As I write this entry, Im travelling at 831kph at 12,002m above sea level, balancing my oversized laptop on my legs while trapped between two armrests that obviously werent designed to let people use computers on planes. OK, its a Virgin Blue flight, so I guess I really shouldnt be surprised. But what did surprise me were the greetings I received on boarding.
The first greeting was in form of a decal, plastered to the side of the aircraft door, that proudly announced Welcome aboard the best on-time airline in Australia. The irony was that the flight was already 39 minutes late, and this off-time departure seems to be a consistent pattern across my interstate lue travels over the past few weeks.
Permission to call you by your first name, sir?
The second, and rather more significant greeting was the friendly air stewardess who, on presentation of my boarding pass greeted me with Hello Eliot, your seat is down there on the right. Now wait a minute, have we met before? Am I some famous celebrity? I dont believe so. And when did I give you permission to address me by my first name? Alas, it seems all Virgin Blue crew are programmed to greet passengers in this way.
Addressing someone verbally by their first name who youve never met before and dont have an existing relationship with can feel intimidating, intrusive and somewhat offensive. But we manage to get away with it in other forms of communication. Take direct mail, for example. If I receive a personalised mail piece addressed Dear Eliot… and I dont have an existing relationship with the sender, I dont perceive this communication to be intrusive or offensive. Even if my name is incorporated in a printed image, to produce the effect that Eliot is written in sand, clouds or in other scenery doesnt upset me in the slightest. In fact, it grabs my attention and creates a relationship.
Theres a time and a place
Personalisation can be highly effective when used across the right communication mediums. Visual media such as print, e-mail and even Web pages are all acceptable mediums for addressing audiences at a personal level, without requiring their prior permission. But thats really where personalised communication should stop for non-celebrities, like us.
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