As email marketers, we know we need to personalize the messages we send to subscribers and customers. I can’t think of a single statistic, case study or survey claiming an email program of one-to-everyone campaigns outperforms personalization.
Instead, you’ll find statistics like these:
- 72% of customers will engage only with personalized messages (Wunderkind Audiences, formerly SmarterHQ)
- 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their individual needs affects their loyalty (Salesforce)
- 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences (Segment)
However, marketers frequently fail to realize that personalization is not a goal in and of itself, especially if they are new to the practice. Personalizing your email campaigns and lifecycle messages is not your goal.
Instead, you want to improve how customers interact with your brand. Personalization is one way to do this, but it goes beyond being another approach.
It is both a science and an art. Having the data and automation necessary to produce personalized, one-to-one communications at scale is the science. Knowing when and how to use it is the art.
When we view personalization as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, we run into problems. This misperception, I’ve seen in my work as a marketing consultant for both consumer and commercial brands, results in eight major marketing errors, any of which can prevent you from reaping the immeasurable rewards of personalization.
Mistake #1. Operating without an overall personalization strategy
I see this all too often: marketers find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices they face:
- Which personalization technologies to use
- What to do with all the data they have
- How to use their data and technology effectively
- Whether their personalization efforts are paying off
This stems from jumping headfirst into personalization without thinking about how to use it to meet customers’ needs or help them solve problems.
To avoid being overwhelmed with the mechanics of personalization, follow this three-step process:
- Start small. If you aren’t using personalization now, don’t try to set up a full-fledged program right away. Instead, look for quick wins – small areas where you can use basic personalized data to begin creating one-to-one messages. That will get you into the swing of things quickly, without significant investment in time and money. Adding personal data to the body of an email is about as basic as you’ll get, but it can be a start.
- Test each tactic. See whether that new tactic helps or hurts your work toward your goal. Does adding personal data to each message correlate with higher clicks to your landing page, more conversion or whatever success metric you have chosen?
- Optimize and move on. Use your testing results to improve each tactic. Then, take what you learned to select and add another personalization tactic, such as adding a module of dynamic content to a broadcast (one to everyone) campaign.
Mistake #2. Not using both overt and covert personalization
Personalized subject lines, information reflecting specific activities in the email copy, triggered messages that send out when a customer’s behavior fits your automation settings, and other “overt” (or visible) personalization strategies may be what you have in mind right now.
Although it doesn’t make a big deal out of it, “Covert” personalization also uses customer preference or behavior data. You may include a content module in your subsequent campaign that highlights those browsed goods as recommended purchases, without drawing attention to the visitors’ conduct, in place of delivering an abandoned-browse message that reads, “We observed you were examining this item on our website.” It’s an excellent strategy to employ in order to prevent coming off as creepy.
Remember how I said in the introduction that personalization is both an art and a science? Knowing when to utilize overt personalization—purchase and shipment confirmations come to mind—and when you want to go more covertly is the art of personalization in this situation.
Mistake #3. Not maximizing lifecycle automation
Onboarding/first-purchase programs, win-back and reactivation campaigns, and other customer lifecycle programs are examples of lifecycle automation that are inherently individualized.
Because they are based on the actions or inactions of the customer, the text will be highly personalized and the timing precise.
Even better, these emails go out automatically; once your marketing automation software is set up, it takes care of creating, scheduling, and sending all of these emails for you.
If you don’t do everything in your power to comprehend your client lifecycle and then develop automated messaging that contacts your customers at these important periods, you waste these possibilities. This could cost you both the consumers you worked so hard to get and their prospective revenue.
Mistake #4. Not testing effectively or for long-term gain
You can find out if your personalization efforts are successful through testing. However, far too frequently, marketers merely test particular campaign components, such as subject lines, calls to action, images versus no images, and customization versus no personalization, without considering if personalization improves the consumer experience over time.
A crucial component of this equation is how you define success. Your chosen measurements must be in accordance with your goals. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been cautioning marketers for years not to use the open rate as a yardstick for campaign success. Even if your campaign had a terrific open rate of 50%, you can’t call it a success if you didn’t meet your targets for downloads, purchases, or other conversions.
Customer lifetime value makes sense as a fair metric to assess performance since the goal of personalization is to improve the customer journey. Use client lifetime value over a lengthy period of time—months or even years—to gauge how well your personalization efforts are working. Then, compare the results to those of a control group that doesn’t receive any personalization. Campaign-level results should be noted and tracked for future reference.
Mistake #5. Over-segmenting your customer base
Although segmentation is a useful method of personalization, it is simple to overdo it. If you just send highly segmented ads, you risk excluding numerous clients who don’t suit your segmentation criteria and losing out as a result of failing to reach them. You lose consumers, their potential earnings, and the information they would have produced to aid in your understanding of your customer base.
A data-guided segmentation plan that you regularly evaluate and test, a set of automated triggers to improve the customer lifecycle, and a well-thought-out program of default or catch-all campaigns for subscribers who don’t fit your other criteria can all help you avoid this issue.
Personalization is worth the effort
Yes, personalization takes into account both art and science. You must handle it carefully to prevent your messages from crossing the line into the creepy areas through data overreach while still coming across as relevant and useful. However, this strategic approach pays off when you can reach out to, engage with, and retain customers via personalized email, achieving your goal of improving the customer experience.