Personalization: Is it an accepted best practice or just another distraction that’s wasting our time? Like many other aspects of email marketing, there’s a lot of speculation and misunderstanding surrounding the practice of making customer experiences more relevant and individualized.
The evidence is clear that personalized emails outperform “one size fits all” messages on just about every metric you can name. Still, a few dangerous myths refuse to go away at a time when making messages more relevant, empathetic, and valuable is especially important.
Have you heard any of the objections below from your fellow team members, your boss, your mom or your friends but didn’t know how to rebut them? Time to start fact checking!
This idea has been gaining traction lately, with some reports noting that traditional personalization tactics are falling out of favor or not delivering the results they used to.
In reality, research supporting personalization’s power to drive more user activity is among the oldest and most trusted in the email industry.
Before 2005, marketers knew only anecdotally that personalized emails outperformed broadcast messages. Then, a pioneering study by David Daniels and Jupiter Research found emails with content based on clickstream activity drove higher opens, clicks and conversions and produced 9 times the revenue of broadcast email.
And that was back in the days when many marketers had even less data to work with than they do today and fewer ways to analyze it quickly. (More of David’s research on the value of personalization later in this post.)
It may be true that some of email marketers’ basic personalization tools are losing effectiveness. A customized [FIRSTNAME] token in the subject line just doesn’t deliver the punch it used to. Customers’ standards for relevance and value from brands has risen dramatically, and not all of us have kept up.
But there’s still plenty of innovation happening in marketing personalization, and more sophisticated tactics can deliver tremendously better results. In fact, brands utilizing advanced personalization can see 17% more revenue than those still stuck on the basics.
You’ve probably had seeing an uncannily accurate ad online or received an eerily timely message from a company you weren’t expecting to hear from.
Yes, people can get (understandably) unnerved when they see messages personalized with data that they didn’t expect a brand to have, or if they don’t trust how the brand will use their data.
Still, shoppers of all ages (and especially younger shoppers) prefer personalized experiences. They’ll share select information if they see how it benefits them and can trust you to manage it properly. They’ll shun brands that don’t get it right. That’s part of why it’s so important to acquire and treat data in an ethical, respectful manner.
What isn’t creepy is personalized data that’s linked to an email’s purpose with a clear benefit to the customer, such as location data to provide a map showing a store’s nearest location or “moment of open” to update an offer. Be clear with subscribers about what they’re signing up for, give them relevant and valuable marketing, and be transparent about what data you’re tracking and you’ll be rewarded.
Nope. With as little as one data point – like when a subscriber joined your list – can power everything from a welcome email to a customer poll to a reactivation campaign. Or you can pull real-time data from the email client and act on that – information like device, location, and time of day. See this post for more ideas on personalizing even when you don’t have customer data.
The more data you have, the more you can personalize, but only up to a point. Data gets old fast, and it’s not foolproof.
Laws like the European Union’s GDPR, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law and the California Consumer Privacy Act can even restrict you from using third-party data without consent. That makes first-party and real-time data even more effective.
Even purchase data, which drives much of today’s email personalization, can lead you down the wrong path if you can’t distinguish between gift and personal purchases.
That brings us back to David Daniels, now CEO and founder of the research firm The Relevancy Group. In 2019, his firm’s research showed personalization based on contextual and real-time data generated an additional $20 of revenue for every $1 spent on technology to mine and incorporate that data.
This is data such as real-time data generated from moment of open (device used, location, time, etc.), rules-based personalization, live inventory and clickstream activity.
We won’t try to kid you. Setting an effective personalization process is a little more complicated than just putting together another broadcast campaign. You have to identify the data you need, figure out how to capture it, set up rules on using it and create email messages to put it to use.
It’s also true that even bad email can make money. But, as the Relevancy Group’s results show, good email makes lots more.
Today’s cloud technology means the days of crossing your fingers and hoping everything works are long over. It’s very possible to streamline personalization and make it more accessible and easy. In fact, some personalization technology can dramatically improve your workflow efficiency overall.
