4 Personalization Myths Email Marketers Need to Nix Once and For All

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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!  

1. Personalization doesn’t work

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.

2. Everyone thinks it’s creepy

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.

3. You need a lot of data to get started

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. 

4. It’s prohibitively difficult

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. 

The final word: Personalization done right is worth it

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.

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Mark is Email Experience Analyst for Liveclicker. He writes for and about brands developing real, meaningful relationships with customers through email, content, digital media and more. His love for marketing lies at the place where creative and analytics intersect, and he makes a mean vegetarian chili.

Mark Miller
Author

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