09 April 2021
Email Personalization: What It Really Is and How to Create Personalized Emails
Today, every email marketer is talking about ecommerce email personalization. Email personalization best practices and customer-oriented approaches are among the main trends proclaimed and predicted by industry experts. Brands release reports praising the benefits of personalization and urging marketers to use it widely.
But despite the hype, there are still many myths about the term. Many think that personalization means addressing a subscriber or customer by name and congratulating on birthdays and occasional holidays. It isn't.
Modern technologies enable to personalize not only every element of the copy itself but also every stage of the sending process. With properly set email personalization techniques, you can create emails as if they were handwritten by your CEO and send them at the moment the customer is most likely to open it.
What Is Personalized Email Marketing?
Personalization is a wide concept that applies not only to the email copy itself but also to when and how you send emails.
Your contact base isn’t homogeneous. Each person has different shopping preferences, a different history of interaction with your brand, different behavioral patterns that always fluctuate. It’s no longer enough to put a customer name in the email and think that you’re being personal.
Emails should be how you respond to customers interacting with your brand.
Let’s imagine you’re a pet shop and have a customer named Tom. He is a dog parent and only buys dog food once a month. He never makes other purchases. He is subscribed to your newsletter, to the category Goods for Dogs. Thanks to email analytics, you know that he opens emails only in the evening.
So what a personalized email for Tom may look like? Possibly something like this:
Apart from a greeting, each section of the email is directly related to Tom’s interests and preferences. It features only dog-related content because Tom is a dog owner and has no interest in cats, goldfish or hamsters which he’s clearly stated by choosing the corresponding subscription category.
The email is sent three weeks after the previous purchase (which is one month supply), meaning Tom has enough time to make an order and refill his dog food. What’s more, it’s scheduled for sending at 5 pm when Tom typically checks his mail, ensuring your message won’t get lost somewhere in Promotions.
Being a promo, this email sounds like a friendly reminder that yet fulfills numerous marketing tasks:
- It helps Tom manage his daily routine and creates a satisfying customer experience;
- It predicts the possible demand and encourages repeat purchase, contributing to retention;
- It introduces relevant products Tom may be unaware of;
- It drives him to your blog through interesting articles, growing the email click rate;
- It’s sent at the convenient time and doesn’t contribute to the inbox noise;
- It helps build loyalty in the long term;
- Tom is more likely to recommend the brand that delivers value to his dog-owner friends.
And the more of such useful emails you send, the better your sender reputation. People open your emails because they expect to find something for them. Brands that send relevant and useful content will often have higher open rates.
Now, you may think that all this email personalization thing is very complicated and only retail giants can afford it. I assure you it’s not that complex, at least not with our platform. Our email marketing software has tools for each personalization stage that can fit both small businesses and enterprises. See below how to create personalized email campaigns and send them to the right people at the right time.
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Email Personalization Best Practices
In terms of email copies, personalization helps tailor an email template to each particular customer using their contact data.
Contact data can include any piece of data you’ve managed to collect on the customer across all your platforms.
It can be basic personal data that is rarely or never changed:
- Birth date;
- Marital status;
- Email address;
- Phone number, etc.
It can be data on product preferences and shopping behavior that changes often:
- Viewed/liked/commented product categories;
- Viewed/liked/commented products;
- Liked/shared/commented social posts;
- Subscription categories;
- Change of preferred brands;
- Migration to a different value category, etc.
It can be data on a current interaction or transaction that is always new and unique:
- Order information (bought items, total price, shipment address);
- Payment information;
- Available bonuses in the account/loyalty program;
- Information on account changes (registration/subscription confirmation, auto-renewal, password reset, cancellation of the service migration to another plan, etc.);
- Alerts (failed authentication, command error, failed payment), etc.
Each business has its own products and services so customer data varies depending on what you offer. But whatever you can collect can be added to emails.