Look for a personalization platform that has done much of the advance work for you and doesn’t need hours of IT work to integrate with your database and email sending platform.
Still a little skeptical? Check out our white paper, Overcoming Challenges to Advanced Personalization. IT goes in depth to address the major issues that stand between a marketer and an effective personalization plan.
Also, keep an eye on our blog, where we report frequently on client successes using real-time tactics like live offer updates, countdown clocks, live feeds for social posts and customer-generated content, or even a live weather forecast.
Personalization done right delivers big benefits for consumers and email senders alike.
The word (and the trend it represents) is getting plenty of attention in the press as the second decade of the millenium winds down. And it zoomed to the top of the newsfeeds recently when it beat out “equality and inclusion,” “data,” and “in-house” as the 2019 Marketing Word of the Year in the Association of National Advertisers’ annual membership survey.
More star turns for personalization in 2019
Below are five quick takes on personalization – in general or specifically on email personalization, which is our particular wheelhouse – this year:
A Merkle study turned up these findings:
Real-time, clickstream and live inventory data, rules-based personalization and dynamic offers based on open times can drive an additional $20 of revenue for every $1 invested in these methods of advanced personalization, according to a study by The Relevancy Group, commissioned by Liveclicker.
A study by CMS platform developer Acquia found about 75% of marketers send personalized emails, while 53% personalize website visits.
About 1,250 jobs on LinkedIn alone are waiting for marketers with personalization knowledge and skills. It’s encouraging to see companies recognize the need to dedicate at least one marketing position to personalization – and we anticipate even more specialized personalization roles finding their ways into marketing departments and agencies in the coming years.
Our friends at Campaign Monitor dug into the personalization trend and came up with 10 surprising statistics on email personalization, including this one, via Instapage: “Segmented, personalized and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue.”
Not everybody has the same view of personalization, current or future. In particular, Gartner has recently published some contentious research:
Others also turned a skeptical eye on marketing personalization:
Consumers pull back on personal data. Consumers are more willing to reveal gender, race/ethnicity and marital or job status and even political or religious affiliations than their personal email addresses to get personalized ads, an Advertising Research Foundation survey found.
In that survey, 90% of consumers would reveal gender in exchange for personalization, but only 51% would share their personal email addresses.
Personalization isn’t always appreciated. An eMarketer analysis of personalization studies by McKinsey and others concluded consumers balk at the kinds of personalized messages marketers believe they really want.
“Marketers, especially digital marketers, love data and the promise of optimization it holds,” eMarketer’s Nicole Perrin said. “But … it doesn’t necessarily mean consumers are perceiving those messages as personalized and highly relevant.”
Advanced personalization has a bright future
Despite these cooling views on personalization, there’s other evidence that supports our optimistic view.
Not the same old personalization. Half of the respondents in the McKinsey study said messages about products that relate to their interests were the most appealing personalized content. First-name personalization was among the least appealing.
This last point dovetails with a finding from The Relevancy Group’s study: Email personalization is least effective when it relies on only first-name or subject-line personalization.
Personalization based on purchase data was more effective at driving additional revenue, but only the most advanced forms of personalization produced the highest ROIs. (See The Value of Personalization Optimization for Retailers and download your own free copy.)
Technology is easier to implement. Gartner’s dim view of personalization rests in part on this finding:
“While personalization comprises 14% of the marketing budget, more than one in four marketing leaders cite technology as a major hurdle to personalization.”
The Relevancy Group addresses that problem in its report:
“Most Advanced Personalization Solutions are rather easy to implement and often do not require significant IT support.”
B2B marketers have a compelling reason to get personalization right. Chatbots and automated services will replace human assistants to B2B customers, says Lynda Partner, VP Marketing and Analytics as a Service for Pythian.
“I don’t think we’re going to be talking to all that many people by 2025,” she says. “We’ll instead be talking to their personal assistants, who are bots. These bots will be the new gatekeepers. They’ll decide whether your prospect should read this email from you, or that message from someone else instead.
