What is Email Personalization? (A Complete Guide for 2021)

Alex Stoykov

CEO & Head of Client Success

Alex Stoykov

CEO & Head of Client Success

Introduction

Savvy consumers expect marketing efforts tailored to them, and personalized email marketing is one of the best ways to meet that demand.

In this article, we’ll look at every element of an email that you can personalize and how to do it correctly.

Let’s jump right in.

 

 

What is Email Personalization?

Email is the marketing channel setting the standard for personalization, yet many brands are only beginning to scratch the surface.

Email personalization is when a brand targets elements of an email to a specific subscriber or segment of subscribers.

Personalization has been proven to get better results for brands using email to generate sales.

 

What Is the Value of Email Personalization?

Basic email marketing tactics are not good enough anymore. Experts have reported we’ve seen years’ worth of ecommerce growth occur all at once, which means higher competition in the digital marketing space.

Brands hoping to make more revenue with their email will have to stand out in the crowded inbox.

Personalized email is one of the best ways to set yourself apart. With email marketing, you control how often you communicate with your subscribers and what those communications are about. You don’t have to worry about algorithms or paying for every click, even if it doesn’t result in additional revenue.

 

What Elements of an Email Can Be Personalized?

Almost every element of your email marketing can be personalized in one way or another.

The key to personalization is that you have to stay on top of organizing your subscribers. No matter how advanced the service you are using is, it can only work with the data it has. It’s on you to set that up.

“From” name

The “from” name often defaults to the brand name. It doesn’t really matter, right?

Well, actually, it does.

The “from” information is one of three things your subscriber sees to decide if they want to open the email. Therefore, you should put some thought into who your subscriber wants to hear from.

If your brand has a customer-facing leader, try making your emails be from them. A human name can stand out in an inbox full of businesses.

On the other hand, if your brand doesn’t have an immediately identifiable front person, you need to include your brand.

You want to test a hybrid sender. For example, “Alex at Olifant Digital” shows that a person is sending the email, but the brand adds relevancy if they don’t quickly recognize the name.

However, you need to consider the goal of the email and the type of subscriber. You may find that some segments respond to just the founder name, and others prefer the brand. Luckily, you can personalize the “from” name for different segments.

Pro tip: If you’re sending a sales sequence, you may want to stick with the brand as the “from” name and save the human element for relationship building and support communications.

Subject line

Once your subscriber knows who is contacting them, they’ll want to know why. The subject line is the first hint.

Subject lines can be tricky. Some of your subscribers may prefer straight-to-the-point subject lines, and others may respond better to subject lines that pique their curiosity.

You will need to test a wide array of subject line types to learn what your audience prefers. You can then personalize subject lines based on what you find out.

Preview text

The final window into your email is your preview text. The optimal length of preview text varies based on your subscribers’ primary email services and what they are using to read their emails.

For instance, say your subscribers are checking their email from the native iOS mail app, you will have about 90 characters for your preview text. But some email services preview as few as 40 or as many as 140.

When you create your personalized preview text, be sure that your most important copy is at the beginning of each variation.

Email copy

Depending on what information you collect from your subscribers, you can personalize your email copy with things like subscriber name or job title.

You’ve likely received automated emails that include your first name. This tactic has become commonplace in the email marketing world.

If you are looking to switch it up, but the only information you collect at sign-up is name and email, use the subscriber’s name further down in your email content where it would fit naturally. This way, when they are reading through the copy, it helps them feel like they are having a personal conversation instead of reading a letter.

Dynamic content

Dynamic content is unique because it changes based on who is reading your email and how they are tagged in your email service provider.

Let’s say you have subscribers in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and you sell outdoor gear. The actual products you are going to want to promote are going to be quite different.

You might choose to run the same 10% off discount to all subscribers but add dynamic content blocks that switch up the content based on the subscriber’s location.

Graphics and images

Sometimes you may simply want to change just one or two images in an email depending on who is reading, like if you sell to both men and women, for instance.

Most email service providers, especially those geared toward ecommerce stores, allow you to display different images based on subscriber tags.

Don’t forget to add accurate alt text to each image in case the subscriber doesn’t allow images to load automatically. Outlook doesn’t automatically load images from emails that land in the junk folder, for example, and your alt text will need to build the subscriber’s interest instead.

Browse and cart abandonment

Browse and cart abandonment emails aren’t as effective without personalization. Subscribers need to be reminded of what they were considering. Even if it isn’t the specific product, it should at least be related.

Adding in a product recommendations section can also help improve conversions. The product recommendations should be generated based on what product the subscriber was interested in.

Product recommendations

As noted above, personalized product recommendations are an excellent piece to add to browse and cart abandonment emails, but you can use them throughout your email marketing.

On the front side of email marketing, one major trend in subscriber acquisition is quizzes that end with personalized results emailed for signing up. These recommendations come from data the subscriber provides.

