailing piece (or an email) can have a dramatic effect on response. That’s because it’s almost impossible for us to ignore something that mentions our name. A personalized item is more compelling than something that just seems to be junk mail.

But you have to be careful just how far you take personalization. The sweepstakes promising a home in my post office box is one example of what can go wrong. Another is including every detail you know about the recipient. For example, it’s okay for a bank to tell John Smith that they’re glad he turned to them when he needed to borrow money. However, if the bank takes the opportunity to remind him that his mortgage carries a monthly payment of $892.14, a balance of $104,815.73, and he’s been late on two payments, they’ll sound more like Big Brother than a Friendly Banker.

You also have to be sure you know how your data is set up. My business name is “Scott Flood Writing,” and my former bank would send me letters that waxed eloquently about how much they valued my business, and how important I was to their success. Invariably, those letters would arrive addressed to “Mr. Scott Writing.”