What’s The Point of Mail Merge?

Mail Merge

It seems like we’ve forgotten why we use mail merge.

Nearly 40 years ago word processing software introduced the idea to us (I say ‘us’ but I was just an eye-twinkle). It would, quite cleverly, allow us to print off a bunch of letters all saying the same thing, but with a word or two – like a name – changed between each copy.

It became commonplace for businesses. They could now print off hundreds of thousands of letters or bills or invoices quite quickly without poor Sandra having to manually update each one between printing

For a customer (or donor) it felt like they were the only ones that were getting that letter.

That’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it? Getting a printed letter with your details on and just assuming someone had sat down and thought of you while they were typing it.

But that was the point of mail merge: To allow a sender to send pretty much the same thing to a bunch of people. While the recipient felt like it was just for them.

Everyone was happy.

Nowadays, we use mail merge because we can.

It’s in every word processor and every email application and with a click of a button I can put your name right here: [LOOK! THIS IS WHERE I COULD STICK IT!]

But when something becomes too easy we risk using it gratuitously, we risk diluting it, and we risk making it completely and utterly pointless.

You see, there’s no point in using mail merge if it looks like a mail merge.

Sure there’s a bit of leeway…we all suspend a little bit of belief when reading these things so it doesn’t have to be perfect. But when the mail merge is too blatant it snaps us out of that imagined one-to-one relationship and brings us back to the truth: a one-to-many relationship where, if I decide to ignore you then I’m comfortable you’re not going to notice.

When I teach my clients how to write better emails and letters I remind them, “People don’t unsubscribe from people. They unsubscribe from organisations.”

Always consider how you can make your letters and emails feel more like they’re written from one person to another. And then consider how mail merge can help you do that. Or not.

Try these:

  • Avoid inhuman wording like “Dear Simon Scriver” (nobody addresses full names)
  • Bury your “Donor #579213” (do you actually need this on your letter? If for some reason you do then make it subtle…not in the address block)
  • Keep your fancy-pants design to a minimum. In fact, try sending out some of your emails in a ‘plain text’ format.
  • Good data hygiene is great. Clean up people’s details in your database where you can so weird formatting doesn’t sneak through.
  • Small is beautiful! If you’re only writing to a handful of people then break out that pen and paper! Handwritten envelopes get opened. Handwritten notes get read.

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