Taking E-mail Personalization to the Next Level

Sep 15, 2008 9:02 PM  By

One-to-one communication is widely recognized as the primary goal of e-mail marketing, but the challenge is knowing where to begin. One fundamental way to capture your intended audience’s attention and engage them in meaningful interactions is through personalization—a key factor that drives e-mail relevance and perhaps one of the easiest to apply.

As its most basic level, personalization is sending an e-mail message that contains the recipient’s first and/or last name. When taken further, personalization complements segmentation in that message content is also keyed to a recipient’s location, attributes, status, preferences or behavior. Through segmentation you send e-mails of greater relevance to a particular group. With personalization you take certain elements of customer data and deliver content targeted to the individual.

Be personable, not recyclable
Consider the impact of adding (or really, not adding) a first and/or last name to the subject line and body of an e-mail. By addressing an e-mail with “dear valued customer,” you could be buying a fast ticket to the recycle bin because the message may be perceived as mass distribution. The message may also have the opposite effect of what you intended, and make the customer feel as if you don’t really know or value her; how could you, if you don’t even address her personally?

You probably know your customers’ first and/or last names, especially if they’ve made a previous purchase—use this valuable data. Or, there may be cases when you don’t know a recipient’s name, but you have other data (e.g., birthday, closest store, clothing size, or favorite sports team). Leverage this information in your e-mail campaigns to make a more personal connection.

While still relatively easy to apply, through more sophisticated personalization tactics you can capitalize on meaningful interactions with customers; they are best illustrated by the following three categories of programs.

Revenue-generating personalization programs
Simply put, these types of programs, such as abandoned shopping cart campaigns, create revenue opportunities. Highly personalized and productive, these campaigns provide an opportunity to send a relevant e-mail that reminds a customer of items left in her cart from a recent visit to your Web site. You can further entice a purchase by offering a special discount if she acts quickly. Personalization lies in knowing what your customers are interested in, and applying that knowledge to promote products for which they have a soft spot.

Although a softer sell, loyalty programs can also drive a purchase. Take for example a music retailer that offers reward points. In order to calculate the points it must track how much a customer spends on each purchase. Likely, it’s also tracking the kind of music he purchases and his purchase frequency. By sending an e-mail reminder of how many points he’s accrued, the retailer can prompt him to claim his reward. The retailer could also offer a special discount or double reward points for his next purchase.

Other programs that derive great value from personalization are cross-selling and up-selling campaigns. Take advantage of the opportunity to promote products complementary to a customer’s previous purchases. For example, if a customer ordered a dozen roses last Mother’s Day, send him an e-mail acknowledging the previous purchase and alert him that Mother’s Day is coming soon. Ask him if he’d like to order roses again and/or suggest other options for this year.

Relationship-building personalization programs
In contrast, the objective of these programs is to strengthen your relationship with a customer and demonstrate goodwill by providing helpful information. This approach enhances his experience with your company and shows that you care about him as an individual.

An ideal example comes from a respected travel agency that runs a highly personalized e-mail program when you book a resort vacation. The first message you receive is a confirmation with pictures of the property. Then, two weeks before your trip, the agency sends another message alerting you to the amenities in the surrounding area. Five days before your trip, you receive an e-mail providing the weather forecast for your stay. By going above and beyond the purchase to provide relevant information, the agency generates a positive brand experience.

Content-targeting personalization programs
Distinct from relationship-building programs, content targeting allows a customer to dictate the information he wants to receive (versus presenting content you feel will be of interest to him) and how he wants receive it. It doesn’t get more personalized than that.

A major sports league accomplishes this by allowing a fan to select his favorite team when registering for the league’s newsletter. It then pushes the team’s specific news headlines, players’ statistics, rankings, and scores – all information of relevance to a particular fan. By consistently delivering custom content to fans the league is serving as a reliable, trusted resource, keeping fans actively engaged and further strengthening fan support.

It’s okay to start small with personalization, and you should. First decide what impact you want programs to have, then build back from there. Ultimately, you want each customer to feel like you really know and care about her as an individual, and this can be accomplished—more easily than you may think—by personalizing e-mail content based on what’s of interest and greatest relevance to her.

Ben Ardito (bardito@e-dialog.com) is vice president of professional services at e-Dialog.