Making It Personal

Last week we discussed simple ways to layer segmented content into batch and blast email programs. Personalization is another advanced but easy-to-implement tactic proven to produce more relevant campaigns, inspiring recipient engagement and stimulating program performance.

When we employ segmentation strategies, we address our subscriber base in blocks based on common criteria such as geography or gender. Personalization takes segmentation to the next level. When we personalize, we speak directly to each of our subscribers as individuals based on distinct attributes, preferences and behaviors, such as name or purchase history. Personalization is one of the greatest ways to leverage the email channel, which is unique in its ability to address individual recipients.

There are lots of personalization strategies floating around out there. We can dive headfirst into the personalization pool, making a splash with a complex matrix of personalized, triggered messages. But that splash might be the consequence of a big fat belly flop if we don't first stick our toe in to test the waters. Echoing last week's advice regarding segmentation, I suggest first looking at easy ways to add personalization to your existing email program, without straining your resources -- or going off the deep end. Just as we learn to dive before we master a triple-flip, so we build strong, personalized programs through practice.



Here are four ways to personalize your email program today:

1)    Include the recipient's name somewhere in the message. This is one of the simplest but most powerful personalization tactics. As Dale Carnegie famously said, "A person's name is to that person the most beautiful sound in any language." Just be careful how and where you use a name: it often works well as a salutation in letterform messages, but can seem gimmicky when used gratuitously.

2)    Add a user control panel to your emails.  Dedicate a portion of your email to the recipient: add a user control panel or personal profile section. This is a piece of real estate the recipient "owns," featuring a combination of user data and the opportunity to update that data - the ability for users to control their email experience. This could be as simple as "Hello, John Doe," preceding links to a preference center with controls on email format and frequency. (We jokingly call this a "faux-file.")

A more developed user profile section might include account or loyalty program information, recent activity details, and a subscriber photo. In one test, adding a personal photo to an email control panel inspired a flurry of recipient activity; there was a massive uptick in profile photo updates every time an email launched. Whether it's pictures or preferences, even adding a faux-file can help you build out real user profile data by offering obvious blanks to be filled.

3)    Personalize content based on a user's preference center selections. Give recipients the ability to specify how much and what type of information they want. This is a great approach for content publishers. It's simple: ask them what they want, and then deliver that! If they want to hear about Olympic diving, send them an article about that famous triple-flip.

If you give your subscribers the opportunity to tailor content to their interests and leave out information that doesn't appeal to them, I guarantee your retention rates will increase. For more in-depth tips on this tactic, fellow Insider columnist Melinda Krueger wrote an excellent article on preference center-based content publishing just yesterday!

4)    Include specific product recommendations within a mass mail message. This is more of an advanced email-ecommerce fusion move, but if you are already capturing user behavior and/or purchase information on your Web site, it's the next logical step.

Populate a submessage section of your mass mail with personalized recommendations based on recipients' past purchase or browse behavior. Use default content for recipients you don't have enough data to make recommendations to.

These are just a few simple ideas to get you thinking about how to personalize your email program. For those of you already leveraging personalization strategies: share your wisdom! What are some of the ways you've been most (and least!) successful?

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