Dynamic Content in Email Marketing: Adding Personal Data to Emails
Email personalization is a completely automated process. You don’t add data manually to each email template. You add dynamic variables that are substituted by the corresponding data at the moment of the email launch. Thus, one email will be filled with different data depending on who receives it.
In the our system, you can use two types of variables for data substitution based on where you take contact data from.
- System dynamic variables. Format: %FIRSTNAME%, %EVENT%, %PERSONAL.BONUS%, %PERSONAL.PROMOCODE%, etc. Use them to take personal data from the contact profile stored in the system.
- Velocity dynamic variables. Format: $!data.get(‘name’), $!data.get(‘event’), $!data.get(‘personalBonus’), $!data.get(‘personalPromocode’), etc. Use them to take personal data from event parameters you send via API.
For technical details and step-by-step guidelines, see Personalization and Dynamic Variables.
In practice, it would look as follows. You add variables to the template. At the moment of the email sending, they’re substituted with the corresponding data.
This is how a template with system variables looks in our drag-and-drop editor.
And this is how it may look in the inboxes of different recipients.
Now imagine that you have 500,000 contacts or 5,000,000 contacts. With dynamic substitution, each of them will receive their personal copy as if it was crafted for them only.
This isn’t only about improved customer experience which is obviously important. It’s also about saving marketer’s time and optimizing communication processes. You create an email template, add necessary variables, test the email for correct substitution, and send it as a bulk campaign or include it in an automated workflow. The system runs automatically and adds the corresponding data where needed.
And the more data you have to substitute, the more on point this automation gets. The above example is a basic email with several variables. But when you have a bigger copy with way more data to substitute (for example, an order confirmation where every line consists of personal contact data), automated personalization stops being an extra add-on and becomes a necessity for business operation.
Personalized Product Recommendations
Product recommendations are an important part of dynamic email personalization, especially for brands with a diverse product range. The block with recommendations can also be personalized and offer products the particular customer will be more likely to respond to.
In our platform, you can personalize product recommendations by selecting a recommendation type and setting algorithms that will pick recommended items based on the customer shopping history.
For technical details and step-by-step guidelines, see How to Set Up Product Recommendations for Email.
Personalized recommendations can be used in all types of email campaigns, from onboarding to post-purchase, fulfilling different purposes:
- Introduce products or product categories. This is useful to engage new users who aren’t familiar with your brand.
- Focus on a certain product category. It can be sales, holiday offers, expiring products, etc.
- Focus on sales or discount offers that otherwise can be missed.
- Complement selected items. Abandoned carts and order confirmations often feature such recommendations.
- Increase the average order value and encourage repeat orders.
- Generate content for the email. If you send 5 to 6 emails per week, it may be hard to come up with unique content ideas each time. Product recommendations can generate this content on their own.
Sometimes product recommendations can be the only personalization option for new subscribers or one-time customers on whom you don’t have much behavioral data yet. The best way for them would be to recommend best sellers or staff picks to show people the best you have to offer. With more data being collected, you’ll expand the range and introduce new categories.
Let’s see how your personalized email copy may look like when teamed up with personalized recommendations. This is a template with Velocity dynamic variables and a block with personalized recommendations created in our drag-and-drop editor.
And this is how it may look in the inboxes of different recipients.
Personalized product recommendations can complete your copy and increase the order value by showing people complementary products and products that perfectly fit their browsing queries. They make your emails more comprehensive and useful.
All tools you need to create and send personalized ecommerce emails
Subscription Categories as an Email Personalization Strategy
Subscription categories may be a less obvious component of email personalization but not least important. Not all brands have them, but if you are a big retailer with a wide range of products, offering different subscriptions is highly recommended.
Subscription types allow you to communicate with your audience in the most efficient way. By letting people choose what content to receive you show respect to their interests. Plus, you enable yourself to craft personalized content and send messages people will open and read.
However, just asking about content preferences is not enough. You do need to follow them with your emails otherwise there is little sense in asking.