This decision may be based on how personalized the message is, or how relevant it is to what they were searching for on the web in the last three weeks, or what they told their bot they were interested in researching. Either way, marketers are going to have to figure out how to market to bots and not just to people.”
Personalization is enjoying a well-deserved moment in the spotlight, but it’s more than just the word of the year or the trend of the decade. Personalization that carries out business strategies using meaningful data drives revenue and interactions that more than repay the cost of the technology that drives it.
In 2020 and beyond we look forward to showing marketers the value that advanced personalization produces both for their customers and their marketing programs.
Sometimes, email works a little too well. That irresistible promotion or clever creative drew tons of conversions; maybe so many that you sold out before you could even send a reminder campaign.
Well done! But what about all your other email subscribers who will open your email an hour or day or even week later, rush to your site and find the dreaded “Sold Out” banner plastered over your irresistible offer? That’s a complaint just waiting to happen (not to mention a missed conversion).
It can happen any time of the year, but it’s especially likely now that we’re in the thick of the busy holiday shopping season, when inventory flies out almost as fast as it hits your store shelves and deals can change in a jingle. It sets up a poor customer experience, one that can drive customers to your competition if you don’t manage it well.
The same channel that drove all those customers to your site can also bring them back again when you offer to take their names and let them know when the product is back in stock.
“Back in stock” emails function like abandoned-cart messages. You’ll get more customer action when you give them detailed information about the restocked product, like this message:
This email is about as specific as you can get. It names the product, provides a photo and details, links to the product page and even reminds the customer why she’s getting the email.
“Back in stock” emails are popular with customers. They generate some of the highest open rates of any triggered messages – 47.6% to 65.32% according to different sources. For one brand, 7.7% of site visitors who clicked from a “back in stock” email bought the product, compared with the site’s 1.7% overall conversion rate.
Those figures are impressive. But, your customers are still hitting dead ends when they click from your email to your website only to find they’re too late.
Here’s an even better way: Use real-time data and content to replace the original email offer with an updated message when products sell out or some other catastrophe happens, like a delayed shipment from your supplier.
If you can integrate your inventory management and messaging systems, you can substitute a notice that the product has sold, suggest similar products or invite the customer to sign up for an alert when the product gets restocked.
Your customer might still be disappointed, but she won’t get an unexpected and unpleasant experience on your site and then go away empty-handed or click over to a competitor.
Pop-culture retailer Hot Topic uses moment-of-open technology that keeps its email customers up to date on new-product availability – not just when a product sells out but even before, when it becomes available in-store and online.
The content automatically updates when the product’s status change, as shown in this promotion for the hot collectible brand Funko :
If a product sells out, Hot Topic substitutes a grayed-out image that subscribers see at the moment they open the email message.
This tactic reduced customer complaints about missing out on hot sales and generated a 30% lift in clicks, longer browse sessions and higher sales. (Get more details in this blog post: 2 Wins and a Fail: Real Email Marketing Experiences and Lessons from Hot Topic.)
Dynamic content that updates when customers open their emails can mean fewer unhappy surprises on the website for customers. But what about people who find your site through search, by typing your site name into their web browsers or clicking through from your emails anyway even if the message says the product is sold out?
A well-done “back in stock” email can save that sale.
Offering to email customers when a product is available again is a standard feature on Amazon product pages. The product page will automatically disable color, size and other options and substitute a message like the one below:
Logged-in Amazon customers don’t have to type in their email addresses; the system adds those automatically. If you can’t provide that same seamless experience, ask for an email address so you can send a restock alert.
Collect that address in a form on the page, like Amazon’s, or in a pop-up form (often called a pop-over or overlay).
You don’t have to worry about complying with email or data-privacy laws like CAN-SPAM, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) or the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation because you are emailing your customers at their request. That makes them transactional rather than marketing emails
But, while your have your browsers’ attention, why not invite them to join your mailing list? Highlight the benefits of joining – special offers and discounts, VIP notices, etc. – but assure them they can request a restock alert without opting in.
