If you’re looking to be more relevant in your email marketing, drive better engagement, and provide a better customer experience for your subscribers, you’re not alone.

While 99% of marketers say personalisation helps advance customer relationships, marketers struggle to get it right. With a lack of strategy, data management issues, and a struggle to produce valuable content, marketers are finding it difficult to deliver the customer experience they want.

To tackle this head on, we’ve had email marketing experts across the industry weigh in on what personalisation means to them and what marketers can do to use this powerful tool for customer engagement. 

Kate Barrett, eFocus Marketing

Making a connection with your subscribers is critical to driving maximum results from your email campaigns. To do this, you need to know your audience in two ways:

  1. Your personas; who they are, what they like, what they’re likely to respond to. This is emotional and personal.
  2. Your data; actually what you know about your subscribers, or have seen them do.

And it’s through data that you can really bring subscribers with you in your content – by personalising what they’re reading, to them and their specific needs.

For example:

  • Including their information in your content using dynamic fields – their name, company name, location etc.
  • Using this data to connect to external information – taking location for example, you could use this to ascertain their local store – where it is, the managers name, specific services offered there etc.
  • Bringing in other content and recommendations related to their behaviour – products they might like based on what they’ve previously purchased, blogs they may be interested in based on what they’ve previously downloaded, other products to look at based on what they just browsed.
  • Directly changing content based on data (dynamic content) – changing sections of copy, images or links depending on specific information; adjusting imagery based on whether a recipient is male or female, including links to Apple or android stores depending on which device is being used to view the email, or adding an offer just for VIP segmented subscribers, for example.

Think about the data that you have available in your business and what you’re currently using in your email marketing; for personalisation, segmentation or triggers for automated campaigns.  Then consider where you could better connect with your subscribers using your data in different ways.

Want to know more about conducting a data audit in your business?

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Kate Barrett is the founder of eFocus Marketing, providing specialist email marketing consultancy, management, and training services to companies around the world.

With a proven track record and over 14 years’ experience (increasing results from opens and clicks, to sales), Kate’s expertise and passion has helped a large range of companies develop comprehensive strategies, to target subscribers with the right message, sent to the right person, at the right time, implement, manage and optimise those campaigns, as well as solve complex email marketing issues including deliverability challenges.

Kate is the author of the book ‘E-telligence. Email Marketing isn’t dead, the way you’re using it is

Anthony Chiulli, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Iterable

Personalisation often means many things to many people, but at its simplest form, it’s a technique whereby brands leverage data and technology to deliver individualised messages across the customer lifecycle. 

What was once an idealistic notion, personalisation has become table-stakes for today’s marketer and more the essence of any successful marketing strategy. It is important to remember, personalisation is much more than tactics—it’s a long term process that takes time to develop.

Marketers vary on their level of personalisation and that’s to be expected—there is not a singular definition of what personalisation should mean.

Depending on their available data, technology, and level of sophistication, personalisation can range from being reactive in nature (one-to-many), to more proactive (one-to-some), to achieving true individualisation (one-to-one) with the user’s experience. Regardless of where you may be, personalisation is a strategy rooted in data, executed through technology, that manifests inside the customer experience. 

Think about it…when you think of brands that create amazing experiences with their customers, who do you think of? Maybe Spotify, Netflix, or DoorDash. Now think about what those companies all have in common: They all have created a unified customer experience, across channels, by taking into account various profile, behavioral, and lifecycle data points to enhance the customer’s experience along the entire journey. In short, they have built deep, meaningful relationships with their customers through data-driven experiences.

Just like when you receive a thoughtful, personalised gift for your birthday or a hand-written note from a friend, personalisation makes someone feel an emotional connection and enriches the experience.

In other words, personalisation is all about recognising that people are innately unique, and should be treated as individuals, whether in personal relationships or in digital marketing. 

Anthony Chiulli is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Iterable, where he embraces the art of storytelling through amazing products, services and experiences to marketers.

Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter.

Ryan Phelan, Co-Founder of RPEOrigin.com

Personalisation means sophistication.  Marketers who personalise their email content show that  they have graduated from “batch and blast” to caring about the health and strength of their email programs. (YEAH!)

But personalisation goes beyond putting the recipient’s name in the subject line or the email content. It’s making the email personally important to your customers. The more relevant your messages, the better they will perform and the more value they drive for your business.

Because personalisation has a wide spectrum of sophistication, it’s graded on a scale. Incremental steps to build your personalisation sophistication are essential.