Let’s get back to the example with a pet shop and its customer Tom. Tom is a dog owner and he has subscribed to receive only dog-related content. If you ignore his choice and will be sending him discounts on cat toys or bird feeders, chances are good Tom may go looking for a more perceptive supplier.
To avoid this, create emails taking into account subscription categories and send them to people who’ve opted for them.
In our platform, you can create unlimited categories and automate sending the right content to the right people. It works as follows:
- You create a subscription category based on your products, newsletter types, etc.
- Add subscribers to the category.
- Assign the category to the corresponding email.
- Schedule the campaign. The system automatically sends category-labeled messages to people who have subscribed to the corresponding category.
For technical details and step-by-step guidelines, see How to Use Subscription Categories.
A good practice to improve your personalization is to let your subscribers update their preferences. The easiest way to do it is to add a preferences link to the footer.
From time to time, you can also send surveys asking people to review your content strategy and possibly change their preferences. Such emails can be part of your reactivation strategy for people who have been inactive for a while and ignored most of your precious emails.
If you’re serious about your email marketing, you send quite a number of emails: newsletters, promo, transactional, site or system updates, event invitations, etc. Of course, you have a sending schedule but sometimes one person can hear from you every day or even receive several emails a day, for example, a newsletter, an order confirmation and payment confirmation (if they purchase on this day) and a subscription renewal report (if auto-renewal falls on this date).
Many would find such abundance intrusive. To avoid this, in our platform you can set up the daily annoyance level and weekly annoyance level to control the message volume you send to one customer.
In short, it works as follows:
- You set a daily and weekly limit, for example 5 and 15 correspondingly.
- You assign credits to each email. For example, an order confirmation gets 1, a payment confirmation gets 1, an account change notification gets 1, a welcome gets 2, a promo gets 4, etc. The more important the email, the fewer credits it gets.
- Based on it, the system automatically calculates how many emails and of what type can be sent to a customer per day. For example, if today the customer buys from you and receives two or three order-related emails (that equals 3 credits) they won’t be sent a promo that may be scheduled for today. It will be 7 credits in total and it will exceed the daily limit. The process is the same for the weekly limit calculation.
For technical details and step-by-step guidelines, see How to Set Up Annoyance Level.
This functionality helps keep a healthy balance between keeping a conversation with your audience and being too pushy. No customer wants to be bombarded by messages every second hour, and no brand wants a reputation of an annoying irritator.
Although above I mainly talked about email, all the mentioned personalization principles apply to any communication channel you use: SMS, Mob Push, Web Push, Viber, etc. There may be differences in technical implementation or design but the idea remains the same – you can personalize any message and improve interaction with your followers on any platform.
Email Personalization Examples
One more myth about email personalization is that only big retailers like Amazon or Shopify need it. However, in today’s world with so much competition around, every brand willing to acquire and retain customers needs personalization.
The below emails are sent by different businesses, B2C and B2B, and fulfill different tasks. What unites them though is a personalization-based approach that helps deliver a truly individual customer experience through emails.
Feedly, news aggregator
Tarte, cosmetics company
Fiverr, marketplace for freelance services
Our omnicannel CDP
FocusVision, customer survey software
To Sum Up
Personalization is no longer a sophisticated tool that only big companies can afford and need to implement. We live in the world where nobody offers unique products. Your product range is probably quite similar to what your competitors have. So is the price. What can help you stand out is the unique service and exceptional customer experience.
And email marketing is a big and important part of this experience. The more personalized and client-oriented it is, the more chances you have to build a loyal community around your business. People who feel cared by a brand and know that their time and interests matter won’t go elsewhere looking for better options.
We at our platform can help you with any personalization strategy. Our automated solutions are designed for both small and big businesses. We can help build a personalization strategy based on your current needs and offer tools that would serve to achieve it. Our flexible pricing plans are customizable and let you pay only for tools you need.