Monday, March 18, 2024

Impersonal Politics

For years, corporate and political marketeers have been committing a predictable and painful set of offenses under the fraudulent banner of “personalization”. After uncountably many tons of direct mail heaped upon me over the years, it's time to direct a few remarks back at them. The “you” I'm addressing here are the people committing these unbearable acts, especially in political mailings, not the myriad others of us who endure them.

It's easy to throw a lot of smart tech at things and think you've done something wondrous to cultivate a relationship with mass numbers of people. You have not. There is nothing personal about mass mailings. You may be hoping AI will soon fix that. It won't. Let's just say that right up front by making that point number one in the list of points I have to make:

  1. Knowing something personal about me like email or that I gave you money or that I didn't give money recently is abuse of privacy, not personalization. You'll know when you have personal information or a personal relationship because I will have been personally involved in establishing it.

    And, no, you calling me on the phone and getting me to answer personally is not me establishing it. It's just you making unauthorized second-hand use of a phone number I almost certainly gave you (or more likely someone else that I mistakenly thought I could trust) for a very different purpose. Doing this does not make us friends. It makes me instantly unlikely to trust you and it makes me regret trusting whoever I gave the phone number to originally. That they saw selling my personal data as a revenue source makes them absolutely no friend of mine.

    Having a bot, instead of a person, call me on the phone with a rude and impersonal agenda will not improve that. Technology is not a fix for social problems, only a force multiplier.

  2. Interest is opt-in. Making it opt-out breeds strong antipathy.

    Ask yourself how you'd feel by if someone just started using the trash cans outside your house for disposing of their trash and left you a “helpful” note on the cans telling you that if you didn't like it, you were welcome to drive across town and stop by their office to ask them not to. That isn't in fact helpful, puts a large burden on the person being taken advantage of, and would not be well-received. But it's basically the same kind of thing as people are doing when they fill your mailbox with unwanted mail that you haven't asked for.

  3. People donating small bucks are not pledging undying interest. Read what your own call for donations says. It almost surely requested help “at this critical moment” not “now and forever after.”

    Notice further that I was probably offered a box saying “one-time contribution” and checked that in preference to even a “monthly” contribution. Ask yourself then whether it's really likely that if I didn't want monthly, it was because I wanted to give more money the same day, or the next day, or any time within that month.

    Now also look at the address you probably harvested with the donation. Is it out-of-state? Ask yourself whether that makes it more likely or less likely that I am serious about the “one-time” thing and whether my mailbox should have anything in it but a thank you for at least a month, if not for the entire election cycle. Seriously. I know where to find you if I need to donate more.

  4. Speaking of people who are contributing from out of state: In most cases these are not your constituents. Shouldn't you speak to them differently than the people you actually represent? If you don't realize this, you're not as much my best pal as you imagine.

    Make a template that's different for non-constituents/out-of-staters, one that reminds people who in the world you are, and one that gets used far less often—preferrably only in true emergencies. Just the process of putting yourself in this other frame of mind, of realizing these are different people with different goals, should be instructive to you.

  5. Message fatigue is a serious risk. It can't be a crisis every day without becoming just normal. No one can sustain a crisis mentality. If you're not going to be honest about what is and is not a real crisis, no one will believe you forever after. Is that in fact what you want?

    Did you never read The Boy Who Cried Wolf in school? It's supposed to be a really basic aspect of the socialization of human beings everywhere. We are asked to learn at a young age to be respectful of others' need for you to prioritize your requests and concerns so as not to overwhelm them. Do you think yourself exempt?

  6. Have you done the math? If I only gave you a one-time donation of $10, do you really think I have $3650 secretly allocated to help you and just need to be manually poked with a stick each and every day to pony up the next $10 installment for 365 days a year???

    Extra Credit: How many of your donors have $3650 in surplus cash at all for anything, much less for your one political race. (Hint: If the answer is a large number, you are not listening to ordinary voters at all.)

  7. Some people use email addresses where they can receive mail but from which they cannot initiate mail. If your unsubscribe needs me to send from the unsubscribe address and I have given you such an address, it may be that I can never unsubscribe. Do you think that, locked in that unstoppable flood of unwanted mail, I will ever think well of you again?

  8. Mailed out surveys, whether by email or physical mail, are a dead concept.

    With 98% likelihood, if I fill out a survey, it will be ignored and all you'll care about is the money you ask for on the last page.

    You, political marketeers, have killed surveys for any useful purpose ever because only those planning to donate will fill them out, so you have no representative sample.

    If you tout survey results as meaningful, you are misleading people either stupidly or willfully.

  9. We recipients of excess political email are a tragedy of the commons, completely worn out by overuse. You are hurting not just yourself, but the hopes of others.

This is probably not a complete list. But these issues matter a lot.

If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This post is a slightly modified version of a rant I wrote Thursday (March 14, 2024) on Mastodon. I have, as they say, revised and extended my remarks. But it started from there.

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