These are the questions I ask when I’m judging the sophistication or maturity of an email program:

  1. Segmentation and targeting
  • Do you try using segmentation to make your messages personal to the individual?
  • Do you move specific product features that would interest them to the top of your email content?
  • Do you use strategy to drive unique messages to individuals?
  1. Message differentiation
  • Do you differentiate your messages by cohort group?
  • Have you drilled down into your data to examine which of your products or services would appeal to a group of people who match a specific set of characteristics?
  1. Data science
  • Do you use data science to achieve your goal? Here, data science means looking at the propensity or signals to purchase or use of first- or third-party data where applicable.

All of these questions show how personalisation demands an elevation in thought and strategy. It takes time to get to that level, and the learning curve is long. The best way to achieve personalisation is to begin with an individual group or segment and then branch out and learn as you go. 

Don’t worry about how long it takes to produce a workable program.

Just focus on doing the work to get there.

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies.

His experience, knowledge and unique perspective have also given him an international reputation as a keynote speaker and thought leader. 

Lauren Meyer, VP of Industry Relations & Compliance for Kickbox

Personalisation used to be an up and coming trend in email, but now it’s considered an industry best practice. But you shouldn’t just do it because a bunch of marketing blogs told you to. 

You need to embrace this concept as part of your regular email strategy because your email audience expects it. Requires it even. 

The tricky part is, expectations about what personalisation means can vary wildly within your consumer base. 

Research shows that some expect offers, products and discounts that are specific to their interests, whereas others see personalisation as an ability to customize their own experience.

Still others think it means taking advantage of big data to improve the customer experience and provide content that is relevant and valuable for them.

In order to understand what your brand’s audience expects, dig into your engagement metrics (including email stats, website traffic and conversions) to understand what content subscribers respond to favorably, and not so favorably.  

Also don’t be afraid to ask them. A study by formation.ai shows that 81% of people will share personal information to get a more personalised online experience.

In fact, 50% said they would actually pay a premium for it, so consider ways that progressive profiling can help you provide an experience that more closely aligns with your consumers’ expectations. 

Lauren brings more than 14 years of experience in the email, anti-abuse, deliverability and compliance industry to her role where she leads strategic relations and provides insights to support Kickbox’s product category expansion into deliverability monitoring.

Throughout her career, Lauren has spent a great deal of time helping leading brands get the most out of their email marketing programs, working with various ESPs and email technologies.

Her passion for data and best practices is apparent by her data-driven approach to diagnosing and solving deliverability issues for SMBs and enterprise-level clients. Her success over the past 14 years in the email industry reflects her leadership and commitment to deliverability, compliance and anti-abuse.

Jacques Prothon, Founder of Odicci

You want to personalise your emails… Just ask!

Brands have heavily been relying on observed and inferred data. Brands have been snooping on their customers to try to understand what product and/or service should be offered. Data Privacy laws have now put a lot of restrictions on these types of marketing practices, customers are now also very conscious of what data they share.

In contrast to other types of data, Zero-Party Data such as preferences, intents, interests is deliberately shared by customers. Customers are willing to share their data because they know they will get a personalised experience tailored to their needs. In return brands get valuable zero party data about its customers, which can be used to further improve its communications and customer experiences via email and other channels.

Collecting Zero-Party Data is easy, just ask what data you need and explain how it will be used.

What are your preferences? What is your personality? To make sure you get the best results these questions can be part of a quiz, a profiler survey or included into a gamified experience.

Paperchase uses a colour-quiz to help their customers find their preferred colour and style, Central England Co-Op uses an interactive “tinderesque” swipe survey to boost engagement and collect customer preferences, Ryman uses games and interactive surveys to inspire and be a destination of choice.

Zero-Party Data is perfect when you want to send personalised email communications, increase retention and drive the lifetime value of your audience up.

Data about customer interests, style, preferred colour, size and more.. can then be included within email creatives and triggered through dynamic content blocks.

Start small, think simple. What Zero-Party Data do I need? What can I use today? How can I get it? 

Publish an engaging Zero-Party Data collection experience and you’ll be surprised!

Jacques is the founder of Odicci, a platform specialised in data acquisition technology that allows marketers to create interactive quizzes, questionnaires and games while collecting zero-party data from consumers who opt-in to participate.

Odicci is making it easy for non-technical marketers to create and publish engaging Zero-Party Data marketing experiences.

Guy Hanson, VP for Customer Engagement at Validity

Personalisation is the use of data that is unique to an individual to build a relationship.

