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Personalization in Email Marketing Has to Include Strategy 

If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably heard this message more than once: personalization is a customer expectation.

McKinsey reports that 71% of customers now expect companies to deliver a personalized interaction. Its data also shows that companies that excel at personalization generate 40% more revenue from those efforts.

We’re huge proponents of personalization in email marketing here at Litmus. That’s why I was initially surprised to see articles citing studies that claim personalized subject lines don’t perform as well as those that use generic text. But once I thought about the many different personalization tactics and levels of sophistication that exist, I came to a different conclusion.

Personalizing for personalization’s sake isn’t enough to be effective–in email or any other channel. To deliver on what customers or companies want, there has to be a sound strategy in place. That’s true whether you’re selling to consumers, or to businesses–and whether you’re using the most rudimentary or sophisticated form of personalization.

Here are three reasons I think we’re seeing some brands struggle with personalization in email marketing–and why a strategic approach is a must for success.

Personalization in email marketing is more than a name

Mentioning a recipient’s name in an email subject line has been part of email marketing for decades, and it continues to be a popular tactic.  In fact, 80% of respondents to our 2021 State of Email report said they personalize using recipient name, company name or similar profile data.

Acknowledging your recipient’s name can be a first stepping stone to building a relationship. But effective personalization has to deliver value for the customer based on what you know about them–and should evolve with every new insight they offer. I believe some of the studies we’re seeing claiming that email personalization isn’t effective may be a product of that outdated mentality that some email marketers still have about what it really means to personalize.

Personalization is about building a relationship

Effective personalization has to begin with a strategy to create a relationship with subscribers based on an ideal customer profile, different personas and understanding the clear points of difference. Once there’s a plan for which core and consistently valuable messages will resonate with different segments, consider how to strengthen or enhance the impact of them. Delivering relevant content should be at the heart of any personalization strategy.

Our own Jordan Sawyer, Head of Account Management at Litmus Personalize, powered by Kickdynamic, is well-versed in the challenges businesses face when determining how to use personalization in email marketing. To help clients avoid getting hung up on the technical aspects of advanced personalization opportunities, she recommends going back to the objectives, as a guiding light of sorts.

“Brands tend to have a few common, overarching goals when they use personalization technology. Typically, they want to make customers feel more connected to the brand, to give customers the content / product they want, and/or to make emails more useful for customers,” says Sawyer. Considering those questions before leaping to technology and tactics positions marketers to clearly identify which of their goals personalization can help accomplish, and how.

Technology shouldn’t do all the heavy-lifting

If marketers don’t truly understand what personalization means through the lens of their own goals and their customer’s expectations, the technology simply becomes bells and whistles. There will be times when eye-catching tactics move the needle on engagement, but that may not be enough to nurture the relationship into one that provides lasting impact.

A number of our clients like Kate Spade have seen huge wins by using email personalization technology to automatically tailor which products a customer sees in email based on their activity, but the technology alone is not the reason for their success. They are using it to enable a meaningful strategy that delivers customer value.

The fundamentals of email marketing still apply: you can send different messages and experiences to different lists. Technology simply makes email personalization more efficient, seamless and accurate to execute. At its core, effective personalization in email marketing is about understanding how to deliver highly relevant content that adds value to the subscriber experience, and cultivates a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.


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