Also, remind customers why they should sign up for an email stock alert, such as being the first to find out when the product is restocked.
Be careful that your marketing-driven material is secondary to the restock reminder. Keep reading to see two ways to handle this.
1. Be specific: We mentioned earlier that “back in stock” email messages function like abandoned-cart notices. They work best when you get as specific as possible, beginning with the subject line.
Instead of saying “Your item is back in stock,” specify the product you mean in the subject line and list details in the message in case you need to jog your customer’s memory. This is important all year long, but it become crucial for holiday shopping when your customers can easily go into information overload.
2. Make them memorable: Many “back in stock” alerts look like a robot formatted them. Design yours to be as attractive as your other marketing messages by using a similar template and adding your brand logo and colors and a little marketing pizzazz, like product alternatives.
This Glasses USA email recognizes that the love affair your customer had with a product when it wasn’t available can cool off by the time it gets restocked, so it suggests similar items from inventory.
This email from Lyst gives customers the option to request similar product views by clicking the “Similar products” button. Consider this approach if you are concerned about adding marketing-driven material to a transactional email.
3. Build urgency: Persuade customers to jump on the alert. This Huckberry stock availability email stokes customers’ egos by noting that they are the first to learn about the restocked product and then ramping up the FOMO (fear of missing out) by reminded them that the new stock is limited. You don’t want customers missing out twice on a good deal!
No matter how effective your inventory-management system is, you can’t always avoid being sold out of a popular product. But you can retain more sales by using real-time data and dynamic content in email to get out in front of the problem before customers hit a dead end on your website.
Then, follow up with a persuasive “back in stock” alert that entices them to come back and close the deal.
Online retailers are talking about this holiday shopping statistic from Episerver’s global shopper survey: 42% of shoppers plan to buy most or all of their gifts from Amazon this holiday shopping season.
Yikes! But the survey also found that 47% of shoppers will buy few or none of their gifts from Amazon. Plus, 43% of shoppers will start their searches on a retailer or brand website, not just Google (29%) or Amazon (30%).
How can you boost your chances of getting more sales from the 42% of Amazon devotees and retaining your share of the 58% that will shop elsewhere?
One of the best battlegrounds to contend with deep-pocketed ecommerce competitors is the inbox. As recent research from The Relevancy Group shows, advanced personalization on this channel has become one of marketers’ secret weapons against giants like Amazon.
Beating Amazon at the Relevance Game
Give your customers something they can’t get from the retail behemoth: an email experience that shows your customers you know them as individuals, not just as files in a database.
Of course, Amazon already does email personalization. But marketers can still find room to go above and beyond to provide unparalleled relevance. In fact, according to ground-breaking research, 52% of retail marketers cite ‘providing a more relevant and enriching customer experience’ as their primary way to compete with Amazon.
Cohort recommendations (“people who browsed that item bought this item”) and next-logical-product suggestions (“People who bought that item also bought these items”) are Amazon hallmarks, as are browse- and cart-abandon email reminders.
All of these have also become standard offerings on many ecommerce platforms like Shopify.
But they don’t substitute for the kind of advanced email personalization that can help your customers shop more successfully, avoiding frustrating missteps like out-of-stock inventory on a hot promotion.
How Retailers are Winning in the ‘Age of Amazon’
The Relevancy Group’s groundbreaking study, The Value of Personalization Optimization for Retailers, discovered that advanced personalization drives multiple benefits for retailers of all sizes.
Most notably, it can add $20 – or more – in revenue for every $1 spent on it, on top of the added revenue from basic or purchase-based personalization.
But advanced personalization, which uses real-time, clickstream and open-time data to drive unique, highly relevant content for each email recipient, can also help retailers stand up to Amazon.
As an allergy sufferer, sometimes I think we should change the saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” to “April showers bring … a whole lot of pollen.”
Okay, I realize my version doesn’t rhyme, or even have the right number of syllables, so it will never replace the original. Yet, pollen is still a real part of spring, and an inevitability that millions of people with allergies are very aware of—and dread—each year.
