Practical Ecommerce

4 Tips to Personalize Email Marketing, for Better Results

Relevancy is everything in marketing. The more relevant a message is to consumers, the more likely they will respond positively. For email, this is especially true, given the need to stand out in a recipient’s cluttered mailbox.

Personalization is a simple way to create a sense of relevancy. In this article, I’ll review four tips for executing successful personalization within your email program.

Retain Data on Subscribers

Your ability to execute personalization will only be as effective as the data you store on recipients, and how often that data is updated. The data can be demographic, such as:

  • Gender;
  • Address or geography;
  • Children’s names;
  • Birthday;
  • Interests.

This demographic information can be used as a personalization element in the subject line or content of your email. Data can also be behavioral, based on recipients’ interactions with your site, such as:

  • Last purchase date;
  • Last site visit;
  • Average order value;
  • Products or product categories purchased;
  • Last open and click on an email.

These behavioral data elements can be used to create a personalized email for your recipients. Keeping and maintaining data that you can successfully deploy is the cornerstone of implementing successful personalization.

Use Default Values

Use default values for any data that may be missing when implementing personalization within the body of your emails, even if you believe you have complete data for every recipient. This is something you can usually set up easily in your email tool. For example, assign the value “Customer” as a default for first name. That way, if you use the first name to address recipients in the body of your email, you will have a default “Dear Customer” if the first name is not populated in the database.

Also, check for inconsistencies in your data. For example, someone may supply her first initial instead of her full first name. This will look silly to address a person as, say, “Dear H.” However, the default value, such as “Customer,” will not appear because there was a value (“H.”) for the individual. Review your data for these types of inconsistencies to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Expand to Imagery

Personalization does not be just a text value in the subject line. It can be an image that is relevant to the recipient. Gmail recently changed how it displays emails in the promotions tab. Instead of just seeing the “From” and “Subject” lines, Gmail now presents an actual thumbnail image of the email to the recipient. This is a fantastic opportunity for marketers, since now we can present an image to the recipient to encourage an open, versus relying solely on the subject line. Moreover, marketers can specify what image they would like to display in the HTML code of their emails.

Gmail email preview with images shows emails as thumbnails in the promotions folder.

Gmail email preview with images shows emails as thumbnails in the promotions folder.

Marketers can now use the data they have about their recipients to present a relevant image, to encourage opens and clicks.

Be Careful, to Avoid Errors

Adding any type of personalization to your email program can be risky because of the potential for error. A large enough personalization mistake can cause severe backlash or confusion on the part of your subscribers.

Recently Shutterfly released an email to a large, but undisclosed, number of recipients. The email was personalized specifically for new moms who had recently had a baby.

A recent, misdirected email from Shutterfly

A recent, misdirected email from Shutterfly.

Unfortunately, the recipients that received the email were not new moms. Many turned to Twitter to showcase the error and how it frustrated them.

Angry tweets directed towards Shutterfly

Angry tweets directed towards Shutterfly.

In other words, be very careful about the personalization you choose. The Shutterfly example, to the correct audience, could be very effective. However, to the wrong audience it can be confusing or offensive. Double check all email deployments with personalization to ensure accuracy and to avoid an embarrassing backlash.

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Carolyn Nye
Carolyn Nye
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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Jeff Ente May 20, 2014 Reply

    I like the points made here, especially the one about imagery. But technically the new Gmail Promotion tab does not show a thumbnail of the email. Instead the mailer can specify an image that doesn’t even have to be in the email. See:
    https://developers.google.com/gmail/actions/reference/offer

    Which, actually, can open up a whole new level of personalization.

  2. Jerry Jao May 22, 2014 Reply

    Hi Carolyn, great insight here. I also wrote a piece previously on leveraging data to retain email subscribers, here is the link on Practical Ecommerce: http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/65532-Using-Data-to-Attract-Retain-Email-Subscribers-

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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