If you think you know all there is about email personalisation – think again

If you think you know all there is about email personalisation – think again
An experienced digital marketer who has owned and run agencies for almost 15 years, Adam is the head of cross-channel marketing automation specialist Force24. Combining his love for cutting-edge tech with a passion for lead nurturing best practice, Adam has developed a platform that is built by marketers, for marketers. An outspoken advocate of the ‘less is more’ approach, Adam is a regular commentator on industry topics including intelligent multichannel marketing, holistic eCRM strategies, optimising customer journeys, personalisation, digital marketing and retargeting.


On average, we are subjected to 5,000 marketing messages per day. It’s therefore no surprise that if you try to recall a promotional email that you received yesterday, you’ll struggle.

Research also estimates that a typical professional sends and receives 131 emails each day. Add to that the volume of social updates, SMS and IM conversations consumed during those waking hours and you’re faced with a vast amount of ‘noise’. Being heard is therefore paramount. But how do you achieve that all-important cut through?

A number of marketers still don’t truly understand how to personalise – greeting someone by their name, rather than sir or madam, is not enough

Many marketers have pinned their hopes on email personalisation being the answer. This is good news, to a certain extent – personalisation is crucial. However, a number of marketers still don’t truly understand how to personalise. Greeting someone by their name, rather than simply sir/madam, is not enough. In fact, a personalised message, while important, is actually only one element that needs to be considered. There’s much more to truly personalised comms than meets the eye.

We need to begin by thinking about the number of consumers who will have been struck down with a bout of ‘content fatigue’. Our brains now know how to filter out irrelevant communications, even if only on a subconscious level, which explains why, generally, 80% of content still fails to drive any traffic or engagement. The growing importance of peer reviews and brand recommendations adds a further degree of complexity, making these increasingly savvy consumers harder to influence.

So what more can marketing departments do to improve lead nurturing best practice, through personalisation?

  • Relevance should be prioritised above everything. And I’m not just talking about the message. The offer, the channel, the UX, the time of day – everything must be factored in according to carefully defined persona segments. Of course this is no mean feat, but there’s nothing wrong with starting small – create a handful of meaningful journeys and a limited number of data points, and go from there.
  • It’s important to note that marketers don’t always require exact data to aid further personalisation. Insight such as life stage, behaviour, purchase history or even what similar ‘looking’ customers did, can all be used to model and prophesise possible future actions within persona groups. We expect to see a huge surge in carefully calculated predictive analytics moving forward, and if marketing departments aren’t already doing this – or talking to someone that can – this needs to be addressed.
  • Where possible brands should deliver ‘snackable’ information that can be easily digested in bite-sized chunks. However, it must be acknowledged that different people naturally have different ‘appetites’, based on their history, interest and engagement levels with a brand. Once again, this is where personalisation comes in – marketers need to tailor the depth of content accordingly.
  • Marketers need to think beyond the email too. This could be perfectly personalised and tick all the right boxes, but where does the individual go next? The landing page, download or contact form needs to be equally as relevant, it must look the part and it must perform. Whilst face-to-face first impressions are made in up to 7 seconds, the figure falls to as little as 2 seconds when evaluating media, and a miniscule 0.6 seconds when deciding on the quality of a website. There is no room for error.

In truth, this advice could go on and on. But every recommendation points to an apparent underlying theme – micro-personalisation on a mass scale. So is this possible?

Technology has the power to be an enabler in this respect, but only if it is used intelligently. Marketers are more empowered than ever before to be highly targeted in their approach, before a conversation has even taken place. They no longer have to subscribe to the ‘one size fits all’ batch and blast philosophy, now that they have multichannel moments at their fingertips. But still so many do.

In fact, a number of marketers continue to favour volume campaigns, convinced that a higher send rate equals a higher number of conversions. Perhaps this is because it’s easier, and when it comes to impulse purchases or flash sales, it may work. Yet, generally speaking, it is just a waste of time. It may not damage the data, but it will inevitably be an exercise of diminishing returns.

Carefully crafted personalisation is harder – there’s a huge potential headache associated with harnessing meaningful insight from big data

Yes, carefully crafted personalisation is harder. There’s a huge potential headache associated with harnessing meaningful insight from the big data that increasingly personalised marketing campaigns produce. It can feel like a minefield, especially if there isn’t the technology in place to obtain a single view and leverage the opportunity. But dynamic marketing automation platforms can now shoulder the bulk of the burden, especially with the growth of the API economy and the ability to integrate data from different sources.

It is possible to work to the ‘test, learn and optimise’ principle, triangulating data from multiple channels, campaigns and audiences, and benchmarking results from previous marketing ‘events’.  In fact, marketers are unlikely to reap the true rewards of their personalisation efforts unless improvements are seen during this analysis phase.

Trends are always evolving of course and there will be further tips to offer in only a few months’ time. Also, due to the very definition of ‘personalisation’, there can be no ‘one size fits all’ advice. However, throughout the changing marketing landscape we must remember we’re all human. So let’s maintain a common sense approach to the conversations we hold, and mimic this instinct and pragmatism when we communicate.

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