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“Fname Lname, we value your business,” and other nonsense.

Posted by ZachAttack on 2005/5/29 22:57:08 (2531 reads)

Several weeks ago, I got an email from a well-known credit card company. I won’t say their name, but lets just say it rhymes with ‘shittybank.’ The email went something like this:

Dear Fname Lname

As a valued XXXXbank customer, we are excited to let you know that you are pre-approved for a XXXXbank Platinum Select card which you can use to...

What a bunch of greedy assholes, I thought to myself, immediately deleting the email. Not only did they clearly not know my name, which, in case you don’t know, is not Fname, but also it was obvious that they were lying. How can they pre-approve me for a credit card if they don’t even know who I am?

So, at first I was a little mad, but then I began to see the humor in the email, and after thinking about it, I was a little bothered by my first reaction. After all, I’ve gotten lots of offers for credit cards through the mail and through email. Hell, I’ve even solicited them before, going to websites like LendingTree, in search of good deals. It’s never really bothered me getting credit card offers through the mail, or through email: If I’m not interested, I just throw it away.

I realized that what had made me mad was not getting the offer, it was the impersonal nature of the offer. But wait a second! Did I ever really think that when I received a credit card offer before, that I was dealing with someone on a personal basis, that someone has carefully personalized it, typing “Dear, Zach” at the top of the letter? Did I really think that the company carefully evaluated me and was therefore pleased to be able to make me a fantastic credit card offer? Do I really think that any of the credit card companies that I currently do business with give a damn about my financial well-being outside their own interests?

Of course not. And I know damn well that every letter and every email offer I get is entirely automated, pulling my name out of a database along with tens of thousands of others, and if that doesn’t bother me, then why should I be mad that they called me Fname Lname? The problem is I've gotten so accustom to the bullshit that I've come to expect it.

I’ve been reading a book called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which I think explains it pretty well. Every moment we’re awake, we are bombarded with sensory input. We already know that our brains handle most of this without any special conscious thought, but many of us may be surprised at how far that unconscious processing ability goes. ‘Blink’, is the term Gladwell uses to describe the snap judgments that are made for us automatically by our unconscious minds. This is a remarkable ability, enabling us to make quick decisions and free up our conscious mind for more important activity, but it is also something that can lead us astray.

Take my credit card offer for example. As a consumer, I’m used to getting these things. I know what they look like, and I’m reasonably well informed when it comes to seeing a good deal. But, I’ve also, quite unintentionally, developed a good idea of what a credit card offer should look like. Along with overwrought sales pitches about how fantastic a deal I’m getting, and fine print legalese, I’ve come to expect personalization. If it doesn’t look right, I’m going to be turned off, because it doesn’t match my expectation of the product. For all I know, the email offer I received could have been fantastic, but even if it were a permanent 0% interest rate, I would have never known it because I deleted it the second I realized it didn’t look right.

Often times, revolutionary new products or ideas don’t work for a long time, or are even scrapped altogether – not because they are bad, but because they are foreign to people’s expectations.

Of course, the concept of Blink applies to much more than just marketing, but I think marketing is one place where we can clearly see the results of our snap judgments. Just sit through a few commercials and put on your thinking cap. Some of the most effective commercial sales pitches are stupid and outrageous when you put them in an objective light.

Isn’t it ironic that I can sit and casually watch a commercial about, lets say, McDonalds new healthy menu options, and not be bothered, but then have a strong negative reaction when I get a credit card offer, just because my name is incorrect? If you ask me, the key to becoming a better consumer – and I would argue a better society – is to be more aware of the many unconscious judgments that we make every day.

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