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:

1. Marketers are finally getting behind advanced personalization. 

A Merkle study turned up these findings:

2. Advanced personalization pays off. 

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.

3. Email is the most commonly personalized marketing channel. 

A study by CMS platform developer Acquia found about 75% of marketers send personalized emails, while 53% personalize website visits.

4. Marketing personalization skills = jobs. 

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.

5.  Email personalization is trending. 

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.”

Scrutiny, skepticism on the rise

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.”

Don’t forget the gatekeepers

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.”

Wrapping up

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.

According to new analysis based on groundbreaking research on marketing personalization, email marketers are getting creative about surviving in the Age of Amazon, Whether they go up against the ecommerce behemoth in head-to-head competition or work to gain traction on Amazon’s own platform retailers are finding new ways to compete on the basis of relevance.

These retailers aren’t just using personalization for the sake of personalization, like merging a first name into subject lines or the body copy. 

Instead, today’s shoppers look for a superior experience with a brand on the major touch points, from the website, to email updates to in-store contacts. And, retailers are listening.

Delivering “a more relevant and enriching customer experience” is the No. 1 tactic retailers are using to compete successfully with Amazon, and advanced personalization is one of the tools retailers use to make it happen.

Advanced personalization uses data and automation to add localized and real-time data to regular email messages. This gives campaign emails the immediacy and appeal of transactional messages. They tell your customers that they aren’t just email addresses in a database – you know them as people.

First: 2 Tactics to Steal from Amazon

Personalization is one of the areas where marketers think they can get an edge on Amazon, as our report explains. The ecommerce giant “hasn’t recently shown dramatic advances in personalization, and not in advanced personalization technologies.”

But Amazon does have two email tricks that are worth testing in your own email program:

Personalized customer newsletters. These aren’t Amazon’s usual browse-session follow-up emails. Instead, Amazon sends its Kindle Unlimited users personalized emails designed to encourage them to rent and buy more books and to continue paying for the service. 

The newsletter features in-depth information about authors on the member’s rental, browse and wish lists and suggests other reads – some paid, others that the membership fee covers. Other newsletters, such as those sent to Amazon Prime members, don’t have the same depth of personalized content. 

4 Email Tactics to Contend With Deep-Pocketed Competitors

1. Reassuring package-delivery notice: Do you worry about porch pirates making off with your online orders? Your customers do, too. You can help them  feel more secure by letting them know when their packages are delivered, not just when they leave your warehouse.

This notice from adidas is a follow-up to an earlier shipping notification. It goes out within a few minutes of delivery and includes both package contents and tips on resolving issues, including exchanges and delivery problems.

Bonus tip: Add detail to the subject line: This subject line from Woot! merges the delivered item into the subject line so your customer can see right away what’s in the delivery: “Rejoice! Your Apple 60W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter Has Been Delivered!”

2. Gamified data reports: CVS sends this monthly spending report to members of its loyalty program. But it raises the stakes by turning the report into a game by showing customer progress from one tier to the next. The email also includes an incentive (more Extra Bucks discounts) and suggestions on how to spend them – two moves that encourage shoppers to go back to their store and buy again.

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3. Real-time weather triggered email: Using location data to generate email copy and trigger emails is one way to add relevance and build store traffic. You can add a map to an email or nearest store address to an email. Or, you can use location data to pull weather data and get out ahead of local events.

This email from a movie theater chain took advantage of a major winter storm forecast that affected several cities in its market to promote movie attendance. It sounds like a contradiction, but anybody who lives in snow country will tell you that snow might cancel school, but malls and movie theaters are usually still bustling.   

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4. App-email connection: This ecommerce personalization example looks like your typical abandonment email. But it isn’t.  

Instead of triggering after an abandoned browse session, this email popped into a shopper’s inbox after she scanned a product in-store using her Target mobile app. Although she checked out a cartload of products, the candle she browsed stayed on the shelf. The email beat her home! 

If you want to go for a seamless customer experience, this email can help you bridge the gap between the app and the inbox. Add some context that shows your customers why they’re gettng the email to make an even stronger impression.

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You’ll learn more effective tactics that marketers are using successfully to compete with Amazon in our report, Using Personalization to Win in the Age of Amazon. Download it and share with your team!

Personalization is table stakes for email marketers today, but brands must go beyond basic personalization if they want to show a marked increase in KPIs like revenue.

How significant? A new in-depth report, The Value of Personalization Optimization for Retailers by The Relevancy Group, found advanced personalization can generate upwards of $20 of added revenue for every $1 invested!

“Consumers demand personalized, relevant experiences and react well to offers based on their previous purchase and shopping behavior,” The Relevancy Group says.  