You can also send product recommendations based on conversion data. By adding product recommendations to things like post-purchase emails with the highest open rates of all emails, you introduce customers to other products they may not have known about.

Loyalty and VIP content

If your brand runs any type of loyalty or VIP program, you should be making those emails hyper-personalized. Those are your best customers, and they should be treated as such.

You can use any and all information you’ve gathered through the subscriber form as well as purchase data to build emails that speak directly to each subscriber from the subject line through CTA.

Other behavioral segmentation

Segmentation based on behavior is more than just purchasing data. You can segment based on what gets your subscribers to take action, even if it doesn’t lead to an immediate conversion.

Look at things like what kinds of calls to action prompt your subscribers to act. Do they click-through more on images or buttons? What types of content have garnered more views? You can then segment your list and build better emails based on past behaviors that boost your overall performance.

Re-engagement

Brands tend to spend more time nurturing new subscribers to become customers and not as much time focusing on subscribers that have never purchased or haven’t purchased for a while.

But revenue is being left on the table if you aren’t at least trying to connect with the older subscribers.

To grab the attention of subscribers that have gone cold, you’ll need to make it personal. Work backward from the point of sign-up. At one point, you showed them something they were interested in. Tag them based on the original offer and dangle a new variation of it in front of them that they can’t refuse.


14 Personalization Email Techniques You Should Use

Now that you know what can be personalized in your emails, it’s time to learn how to implement them successfully.

1. COLLECT CALUABLE DATA

To start collecting valuable data, you first need to identify what that data is.

Next, you need to determine how you’ll collect the data. You can use forms and other visitor tracking tools and integrations to gather most of what you need.

For anything you can’t gather, you can ask your subscribers after they sign up. Provide an incentive and ask your subscribers to tag themselves just by clicking a link.

2. ASK FOR MORE IN YOUR SIGN-UP FORMS

If you need to know anything about your customers that will make a massive difference in how you market to them, you need to ask for it upfront.

For instance, say you sell baby and toddler toys, ask for the child’s birthday or due date to make better recommendations, and understand the types of products most customers will be purchasing so they never have to deal with their favorite item being on backorder.

As long as you can make it clear to your subscribers how sharing the information will give them more value, it shouldn’t hurt your sign-up rate.

Even if your sign-ups drop minimally, the subscribers you do get will be more qualified.

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LANDING PAGES

While you may not want to ask too much from your customers in a pop-up, landing pages are perfect for collecting crucial data.

Landing pages allow you to create context around the data you are collecting, making subscribers more likely to comply.

In this example from Wise, they use a tool to show users what they can do with their software to encourage them to sign up.

4. UTILIZE SUBSCRIBER LOCATION

Another piece of customer information that you can use to personalize your email marketing is location.

You can use location data to send subscribers emails at the best time and make product recommendations based on weather patterns or upcoming holidays.

You can gain location data from subscribers as they become customers, or – if it is valuable enough to your marketing – you can ask for it at the point of sign-up.

5. LEARN WHAT INTERESTS YOUR SUBSCRIBERS

Your subscribers likely have shared interests beyond your products. So, you need to do a little digging to learn how to connect with your subscribers based on those other shared interests.

A great place to look if you are an ecommerce brand is on Amazon. Find products that are similar to yours and start looking at what other products are recommended.

If you are running PPC ads, you can use the data you gain from interests on those platforms and put them to good use in your email marketing as well.

6. CRAFT CUNSTOMER PERSONAS

Once you have all (or most) of the critical subscriber data you think you need, start building customer personas.

Creating customer personas can help you see new ways to segment your subscribers to better personalize your emails.

Your personas should include demographics, interests, and ideally behavioral data – even if the only behavioral data you have is what offer made them sign up. As you learn more, you can continue to refine your personas.

7. USE PERSONALIZATION IN SUBJECT LINES

There are two main ways you can personalize your subject line.

The first is you can add in personal elements of your subscribers like their name or location.

While consumers like to feel special, using names in subject lines can be overdone. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try it once in a while, but don’t force it where it doesn’t enhance your subject line.

Instead, you could try personalizing the subject line with other subscriber data based on their location or job title (if you’re in B2B).

The second is that you can create subject lines based on the types of subject lines a specific segment of your list has responded well to in the past.

To do this, you’ll need to A/B test subject lines to each segment of your subscribers at least a handful of times. One test won’t provide you enough data to make a definitive decision.

You may be surprised to find that one segment prefers subject lines with their first name included while another segment doesn’t, or that super short one-word subject lines get opens for one group but not another.

Once you know what each segment prefers, you can personalize your subject lines for each group.

8. SET UP BEHAVIOR-THRIGGERED EMAILS

Behavior-triggered emails are gaining popularity over time-triggered emails, and for a good reason.