For innovative email marketers, pollen doesn’t have to be bad news. Instead, with a little creative thinking, you can use this annual event as a new way to create personalized campaigns that connect with consumers in ways they may not expect.
Even better, using pollen counts can be an effective approach for a wider variety of industries and brands that you might at first think. So even if your company doesn’t sell allergy medicine—or even anything for the outdoors—you can still use weather conditions to your advantage.
Leading electronics and appliances retailer LG recently came up with a great way to incorporate pollen counts into its email campaigns.
In this case, LG used Liveclicker’s LiveForecast advanced email experience to personalize emails with five-day forecasts of expected pollen counts in the recipient’s city or region. More, these forecasts were displayed with color coding and a custom graphic, both of which would quickly catch a reader’s attention. For example, on the worst days, the graphic would include a red bar with the words, “Pollen level: Very high,” while the custom graphic displayed more pollen than other days.
The entire creative was set against a backdrop of a blooming cherry tree just beginning to shed its early flowers (just looking at it makes my eyes water) and displayed an industry seal to demonstrate that LG’s products are officially certified to be asthma and allergy friendly.
Why would an appliance and electronics company like LG create this type of email, especially considering it sells products designed for indoor use?
It turns out they had a very good reason. LG created this real-time personalization experience to promote its line of washing machines, air purifiers, and other LG products that could help reduce pollen and other common household allergens.
This innovative email approach led to a new way to connect with consumers, “warn” them that they could be facing an upcoming pollen problem, and then demonstrate just how LG products could help them overcome these potential issues. Clever…and very effective!
On one hand, personalizing emails with pollen counts and other weather conditions may seem too specific, or not an approach every company can use. Yet creative marketing teams in a wide variety of industries can use this real-time information as an effective marketing tool.
Some other powerful use cases:
As you can see from the LG example and the suggestions above, there are many different ways to use pollen and weather forecasts in your email marketing campaigns. Don’t forget, you can use these forecasts in either situation—when pollen is high or low—giving you a rare win-win opportunity.
Consistent streams of high quality, hyperpersonalized emails can keep customers engaged, build loyalty, and develop relationships. But it’s triggered emails, not promotional campaigns or nurture drips, that are usually most effective for driving immediate conversions.
About ¾ of email ROI comes from “segmented, targeted, and triggered campaigns.” It makes sense; triggered email marketing connects brands with customers right at the moment they’re most willing and able to engage.
Given all the potential for conversions and revenue, shouldn’t you be making sure you get the absolute most out of your trigger-based email marketing?
Expertly implemented trigger emails bring a lot to the table for digital marketers. Sailthru listed a few of them on its comprehensive guide to trigger-based email marketing:
To top it off, setting up triggered emails with contextual relevance and personalization is easier than ever thanks to real-time email automation technology. Need some ideas to energize your marketing performance? Draw inspiration from these ROI-generating triggered email examples!
Welcome emails are opened at a higher rate than almost any other kind of direct marketing message. When someone subscribes to your newsletter, joins your loyalty program, or registers an account with your ecommerce site, that’s your opportunity to make a big first impression that will keep them coming back for more!
Need a triggered email example to inspire your welcome series? Chuck E Cheese’s sets the tone for its brand relationship with new rewards program members with a colorful, fun, and highly personalized welcome email. The brand combines dynamic images that adjust to the subscriber’s name, a live map that shows the way to the nearest destination, and real-time geo-data that gives new members everything they need to start planning their next visit right away.
Sophisticated email marketers send multiple messages in a welcome series. This strategy provides additional opportunities to direct consumers to complete high-value activities. If you know that your best customers are those with a loyalty membership, follow you on Instagram, and have set explicit preferences for products consider highlighting these in a multi-step welcome flow.
Weather is one of those universal factors that binds us all together. There’s a reason it’s been one of the most popular pieces conversation starters and small-talk fuel for ages untold.