Almost 90% of marketers in the study use some form of personalization, such as first name. First name personalization is a good step toward more relevant and engaging email. It might even help you snag a few more opens, clicks or conversions.

Basic personalization is the first step toward building a strong personalization program, especially if your brand is among the 14% that don’t use it.

But basic tactics alone won’t help you generate a sizable increase in a significant KPI like revenue. For that, you need to move up to higher levels of personalization, The Relevancy Group says: “Retail marketers must improve email marketing efforts by utilizing advanced tactics to deliver rich experiences.”

From basic to advanced: 3 stages of email personalization

The Relevancy Group classifies personalization tactics into three groups: basic, purchase-based and advanced. They all have one thing in common – they use data to create a unique experience for each customer email. The differences are in the kinds of data used and their purposes in the email.

  1. Basic personalization

This is the foundation of all personalization. It uses first-name and subject-line personalization to catch the customer’s eye, stand out in the inbox and show customers they’re more to the brand than just a face in the crowd.

Pro: Basic personalization is popular because it’s a low-barrier entry and operates like mail-merge in direct mail. If you collect names, you can just match them to email addresses and drop them into subject lines or the email body. 

Con: “These tactics … do little to move the needle and drive business objectives,” The Relevancy Group said in its report. If 86% of the marketers who are sending messages to your customers’ inboxes are using basic personalization, your first-name personalization won’t stand out the way they would have back when personalization was brand-new.

How to use it: This email from Celebrity Cruises uses first-name personalization to better effect in its general email because it includes its customer’s loyalty information as well as his first name in the greeting. That information can nudge a customer who’s close to a reward level or eligible for one to act.

  1. Purchase-based personalization

This is the next step up in personalization, using CRM purchase data and an RFM model (recency, frequency and monetary value) to personalize subject lines and generate dynamic content within an email.

Retailers use this tactic to bring customers back to buy again, using tactics like upselling, cross-selling, next logical product, how-to advice and social proof (what others who bought that product also buy or consider).

Pro: Basing email personalization is more meaningful than relying on broadcast (one email to everyone) or basic segmentation (one email to some) because it reflects your customer’s behavior and encourages them to buy again.

Con: Marketers often find it hard to access the data they need to generate these personalized emails. 

“Purchased based personalization should continue to be utilized,” The Relevancy Group advises, “but to leverage for maximum benefit, marketers should level up to Advanced Personalization Experiences.” 

How to use it: This National Express email has everything a passenger needs: confirmation of the destination, the ticket number, location, things to remember, bus tracker and a prominent link to manage the trip booking.

  1. Advanced personalization

These tactics use a set of rules and real-time data to deliver an experience that comes as close to a personal email as possible. These are some examples:

Among these tactics, three stand out as the most effective:

Pro: These highly personalized emails are more valuable to a customer than even purchase behavior because they reflect what’s happening around the customer in real time. Besides the obvious lift for revenue, they can generate higher open and click rates, which improves deliverability and inbox placement.

Con: You need access to the data that drives this close personalization and an automation platform that can integrate this data with your email platform. But even that isn’t the barrier it once was, back in the days when this kind of technology was available only to the most advanced brands, thanks to Liveclicker’s platform.

How to use it: Boat Outfitters includes a vital service in its emails – real-time weather forecasts.

This email from the UK’s Tottenham Hotspur rugby team uses two great engagement tactics: the countdown clock at the top to build excitement about the next game and a fan quiz near the bottom to gauge fan sentiment and nudge fans to engage with the email.

Final note: Personalization is a spectrum

These three levels of personalization – basic, purchase-based and advanced – aren’t mutually exclusive. You don’t leave one behind as you step up to the next level. 

Instead, build on each one as you improve your data collection and integration and move up to the next level. Name and purchase personalization is just as relevant, but now you can add more to it to make your emails more relevant and valuable.

It’s also important to let strategy guide your decision-making. Never collect data that you don’t plan to use, and have a reason for including that data in your emails. Otherwise, that data could be seen as irrelevant – or, worse, creepy. 

Combining smart strategy with advanced personalization will help you build a stronger email program, one that generates more revenue for your company and gives your customers a more valuable email experience, one that will encourage them to keep opening and acting on your emails. Find out where your brand falls on the personalization spectrum in this exclusive analysis.

Some of growth marketing’s brightest minds gathered in San Francisco this week to learn, share, and hobnob at Iterable’s 2019 edition of the Activate conference.

This was the Liveclicker team’s first time attending the Activate, and this year’s conference didn’t disappoint. The gathering was packed from beginning to end with incredible presentations, discussions, workshops, and networking opportunities.

