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Mastering the art of email personalisation


Mastering the art of email personalisation


Email remains one of the most efficient and cost-effective marketing channels, yet marketers are selling themselves short if they can’t nail personalisation. Guy Hanson shares tips on which data types to collect to drive effective personalisation every time.

At some point during the pandemic, many of us have needed to upgrade our home office setups. All of a sudden we found ourselves working full time from our lounge rooms, with many key pieces of furniture missing and sore backs to prove it. IKEA was quick to jump on this shift in demand, sending targeted emails suggesting home office pieces. How IKEA was able to take a good marketing opportunity and transform it into something great though, was through the art of personalisation. By using customers’ individual searches and buying history, IKEA was able to provide personalised suggestions of furniture they knew would like.

Validity’s State of Email Marketing 2021 Report found that personalisation is the most popular tactic used by sophisticated marketers. It is also the -most effective for achieving inbox placement rates of over 90 percent. To add to this, Experian found content personalisation provides a 29 percent higher unique open rate and 41 percent higher unique clicks compared to generic, un-personalised content. 

It’s clear that consumers want to receive personalised and relevant content. In fact, respondents surveyed our 2021 Consumer Email Tracker rated that ‘relevance’ was more important than ‘offers’ when it came to receiving marketing emails.  

So, what does best practice personalisation look like? 

Nowadays, subscribers expect to receive contextual personalised product suggestions and content that relates to and benefits them specifically. For example, if it’s their birthday and they’ve shared this information, they expect you to use this personal data effectively and to send them a discount code or similar perk. If they’re moving house, they want recommendations about new furniture and ideas for styling. Best-practice marketers are increasingly using AI capabilities to determine what these ‘next best offers’ are based on previous engagement and purchasing history. In fact, best practice use of AI will predict what subscribers are most likely to buy next, which isn’t necessarily the same as what they have bought in the past.

Timing also has an important part to play in effective personalisation. When are your subscribers most active? Are they checking their emails on the train on the way to work? Are they working from home? The answers to these questions are important when deciding the best send times. It’s also vital for marketers to understand that optimum times have shifted massively over the past 18 months, as working from home has become so much more prevalent. Email programs using send time optimisation need to be careful as historical data used for these calculations may no longer be relevant.

While personalisation can be highly effective, it can also be damaging when marketers get it wrong. Using a name that is spelled incorrectly, promoting products the recipient has no interest in and making offers when they aren’t in the buying cycle are all likely to generate negative responses like complaints and unsubscribes, which will create a vicious downward spiral of reputation and deliverability.

How to get personalisation right 

The main barrier to achieving best practice personalisation is that there is a big gap between how marketers think about relevance and how consumers think about it. According to Validity’s Marketer Email Tracker 2021, most marketers believe over half of what they’re sending is relevant (59 percent), but only 15 percent of their subscribers agree. Ultimately, this disconnect comes down to a lack of data, or the sender having the wrong data. By having up to date information about your subscribers at your fingertips, you can effectively personalise emails for them based on their preferences, needs and behaviours – at the right time.

A big misstep for a lot of senders is that they base their targeting on incomplete data. For example, the sender might know that the subscriber likes the Greek islands and will send a weekly email about this destination which they believe is relevant, however for the recipient, these communications are only relevant when they are actually planning to book a holiday.

Having complete data about a customer’s behavioral patterns will help senders determine the frequency and timing of personalised emails. For this reason, it’s important to collect as much data as possible about your subscribers’ on an ongoing basis so that you can successfully personalise your communications to suit their needs. Senders should aim to strike a bargain with subscribers to explicitly provide valuable personal data about themselves, rather than marketers inferring it from email engagement, website visits and purchase behaviour. It’s also important to refresh this data on a regular basis to keep it up to date. Data collection is not a set and forget activity. People change, seasons change, lifestyles change. Therefore, email programs must also change and adapt. 

For those wondering, where do I even begin? Here are some tips on the data types to collect to drive effective personalisation:

Make sure names are captured correctly: 

Even if it’s the subscriber’s fault that the name was input incorrectly, they’re still going to dislike it when their name is spelled wrong in every email they receive from you. There are known-name databases that can be used to look up names when they are added to confirm they are correct.   

Encourage subscribers to provide their primary email address: 

This is usually the inbox they engage with most frequently and therefore where personalisation will be the most effective as a result. Over 80 percent of all email opens are generated by primary addresses, therefore of far greater value to senders. To encourage subscribers to provide their primary email address, it’s important to be transparent about what type of content they will receive from you and how often when they sign up. This type of transparency builds trust, and they’re more likely to provide their primary email address when they trust you. 

Identify the three to five most important attributes your program needs to drive effective personalisation:

In other words, what do you need to know? If we use the travel example again consider: does your target have kids? How old are their kids? If they are school aged, then you know they can probably only travel in the school holidays. Now you know to only send deals and offers that pertain to certain times of the year, and to family-friendly destinations. Importantly, don’t collect anything you aren’t going to use. The trust that has been established will quickly erode if the data that has been shared is not seen to be used.

Think outside the box:

Just because your customer has bought a new bed cover recently doesn’t automatically mean they are in the market for another one. Rather, use the data gleaned from their purchases to identify complementary products they may be interested in and promote those instead.

Timing is everything: 

As outlined earlier, timing is an important part of personalisation. Senders should use all of their available engagement data to identify when their subscribers are most responsive and target them at those times. Senders should also beware of confirmation bias. If they only ever send between 6am and 12pm they might not know that 3pm could be even more effective – so testing is part of this recommendation too

Watch your tone: 

Tone of voice also forms an important part of personalisation. Knowing whether subscribers want something a little more formal or whether the approach can be a little tongue-in-cheek, has an influence on engagement. Senders should experiment with variations in tone and use their data to identify what’s most effective. 

AI has the ability to deliver true 1:1 personalisation at scale. Customers have come to expect bespoke messages and suggestions from brands. Given the sheer volume of emails they receive, they’re likely to ignore irrelevant or poorly targeted content. Therefore, it’s imperative that senders do what it takes to create personalised and polished email programs to build and maintain a loyal and engaged customer base.  


Guy Hanson is the VP of customer engagement at Validity Inc.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash.


Found this article interesting? Read another article from Guy Hanson outlining the top 10 tips for driving email deliverability.


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