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Who, Where & When: Better email marketing with personalization

Kath Pay
a Woman using her laptop in her kitchen at home

Email marketing is one of the easiest channels to personalize. You have a wide range of data points that you can use to target your customers with dynamic content to reach them at the right point in their journey with your brand.

It all begins with the email address. It’s the most valuable piece of data you can possess about your customer because it’s unique to each customer. With it, you can identify your customers across channels and link it to their behavior and preferences.

Other identifiers, such as web cookies, personalize to the device or channel, not across channels. Ad and cookie blockers also make cookies less effective as well.

Opportunities and challenges of personalization

We’ve known for years that personalization drives greater response from your customers, whether you measure by email activity (more opens, more clicks, longer read rates) or by outcome (higher conversions and revenue).

However, even though we say that email is the easiest channel to personalize, it doesn’t mean that achieving 1:1 personalization is easy to achieve. That’s the great – but not insurmountable – challenge of email personalization.

Personalization is the tool, not the goal

Although personalization can drive many rewards and benefits for your email program, it is not the objective itself.

Marketing automation and data integration technology have made personalization far more accessible than in the early days of email marketing. Although this puts personalization within the reach of more marketers, it also creates a new temptation: allowing technology to dictate your strategy instead of using the technology as the tool to carry out your strategy and achieve your objectives.

Your personalization strategy dictates the technology tactics that you use to achieve your marketing goals, such as higher revenue, more customers or reduced costs. Be careful not to reverse the two. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and effort on campaigns that don’t resonate with your customers or help you achieve your goals.

Putting 3 types of data to work

Your personalization strategy is made up of tactics that incorporate data and automation to create 1:1 messages on a mass scale.

Email marketing data comes in three basic categories:

1. Implicit: Also called “covert” or behavioral. This is data you collect based on what you observe from your customers’ actions. Examples:

  • Email activity (opens, clicks, conversions)
  • Search activity (keywords, pages visited)
  • Web activity (referring URLs, pages visited, length of session)
  • Purchase data (amounts, products, frequency)
  • Abandonment (pages visited without buying; items placed in shopping carts without purchasing; incomplete downloads or registrations)

Example: If you’ve ever put items in an online shopping cart but then left the site before paying, you’ve seen this email. This abandonment email uses basic personalization (the customer’s name), but more complex data integrations would also the sender to list the products left in the cart and show images.

2. Explicit: Also called “overt” or preference. This is data your customer reports to you from sources such as preference centers or registration forms. Examples:

  • Demographic (age, gender, marital status, number of children)
  • Birthday
  • Job status
  • Location
  • Education level
  • Company size
  • Budget

Example: This sender used my name to create a message with more impact than a simple “happy birthday” message.

Image example of a marketing email

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3. Contextual: Data you use to personalize a message according to external factors such as these:

  • Email client
  • Operating system
  • Device (desktop computer, smartphone, tablet)
  • Local weather conditions and forecast
  • Day and time at send or open

Example: This email recognizes two kinds of context: Day of open (shows copy to customers who open the email after a campaign expires) and geolocation (the map showing the closest store based on the customer’s account data).

Image example of a marketing email

[alternate email]

This email uses location and weather forecast for a “breaking news” message.

Image example of a marketing email

Wrapping up

Personalization is more than putting your customer’s first name in an email message. It’s also the means to an end – the way you achieve your marketing goals – and not the objective itself. As the marketer, you must hold the reins and create a meaningful and relevant experience for your customers by taking charge of the strategy and allowing the technology to bring it to life.

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