The Simple Truth About Personalization

I strive to look for new thoughts on old ideas. One of my leading strategists, Whitney Hutchinson, put this compilation together that I thought I'd share:

You've heard this old adage: You can't see the forest for the trees.

The formal definition (at least what was easily Googled) is "an expression used for someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole."

This is something I think we all suffer from as e-mail marketers. Or maybe it's that we get so involved in the complexity of what we "could do" that we are paralyzed from doing what we should and "can do." Let me explain...

Many e-mail columnists and leaders in the industry talk about the power of personalization. They talk about dynamic content and advanced personalization as ways to further engage and build relationships with your customers. I do not disagree with these points. However, if you're too resource-strapped to actively manage dynamic content, your database is too cumbersome to manage advanced personalization, or you are so overwhelmed by all of your options that you're paralyzed--stop, take a step back and look at the situation as a whole. Your goal is to send a personalized, engaging communication to your customers. This doesn't necessarily mean highly complex and complicated. In fact, personalization can be powerful and engaging even if it's simple to execute.

Much of what you're about to read is not new--but sometimes we all need a little refresher. So, I'll put it into three easy steps:

1. Define your goals and objectives. Don't just utilize personalization for personalization's sake. Define what it is you're trying to do: Increase the open rate on a campaign level/over time? Increase the click or conversion rate? Increase deliverability? Improve brand metrics and/or loyalty measures?

Remember, though, that sometimes your objective may be to improve the open rate and you end up improving your click-through rate. So although you should try and move a particular needle, make sure you look at all of them to understand your true impact.

2. Understand your database. What data do you really have? How accurate is it? And balance what you know about the customer, with what the customer thinks you know about them. Just because you know they have one child at home, doesn't mean you should tell them you know that. A little too Big Brother-ish for me.

3. Be creative.I find a good exercise is to take off my marketer hat and put on my consumer hat. I think of what I would like to receive, and what might catch my eye. What might get me to act? While I don't recommend you project your own preferences into your strategy, there are times when you and others are the "perfect storm" of a client and you should respect that view as a consumer.

It's key to remember "creative" doesn't mean "complex": Where can you insert a customer's name? How might you be able to use their birth date? How can you provide valuable content based on where they live? How can you talk to a parent vs. a non-identified customer? How can you use a sign-up date? etc.

4. Most importantly, test it and mitigate your risk. Build your theories and test plans strategically. Remember, the best test cells are the non-responsive or low value customers. Don't go crazy with personalization tests on your high-value segments; it's an easy way to alienate a customer.

Here are a few personal favorites that appeal to what I described above: easy to implement, creative ideas, meaningful overall to the consumer.

Subject lines that get your attention: Club Mom leads the pack... relevant, creative and traditionally personalized to your lifestage and that of your child, but also personalized in the subject line.

Customer Communications that give you the warm and fuzzies: Amazoniversary is a great "container" for a creative idea with simple personalization tied to "your first order".

Simple account updates to provide value: Alaska Airlines is one of the better uses of messaging for travel management.

Remember, it's not the complexity of your program that will define success; it's your customer's perception of the communication. Focus on consumers and a few simple guidelines, and you'll find your programs more focused, valuable and defensible.

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