As use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved, new forms of personalisation have become possible.  Tasks like language optimisation, content selection, engagement prediction, and journey mapping – all activities previously requiring either heavy duty analysis or human judgement (or both!) – have become AI-driven reality. Marketers are benefitting significantly because AI delivers truly 1:1 personalisation – at scale. This creates greater engagement and stronger long-term relationships, and explains why email is consumers’ most popular channel for receiving marketing, (according to DMA research).

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a further evolution of personalisation.

To remain relevant, marketing programs have needed to understand how their customers’ lives have changed completely – working practices, shopping habits, living arrangements . . . and how they consume their marketing.

This has meant big changes in messaging strategy, with much greater focus on providing helpful guidance and information, and demonstrating empathy with their customers’ difficulties. Smart marketers are using their data to inform these changes, ensuring they are done authentically and credibly. For example, Ikea recognised many customers would not be equipped for long-term home working, and used previous purchase history to create personalised suggestions for home office furniture.

Another aspect of personalisation involves the fair exchange of value. The DMA has calculated average email customer lifetime value (CLV) at ± £35. Flip this around, and it’s reasonable to assume customers expect to receive a similar amount of value in return for their personal data. This value could be financial (discounts, free delivery, etc.) but could equally take the form of helpful advice or useful information. Personalisation means ensuring the value extracted from customers is matched by the perceived value they receive in return. When this happens, relationships are in equilibrium, and value to both parties is maximised.

As VP for Customer Engagement at Validity, Guy is a highly respected digital marketing professional and data storyteller. He’s a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive programs, and has developed this belief over the past 2 decades to become one of the UK’s leading email marketing experts.

Guy is an accomplished thought leader, having spoken at well over 100 industry events, and blogged on a broad range of email-related topics that include politics, GDPR, and Brexit! Outside of work, he has a long-standing relationship with the Data & Marketing Association (DMA UK) and is currently vice-chairing of the email council. 

Jen Capstraw, President & Co-Founder, Women of Email

Watch Out for Three Personalisation Mistakes

Personalisation is a powerful tool in the email marketer’s arsenal. But be wary of these mistakes.

  1.       Irrelevant Relevance

I once had a client that wanted to use open-time personalisation to integrate their Instagram content into their newsletter. While this could be a big win for some brands, this particular brand’s target audience was men over 50—a demographic that’s highly unlikely to use Instagram.

Relevance must be a priority in your personalisation efforts.

  1.       Big Effort, Low Return

Another client proposed a cross-sell campaign for loyalty customers who purchased bicycles in their store. The problem? Bicycles represented a tiny fraction of their sales. At best, the campaign would achieve 100 conversions each month. While the idea wasn’t inherently bad, they’d move the needle in a more meaningful way if they reworked the strategy to focus on their top three product categories.

I’ve also observed brands going overboard personalising anything and everything they could possibly dream up. An email needs to be personalised just enough to achieve its objective. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Always be certain your level of effort is justified.

  1.       Creep Factor

A contact of mine once received an unsettling abandoned cart message—unsettling because she abandoned a physical cart in a brick-and-mortar store! It took her a while to realise what happened: She scanned the product with the store’s app to check the price, decided against the purchase, then identified herself as a loyalty customer at checkout.

This brand’s use of data is phenomenally clever! But it fell flat because it made the recipient feel weird.

Personalisation is often most effective when it’s not obvious. If the campaign just subtly highlighted the product category she browsed in store, it would seem like a happy coincidence.

Don’t be creepy in your marketing.

The bottom line on all of these mistakes? Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and use your resources wisely! Happy emailing!

Jen Capstraw is a speaker, consultant, trainer and #emailgeek. She serves as President and Co-Founder of Women of Email, an association of 5,000 aimed at promoting leadership and cultivating professional growth among women in the email space.

Saul Gowens, Founder of Websand

The majority of marketing emails that hit your inbox will have some degree of personalisation, but what does personalisation means and why is it important?

Based on our experience, email marketing personalisation comes in three different forms.

Stage 1.   Personalisation in the content, that normally means addressing the reader, e.g.  Hello Saul.   Adding that will make your message normal.  It used to add a little boost to the response rate, but it’s become the norm. 

Stage 2.  Personalisation through relevant content.  Rather than send a message to everyone, personalise the content based your knowledge of the audience.  Segment your audience, speak to them with relevance and you’ll see a boost in your response.  On average, we see double the ‘average open’ rate (average being a message sent to everyone). 