But weather isn’t just basic water cooler chit-chat material; it’s a great way to start conversations with your audience with the power of weather triggered emails. As Paul Walsch, Weather Channel weather and climate specialist said, “Weather is such an important driver of consumer sentiment and activity…but it’s not as well known and leveraged as it should be.”
Imagine having an email set to automatically deploy on a rainy day to invite subscribers into your stores for some shelter (and savings!). Or including live forecasts in a triggered email leading up to a personally-relevant event like a vacation or concert to add even more value.
Hotels.com includes both real-time weather information and an up-to-date forecast in an email triggered to send a few days before a reservation. This information helps customers prepare to make the most of their stays, gives them a reason to re-open, and enhances the customer experience to motivate repeat purchases.
Some 69% of digital shopping carts get abandoned throughout the conversion process. This is the perfect opportunity for a targeted, direct message. Your prospect has made the effort to register an account and choose products she’s interested in; often a little extra motivation is all that’s needed to give her that extra nudge into customerhood.
Automated emails targeted at cart-deserters have impressive engagement and conversion rates that can have an immediate and substantial impact on digital revenue:
Keep Collective makes excellent use of their abandoned cart triggers. The brand uses friendly language and dynamic product-feature elements that adapt in real time to exclude any items that the shopper goes on to purchase or that are currently out of stock. The email reminds people of what they’re missing out on—while cleverly omitting any content that could be confusing or disappointing.
Looking for more highly-effective triggered email examples? Check out our Lookbook or download this inspirational triggered emails guide for creative, results-driving ideas to steal for your own programs!
Marketing masterminds and retail trailblazers recently gathered in Las Vegas to learn, network, and (sorry) talk shop at the annual Shoptalk conference.
An enormous crowd (including the Liveclicker team!) made the pilgrimage to meet and discuss the biggest changes, challenges, and opportunities facing businesses in retail, ecommerce, CPG, and related industries. As always, the conference was overflowing with expert perspective on emerging trends and technology and needle-moving insights on email marketing for retailers.
Shoptalk this year was sold out—and even if you went, you probably weren’t able to attend every incredible session, round-table, presentation and forum relevant to retail email marketing. Either way, not too worry! We took careful notes for anyone who missed out so you can make the most of your email program in the coming year.
Among all the insights, reports, analysis and discussion, one theme dominated the Shoptalk conversation: the customer experience.
Today’s retail consumers live in an era of unprecedented choice. Shoppers have more options than ever: more products, more stores, more locations, more channels. Competition for their attention and favor is fierce, and delivering a compelling, relevant experience is one of the few reliable ways for a brand to differentiate itself and earn loyalty.
“Real personalization is not just about products, it’s about the whole digital journey of our consumers,” said Philip Thompson, Worldwide Tech Leader for Amazon Web Services during a presentation on AI.
Personalization would come up time and again as one of the most important ways to improve the retail customer journey from beginning to end. It’s an especially valuable lesson for making and deploying the best retail emails, since email as a channel has so much potential for 1:1 engagement and relevance.
For instance; email personalization can mitigate brand abandonment, a problem rampant in the retail space. Qubit founder and CTO Graham Cooke revealed during his session that 83.9% of retail shoppers only purchase once! He suggested an authentic customer experience, driven by personalization, could drive that number down—but also cautioned that tracking loyalty metrics can be difficult and implementing personalization throughout the customer journey requires well-equipped cross-functional teams.
Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara Logics, highlighted the importance of relevance and shared a personal story on how retail email marketing still has a long way to go. She recounted an experience buying a set of spoons from a home-and-kitchen retailer, and getting a follow-up email encouraging her to pair up her shiny new spoons with…”a jar of pot roast sauce.”
This is a great example of digital marketing gone wrong. The idea was right; a targeted email set to trigger after a purchase can be incredibly effective at engaging and upselling. But unless that message is packaged with real-time relevance, it will fall flat and tarnish your brand relationships. Eggers would go on to emphasize that marketing needs to be focused on what the customer wants and needs not what we want to show or sell them.
Interested in learning how you can easily add real-time relevance to your email campaigns? Schedule a demo with us today!