Emails triggered automatically by behaviors are ideal because 1) you set them up once, and 2) they receive more engagement.

When your emails are based on actions taken by your subscribers, you create a more personalized experience, and you meet them where they are instead of trying to interrupt them when you decide to run a sale.

9. DEVELOP COMPREHENSIVE SUBSCRIBER TAGS

Using tags to segment your subscribers helps you quickly send personalized emails whenever you have anything you want to communicate.

Tags let you group subscribers on shared attributes and allow you to build custom segments time after time.

If you don’t currently have a tagging system in place, you need to work on setting one up immediately.

10. MAKE YOUR BRAND PERSONAL

On top of sending your emails from a specific person, you can incorporate other “human” traits to make your brand feel more personal to your subscribers.

Brands that share behind-the-scenes details or highlight employees receive a lot of attention because people love to feel more involved and like they are almost a part of the team.

Using GIFs that your audience can relate to has also become popular. Some brands build out messaging around a genre to develop a sense of community.

Think about what you can share with your audience to make them relate to your brand on a deeper level and form a personal connection.

11. GIVE PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS

Vague product recommendations don’t perform as well as recommendations made based on past browsing or purchasing data.

If you can suggest a group of products that all work together, that’s even better.

But what if you want to make recommendations to subscribers who haven’t purchased yet? At that point, you should recommend your best-selling products purchased by customers similar to them.

12. CREATE URGENCY

When you are sending personalized emails with the goal of generating revenue, you need to build urgency that is unique to your offer.

For example, if you are offering a free trial, you can include a countdown timer to when the trial ends in the upper right-hand corner of each email.

The same technique could be used if you have a limited-time discount code in your welcome email sequence.

13. APPLY DYNAMIC CONTENT

Dynamic content can save you a ton of time by eliminating the need to create multiple variations of the same email.

You can instead add dynamic content elements to one email that can be sent to your entire list while still focusing on personalization.

14. RECOGNIZE SUBSCRIBERS WINS

Want to send personalized emails that build relationships with your subscribers? Then you’ll want to send emails that recognize your customers’ wins.

These emails are ideal for loyalty programs and subscription-based businesses.

You want to acknowledge your customers as they dig deeper with your brand to improve customer retention.


Email Personalization Examples

Let’s take a look at how some large brands are using email personalization in action.

MISEN

Misen does a great job of sending behavior-triggered emails. Cookware is a competitive market, and customer support can make all the difference. This email letting me know how to properly care for the new pan I recently purchased shows Misen cares about helping their customers get the most out of their products.

TARGET

Target personalizes certain sections of their weekly newsletter based on historical subscriber browsing and purchasing data. The rest of the weekly ad looks the same, but they use dynamic content blocks to make each weekly ad appear entirely personalized. Target also does an excellent job of theming its dynamic content blocks to provide multiple product recommendations that work together.

SEPHORA

Sephora focuses on making sure their rewards program members feel like VIPs. For every purchase, rewards members get points, and Sephora sends out a monthly email letting subscribers know how many points they’ve built up and encourages them to redeem them on new products. Sephora also sends out regular personalized product recommendations.

SPOTIFY

Spotify makes personalized recommendations based on songs and podcasts subscribers have recently listened to. By getting users to use Spotify more, they provide greater incentive for subscribers to upgrade to a paid plan. And they improve their bargaining position with advertisers while simultaneously assisting their subscribers to find what they like.

GOOGLE

Google is a behemoth, so it’s no surprise that they do a superior job of sending personalized emails. This email includes next step suggestions based on what actions still need to be taken. Personalized emails like this move the customer step-by-step through the customer journey.

ASHLEY

Ashley Homestore sends out personalized follow-up emails for products subscribers were looking at beyond typical browse and cart abandonment emails. Weeks later, when this outdoor sofa went on sale, Ashley Homestore sent out an email.


Get Started With Email Personalization

Are you looking to get started with personalized email marketing? Olifant Digital can help.

We can build landing pages and forms to capture more subscribers, segment your lists, and create personalized email campaigns to drive revenue.

With Olifant Digital, you’ll have dedicated email marketing experts helping your brand grow along with custom reporting dashboards so you can track your success.


Final Thoughts

Work on gathering data and appropriately tagging your subscribers to help you be prepared the next time you want to personalize an email.

When creating personalized emails, keep in mind that you don’t want to overdo it.

You want to make emails relevant to your subscriber without making them feel uncomfortable about the amount of information you know about them. Resist the urge to use all the personalization tactics at once by picking no more than 2 or 3 at a time and you’ll be on the right track.

 

Alex Stoykov

Alex Stoykov

Over his career, Alex has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping clients' marketing game.
Alex Stoykov

Alex Stoykov

Over his career, Alex has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping clients' marketing game.
Alex Stoykov

Alex Stoykov

Over his career, Alex has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping clients' marketing game.

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