Written By: Jason Sisley
EVP of Strategy, Inte Q

We are living in the era of personalization. More than half, 63 percent, of consumers expect personalization as a standard of service and believe they are recognized as an individual when they are sent special offers, and other information that is relevant to them personally.1 However, brands are not keeping pace with consumer expectations.

As marketers, many of us have an abundance of data at our fingertips, but we don’t always make the most of the opportunity this data provides. Only five percent of companies report that they personalize extensively. And, 70 percent of brands admitted they fail to use personalized emails at all.2

Lack of personalization certainly isn’t because of ignorance of the benefits. Marketers seem to be aware of the value as 94 percent of brands say that personalization is critical to current and future success.3

Instead, it seems we don’t know how to personalize. With 60 percent of marketers admitting that they struggle to personalize content, it’s clear there is confusion on how to implement this crucial piece of a successful email program.

At Inte Q, we think of personalization as delivering messaging that is “personal, relevant, and emotional.” It’s all about delivering the right message, to the right customers, at the right time.

When our clients are ready to enhance email communications with personalization, there are several key factors we consider:

Let Past Customer Behavior Drive Personalization

From a content perspective, we can start with past brand interactions. If someone has recently purchased a specific product, we can gauge what they will likely purchase next. Displaying adjacent products isn’t necessarily about making a sale, but about gathering more information.

We can use information to examine related items with similar attributes. We can also add in interests, demographics, and other narrowing factors to refine the product set. The result is a highly advanced personalization strategy and more relevant communication with your customers.

Personalization Must Evolve Alongside Customer Data

Think of personalization in a broader sense. The central aim is to determine how best to use information about a customer to inform what you do next throughout their lifecycle. This approach can guide you toward more relevant communication based on behavioral attributes.

Applying effective personalization does not mean “set it and forget it.” Instead, brands need to continually tweak personalization based on evolving customer data. As the amount of data you collect increases, your email strategy should become more intelligent.


Brands Can Add Personalization Without Access to Customer Data

When you don’t have much initial information about a customer, you have a few options available for data gathering.

Data Appends

Data appends are products you can buy to gather information like location, income, and more.

Obtaining this information requires some creativity. When you lack transactional data for new customers who have yet to make a purchase, each click they make provides new data:

  • Every email click tells you about what interests a customer. Use this information to adapt emails, encourage customers to open emails, get them to click on items, and personalize your messages.
  • As soon as website visitors click on a product, even if they don’t purchase it, we know there is at least some level of interest in similar products.

Every customer action teaches you more about the customer and helps inform an effective, advanced email strategy.

Augmented Data

Try using a welcome series. This allows you to learn upfront from your customers. Do they seem standoff-ish or interested in a particular product?

When we augment data, we take a progressive profiling approach with customers. Think about this as a conversation with someone new. You’re trying to get to know them and to develop a connection around relatable topics.

Progressive profiling should be done as soon as an email address is provided. This helps you capture data before customers have moved on, bought elsewhere, or forgotten about a purchase.

Real-Time Data Messaging Can Enhance Personalization

We can use real-time data to deliver personal, relevant, and emotional messaging.

Real-time data helps us to:

  • Develop an understanding of customer behavior and motivation
  • Stay on top of what’s going on in the world
  • Keep track of customers at an individual level
  • Craft personalized, service-oriented emails aimed at building customer sentiment with the brand

For example, suppose we detect that a customer is about to move or get married. This information opens new points of contact we can make to deliver emotionally connected emails. For customers who have become disconnected from the brand, this kind of information can fuel communication to re-establish a link.

Real-Time Rescheduling

Weather tracking is an example of how real-time data can enhance customer relationships and underscore personalized service commitment. Companies that provide services like moving can personalize their service based on local weather — if the forecast includes rain, the company can notify the customer and ask if they’d like to reschedule.

Real-Time Calendaring

Sometimes, clients want to make phone contact with a brand before completing a purchase. These are typically situations where a back-and-forth email exchange is not the right medium for the conversation.

A personalized service like Book allows customers to schedule a phone call on a real-time calendar.

Real-Time Bookings and Reservations

Another example of real-time data in action is the way travel companies use real-time trends to make recommendations. For instance, a company might offer a discount on less-popular destinations based on real-time booking data.

While this isn’t personalization in the “personal, relevant, and emotional message” sense, it is a creative way to use real-time data to subtly apply personalization.

Personalization Can Improve Conversions and Messaging

As an agency, we are continually striving to get to the next level by focusing on making transactions easier for customers.

When we helped a moving company, we redesigned their welcome email to let customers know to expect a call from the movers:

  • This approach increased the rate at which customers answered their phones — customers knew to expect a call from a specific number and person.
  • We included a social media component to open options for communication — customers who prefer to connect through another channel could make that choice.
  • We applied a real-time calendaring approach. Customers could open a calendar link from the email and choose a specific time to set up a call from the moving company.

Relevancy alone is often not enough. A service-oriented, personal approach based on solving a problem or making the transaction process more manageable for the customer will net more gains. We need to put on our “consumer hat” and consider what the consumer is likely to look for next.

Privacy and Personalization

Privacy concerns should always guide decisions about how much personally identifiable information to share in email marketing. One of the most straightforward personalization approaches, using a customer’s first name, is relatively low-risk in terms of privacy concerns.

Most customers won’t be concerned that you’re using their first name, and you won’t run the risk of violating privacy protections like the GDPR or CCPA. If you want to incorporate personalization that contains personal identifying information, however, proceed with caution.

Automation and Personalization

When applied smartly, automation allows brands to carry out a more sophisticated marketing campaign with narrower targeting.

We’ve used automation to increase success rates for one of our clients, a daily deals site. The site uses a cross-sell approach to curate content based on packaged discounts. Our team came in and found a few weak points in their programming.

As an example of the main issue we found, if a customer bought running shoes, the system automatically served up content related to running shoes. The customer just bought running shoes, so they’re unlikely to need another pair. What was more effective was serving up content around adjacent products, like socks or athletic gear.

We need to think about campaigns from a customer perspective. It’s about far more than the click and open rates. Individual data points are essential, but the sum of all the data points lets us narrow down to very targeted personal customer profiles based on groups of customers with similar attributes.

Getting Started

Listen to our Turning Data into Dollars podcast

As mentioned previously, getting started with personalization is where many marketers struggle. I recommend taking this one small step at a time.

Throwing all the data pieces you have into the mix can be effective but also incredibly overwhelming. Look at the data you have, put a confidence level on the pieces of information you have about each customer and begin personalizing based on what you know. As your email program grows, the data you collect on your customers will increase and you can layer in additional data points over time – measuring the impact of each data layer.

Remember, the goal here is to create long term, successful relationships where consumers continue to come back for the goods and services you offer. Take it one step at a time to minimize overwhelming part of the process. Start small and optimize in real time along the way!

1. Businesswire.com
2. Nielpatel.com
3. Econsultancy.com
4. Cmo.adobe.com

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