Five E-mail Personalization Best Practices

E-mail is the first area where most marketers turn to when looking to add a more personalized experience with their communications. After all, research by the Aberdeen Group has concluded that personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14 percent and conversion rates by 10 percent.  Given these numbers, it makes perfect sense to start here. For those who are new to the world of e-mail personalization, here are five email personalization best practices to get you started on the right path.

1 – Use The Right E-mail Delivery Service

It is hard to believe that a simple personal greeting is still missing from many of the e-mails being sent out to consumers each and every day. If you want to start, most e-mail programs and services offer this feature as part of their basic packages.  If your current solution cannot add a recipient’s name (or you don’t have one in place) you should take a look at easy Web-based solutions like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact.  They are great options for companies looking for a cost-effective solution to get a start in the world of personalization.

2 – Validate Your Customer Data

Now that you have the infrastructure to send the e-mails, it is time to validate the customer information you have.  If you are concerned about the accuracy of your data, try what my team and I did a few years back to engage our customers and validate the information in our databases.

We set their first personalized e-mail to be a very humble and sincere message asking them to validate their information and provided an option to change it, as follows:

“Hello James, We hope you are well and equally as important…that we spelled your name correctly.  We’d be ever so embarrassed if we had it wrong.  While we all make mistakes, and since we want to have a long and special relationship with you as a client, we’d love it if you could take some time to verify the information below:”

The e-mail showed their first name, last name, address, and gender.  This was followed by an option for them to click a link that said “nope, looks good to me and thanks for asking” or “oh no, lets clean this up a bit for you”.

The campaign to roughly 3,500 contacts had an 87% open rate, of which 80% indicated the information was correct, 19% clicked the link and corrected the information, and 1% unsubscribed.   The simple e-mail resulted in a refined list of 3,015 validated customers whose information was correct for us to begin personalizing.  Not to brag, but a pretty great response rate overall and a great starting point for our personalized messaging efforts.

3 – Capture Their Interests, and Segment

Another great step is to segment the audience based on their interests.  This step allows you to personalize e-mails to the right audience and to not over-communicate.  In the example above, we included four separate topic areas the users could select.  Two of the topic-focused e-mails were sent out once a month, the third was sent every two months, and the fourth was sent quarterly.

The importance of this simple step is that it allows you to segment your messaging and tone based on the scope of the e-mail.  After all, a spring sales promotion e-mail would have a very different set of goals copy-wise than a fall fashion trends guide.  Separating these into different e-mails allows you to stay focused on a topic and deliver it to those with an interest in your message – helping to reduce the dreaded unsubscribe due to over-communicating.

4 – Remember…Gender

Unless your product line caters exclusively to one gender (say, women’s wear or men’s grooming), you can probably move onto best practice number five.  If not, you need to consider gender in your personalization.  It is also one of the most important pieces of customer data you should be collecting.

When starting, use gender information to change the topics or copy in your e-mail to cater to the needs of that specific group of recipients.  As you grow more accustomed to the process, incorporate imagery into your e-mails or promote specials or products specific to the gender-based audience.  In time, you can begin incorporating customer product maps and personas using sophisticated mathematics to really personalize the experience for the recipient.  A great first step is segmenting your message by gender, at the very least.

5 – Get Personal. Send it from a Real Person!

The final best practice to consider as you start with e-mail personalization is really more of a creative strategy than anything else.  While it may not apply to corporate messaging (news releases, professional reports, or studies) it does work well with topics focused on idea sharing or selling.

The incorporation of a key person as an “expert on a topic” to share their thoughts and ideas is a great way to humanize your message.  Perhaps it is your Head of Creative sending a monthly e-mail on style trends or a Buyer sharing their latest finds and favourite items on sale from a trip to Europe.  Further, don’t be afraid to add their photo and signature to the body of the email. The goal is to have the message be from a knowledgeable person to a customer with an interest in the topic. Ask recipients for their ideas and be sure that your marketing team fields any responses accordingly.

Final thoughts…

These are just a few best practices to consider.  The most important thing is trying new things and to be creative.  Use these best practices as a base and then customize the message and strategies to align with your brand goals.  As you get more experienced, begin looking at sophisticated personalization tools like Coherent Path to help you build a map and target more strategically over the customer’s lifetime.

Good luck and remember, if you have any questions please be sure to post them below.

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