Stage 3.  Personalisation with relevance and context.  Now we are deep into personalisation, this will highly personalised message, a message sent that’s relevant and in context to the individual. Typically, these would be contract-end driven messages, or messages to encourage customer retention or share key information.  Given the complexity of managing the delivery of these messages, they tend to be triggered marketing automation messages.  Since they are highly personalised, relevant and in context to the reader, the engagement is often triple that of a stage 1 email message. 

Saul Gowens, founder of Websand, an email marketing platform designed to support ecommerce growth.

Saul has been involved with data, customer retention, loyalty, and email marketing since 1999, working with clients all over the globe to help them surprise, delight and retain their customers.

April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost; Co-Founder and Board Member, Women of Email

Talk of email personalisation is nothing new. The industry has been talking about it for a long time and for good reason. Personalisation is one of the most powerful assets in an email marketer’s toolkit to drive higher engagement and revenue per email versus batch and blast methods.

Where does one begin, though?

Here are four levels of progression in adding and advancing personalisation in your email program that’ll make your emails relevant in 2021.

Level 1 – Basic

“Hey {First Name}!”

This level is, you guessed it, the really basic personalisation. This level includes data that people often provide via email signup on basic forms such as name, zip code, etc. This is a good way to introduce personalised elements in emails and to do some basic segmentation. It’s just a starting point, though. Once you reach this level, it’s time to strive for more.

Level 2 – Intermediate

“You Like Dogs, Huh?”

This level of personalisation delivers on more specific preferences like product categories you like, your hobbies, etc. This personalisation might be delivered by explicit profiling through profile forms or implicit profiling via your behaviors like your email clicks or shopping and browsing habits.

Level 3 – Advanced

“We’re BFFs!”

This more advanced level of personalisation not only applies a lot of knowledge about recipients in emails, but it is timely too. Examples include sale emails showing products that have been selected just for the recipient. Another could be an announcement of a new addition to a line of products that the recipient has purchased in the past. Often, emails using this type of personalisation require a relational data structure that can view data from multiple sources.

Level 4 – Predictive

“The Future is Bright.”

The most advanced level of personalisation takes what has happened in the past and begins to leverage AI and machine learning to predict the next best possible scenario for subscribers. It can help determine not only content, but when recipients receive that content. Brands that get this level of personalisation right, can truly anticipate their customers’ needs. Talk about an amazing customer experience!

It doesn’t matter where you start on your personalisation journey as long as you get better over time.

Your customers will appreciate the relevance of your emails among a crowded inbox.

April Mullen is currently the Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost. She has over 14 years working in email for brands, agencies and in martech.

Outside of SparkPost, Mullen has been an Adjunct Professor of Digital Marketing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis since 2013. In June of 2016, Mullen co-founded Women of Email, an organisation with over 5,000 members on six continents that is aimed at driving positive change for women in the email marketing niche.

Mullen was named to DMNews’ 40 Under 40 list in 2018 and DMNews’ 2019 Marketing Hall of Femme Women to Watch list. She contributes thought leadership at conferences and through writing for industry publications, including Forbes and MediaPost.

Skip Fidura

We are living in the most impersonal time ever. In 2020 we all went from handshakes and hugs to zoning on Zoom. We have been talking about personalisation for years even before digital was a thing – before we could deliver a unique message to every individual. Back then we talked about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Digital does not change that; it just adds another dimension – the right channel or context.

Getting the right message to the right person at the right time in the right context is something humans do naturally. We call it conversation.

Imagine the life of a Victorian shop keeper. They knew their customers. They knew what they liked and what they didn’t. They knew when the family got good news and when they got bad. They knew when to sell and when not to sell. Above all else, they were always helpful because they were having a conversation.

We are doing the same thing but instead of talking to 100 people; we have to talk to 100,000. The scale doesn’t change the approach. If that person was standing right in front of you, what is the best next thing to say?

Too often when I am asked to help a client with their personalisation, the first thing they do at the kick-off meeting is open their marketing platform. It is easy to get caught up in the technology but that is not the place to start.

When you want to catch up with a friend you don’t start how you are going to catch-up; you start with who it will be and what you want to say. Only then do you decide how you are going to catch-up.

Skip is a globally recognised data marketer whose high energy presentations avoid buzzwords to put complex concepts into plain actionable language.

His talks focus on using technology to have real conversations with customers, consumer centric uses for data and responsible marketing.

Ready to take your email marketing to the next level?

If you want help to create a customer-centric, personalised, intelligent email marketing programme, get in touch with eFocus Marketing and discover how we can help you skyrocket your results.

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