There was a lot to learn at Activate this year, and we know not everyone could make it to the conference. And even if you were fortunate enough to attend, you probably weren’t able to see and experience everything the event had to offer.

Regardless of your situation, Liveclicker has you covered. Our boots on the ground reported back on core themes covered throughout the conference with important takeaways for marketers to push email ever forward:

The Evolution of Personalization: What Comes Next

If there was a single common theme across the multitude of sessions beginning the conference, it was that the most creative, innovative brands are moving past personalization to a new goal: individualization.

As keynote speaker Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney explained, brands need to get more creative when thinking about consumer behavior and why customers make decisions. He encouraged marketers to go deeper with their ‘Whys?” and look past surface-level explanations for what’s driving choices. “Consumers made decisions on intuition and emotion,” he explained. “Keep asking why.”

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Thanks to Jim Coveny for the keynote image

That helps explain the drive to push past personalization and towards individualization. We know that personalization creates more successful marketing efforts; but why?

A superficial explanation is that consumers seem to want to see their name in a subject line, or content related to their favorite interest in a body copy. But if we dig deeper and ask why consumers want those things, we start getting closer to a more meaningful answer; people like immediately relevant, valuable experiences tailored to their individual, contextual needs.

Individualization of the Customer Experience

Today’s most successful brands are those who are going to market with a focus on the customer experience. So it was inevitable that the discussions at Activate would eventually turn to focus on where this evolving trend of individualization would intersect with the world of CX.

Leslie Emmons Burthey, VP of Marketing at FabFitFun, explained in a session the importance of developing 1:1 relationships with customers. Soliciting feedback and having a dialogue is increasingly valuable for retention.

Fabian Seelbach, CMO of Curology, had even more assertive advice for earning lasting loyalty: dramatic improvement of service in the shortest time possible. Curology’s mission is to make sure their customers see results using their products in the shortest amount possible. He explained how the skincare brand, focuses on helping customers getting results ASAP with helpful content that’s not sales-related and encourages engagement with user-generated progress photos and stories.

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Session image courtesy of Iterable

Some other valuable takeaways and tactics from speakers on improving your customer experience:

Email’s Place in the Individualization Formula

As one of marketer’s best options for direct one-on-one engagement, email was a hot topic any time customer experience and individualization came up.

Eva Wei, Growth Manager at Shift emphasized that email isn’t going anywhere as a core 1:1 marketing channel. She noted that re-engagement of customers and prospects over time is essential for maximizing ROI: 70% of 1st time visitors to a company’s site aren’t there to buy, and 70% of ecommerce carts go abandoned.

Wei explained some of the key differentiators between personalization and individualization in terms of email.

Email personalization is more related to basic customization: first name personalization, dynamic content, treating subscribers a basic mass segment by demographic.

Individualization is evolved personalization: curating content, 1:1 conversations, and automatically adapting to personal behavior, preferences, and engagement history. Data is the driving force that enables advanced email individualization tactics like:

how to individualize marketing

Image from Iterable Activate19 Top Takeaways

Christine O’Brien, Retention Marketing Manager for LovePop, shared a success story highlighting the power of individual marketing email experiences. As she explained, subscribers know you’re probably collecting a ton of data about them and do expect you to use it well. LovePop moved from individualizing 1% of their emails to 10%—and saw huge boosts to click-through and retention rates!

Trendyol also improved their email personalization across the board and earned:

Want to learn how? Click here to read the case study!

The Power of Connections

One other prevailing theme of the conference was the power of connections.

Good marketers know connecting with and engaging their audience is essential for success. But connections between brands and between the professionals working at those companies can be just as important.

That’s part of what makes events like Activate so valuable for marketers of all kinds. There are plenty of resources to learn how to be a better marketer and improve your campaigns out there. But the opportunities for us to meet, network, share and engage with each other personally are much more limited.

Consultant, author and networking expert Karen Wickre explained in her keynote the importance of always connecting and having a vast network that you nurture and can tap into for thought leadership, brainstorming, and business opportunities.

Connecting like minded people with each other is the catalyst to exponential growth, and at Activate19 we were delighted to engage with current and future partners, clients, and Liveclicker team members. We can’t wait to go again next year!

More Amazing Email Marketing Networking Events

future of email conference

Looking for even more opportunities to power up your retail email marketing and network with your area’s brightest marketing experts? We’re hosting The Future of Email circuit right now!

It’s totally free for email marketing professionals, and coming to a city near you! Learn more about the event and how you can register here!

Header image modified from Kathryn on Twitter