Mail Merge

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What is Mail Merge?

Mail merge is a feature in data processing applications that automates the process of sending a similar letter, email, or document to multiple recipients that is personalized to each. It enables connecting a single template with a data source that contains information about the recipient’s name, mailing address, email, and other predefined data collected by the sender.

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Techopedia Explains the Mail Merge Meaning

What is Mail Merge

Mail merge is a software feature that automates the process of sending bulk mail to customers or subscribers. It allows the sender to create one document and personalize it to each recipient.

Mail merge is often associated with business-to-consumer (B2C) communications when generating personalized documents on a large scale. For example, a business uses mail merge when sending a printed letter to a large number of customers.

How Mail Merge Works

The goal of mail merge is to streamline communication processes, save time, and ensure each recipient receives personalized information from the sender.

To work, it requires two components – a data file and a template file. When merged, the two components produce the merge document.

The Data Source

Mail merge uses a data source containing recipient information with separate fields for each type of data to be merged into the template file. Common formats for the data file include comma-separated values (CSV) files, databases, email contact lists, and spreadsheets.

The Data Source
Screenshot of an example spreadsheet with customer data for mail merge.

Screenshot of an example spreadsheet with customer data for mail merge.

The Template or Main Document

The second file is the main document or template, like an email or letter. Recipients’ details in the template are marked as empty fields. When you start the mail merge, the main template combines with the data source, creating personalized documents. Recipients’ data from the data file fills the empty fields until all documents are created.

Traditional Mail Merge Deprecated, Goes Digital

The definition of traditional mail merge is somewhat deprecated. Dating back to early word processors (i.e., early versions of WordPerfect or Microsoft Word) when mail merge was frequently used to print batches of personalized letters and mailing labels.

Although mail merge has been a popular feature in successive versions of document processing software packages, it may soon be as obsolete as the old “Print Shop” software of the early PC days, or the dot-matrix printer that was so often used to generate mail merge and Print Shop documents.

To replace the mail merge feature in Microsoft Word, Microsoft has created the ability to deliver server-side document generation with Word and Excel templates. Users create manual workflow rules to do what a mail merge previously would have done.

This type of deprecation accompanies the move from a machine-native environment to the cloud, where features are being delivered on the server side, rather than at the endpoint or on the customer’s own machine.

Today, mail merge is a digital process where goals are achieved through various forms of data visualization and automation.

Mail Merge Features

Mail Merge Features

Mail merge features can vary based on the software and the data type. Here are 6 common features:

Batch Processing

Create a large number of personalized documents in a single batch, saving time when dealing with mass mailings.

Create a Variety of Documents

Create document templates and mark pieces of content as merge fields.

Data Filtering

The data source can be filtered to include or exclude specific fields (i.e., city, name, address)

Data Source Integration

Mail merge tools typically integrate with a variety of external data sources such as spreadsheets, contact lists, or databases.

Email Merge

Mail merge often includes functionality to send personalized emails to a list of recipients.

Tracking and Reporting

Mail merge tools may offer tracking features to monitor delivery, and customer interactions, or generate reports.

Tools Used for Mail Merge

Some tools businesses use for mail merge include the following:

  • Gmass
  • Google Docs (with third-party extension) and Google Sheets
  • Microsoft Outlook or Gmail
  • Microsoft Word and Excel
  • Salesforce
  • Yesware
  • Zoho CRM

Businesses can also look for the availability of third-party add-ons or browser extensions to extend mail merge functionality to specific tools.

Use Cases of Mail Merge

The most common mail merge use cases are direct business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) communications, whether they are digital or physical. Common use cases of mail merge include:

Directories: Generate a contact list with individualized information (e.g., employee, partner or customer list).

Direct Mail Marketing: Printed letters and mailing labels personalized to customers.

Email Campaigns: Personalized email communications for marketing or transactions.

Sales Quotes: Personalized sales quotes or introductory letters for potential clients.

Mail Merge Example

Mail Merge Example

Common examples of documents created using the mail merge function include the following:

  • Bills and invoices
  • Certificates
  • Directories and lists
  • Emails
  • Envelopes
  • Labels
  • Letters
  • Name tags
  • Quotes
  • Reports
  • Surveys

Best Practices for Effective Mail Merge

To ensure a streamlined mail merge process that creates personalized and accurate documents, businesses should consider the following best practices:

Data SourcesTemplatesTestingPrivacy and Compliance

Ensure your data source is well-organized and contains up-to-date information. Properly labeled columns and rows will prevent errors during the process.

Design a clean template with clear placeholders for merge fields. Use consistent formatting to maintain a professional appearance in the final document.

Conduct test runs with a small subset of data to avoid errors. For email merges, test placeholders for the email subject and body and review before sending.

Be aware of privacy regulations and internal policies when working with personal information.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mail Merge

Pros

  • Saves time when creating multiple personalized documents
  • Personalizes communications by merging data sources
  • Ensures consistency in the information across all merged documents
  • Integrates with various data sources, providing flexibility and efficiency

Cons

  • Raises security concerns about protecting data source information
  • Requires diligence in complying with privacy regulations
  • Contributes to unsolicited mass emails if misused
  • Relies on the compatibility of the tools being used, limiting functionality in some cases

The Bottom Line

Mail merge is a good way to automate and personalize mass communications for businesses, in both digital and physical formats. As traditional functions may be deprecated in newer versions of software, businesses can use third-party extensions or turn to modern marketing and email platforms for personalized and bulk messaging.

FAQs

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Vangie Beal
Technology Expert
Vangie Beal
Technology Expert

Vangie Beal is a digital literacy instructor based in Nova Scotia, Canada, who has recently joined Techopedia. She’s an award-winning business and technology writer with 20 years of experience in the technology and web publishing industry.  Since the late ’90s, her byline has appeared in dozens of publications, including CIO, Webopedia, Computerworld, InternetNews, Small Business Computing, and many other tech and business publications.  She is an avid gamer with deep roots in the female gaming community and a former Internet TV gaming host and games journalist.