MarketingSherpa Video Archive

Email Marketing: 5 tactics to personalize your email message for better results

Courtney Eckerle, MECLABS, and Daniel Burstein, MECLABS

In this webinar you will learn from real-world examples of how organizations used innovative personalization tactics to facilitate greater engagement. Personalization is about striking delicate balance. In this 30-minute session, you’ll see creative ways to add a personal touch in copy and subject lines, you’ll see why personalization should extend to the landing page, and will also learn how to quickly personalize a template.

See how to use it as a marketing tool for gaining trust and encouraging further engagement. This requires strategically adding a human element to email content while still conveying an effective marketing message.

If you are considering personalizing your marketing messaging, watch this free webinar, sponsored by Act|On.

Download the slides to this presentation

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New Chart: What it takes to personalize email




Video Transcription

Burstein: Hello and thanks for joining us for another MarketingSherpa Webinar. Today we are going to be talking about email personalization and giving you five tactics to help you personalize your message. We thank you sponsor Act-On, and I'd also like to thank joining me today are MarketingSherpa reporter Courtney Eckerle. Courtney covers the email marketing beat. Thanks for joining me, Courtney.

Eckerle: Thanks, Dan.

Dan: I'm Daniel Burstein, the Director of Editorial Content at MECLABS and MarketingSherpa. I want to tell you a little about MarketingSherpa webinars very briefly. I think the real benefit of these, from what I've learned from some of the attendees, it's like here at MECLABS we have this great benefit in that we have lots of different people we can talk to, bounce ideas off of, and get ideas. And sometimes marketers, especially email marketers, even in big organizations they feel a little secluded and they feel like what they do is a little specialized. They don't have a change to talk to other marketers.

What we are going to give you today is hopefully lots of different ideas, at least five ideas, maybe more on how to personalize your email messages. From these, hopefully you can take these, run with them, and find new ways of personalization. Another way you can interact with your peers is #SherpaWebinar on Twitter.

At our Live Summit we found that not all of the wisdom comes from the stage. A lot of the wisdom comes from the interaction among peers and again that's the case. While me and Courtney have a lot we'd like to tell you about personalization today we also know our audience knows a lot that they can share as well. So we'd love to hear your personalization tips. Also, your personalization questions. We'll try to answer them. Hopefully your peers can as well. Hopefully maybe you can find a mentor or a peer in another organization that you can bounce ideas off of.

So, why are we talking about personalization? Let's take a look at some Marketing Sherpa data. This is from the Email Marketing Benchmark Report, and we asked marketers what tactics they are using to improve email relevance and engagement. You'll see right there, at 37% are segmenting and 36% are dynamically personalizing email content.

Why is that personalization so important? Let me give you an example. Just this weekend my sister got married actually. I was up on the Sonoma Coast, beautiful. And I remember when she first emailed out her wedding invitation and it had these beautiful pictures of her and her fiancée who she now married, and it said "Dear Possible Wedding Participant. Since you may know the bride and/or groom, we have an amazing special offer." No of course not. It said, "Dear Daniel. Hey, we're so excited. We're getting married," and all these things.

That is the challenge for you marketers. In the email inbox you are competing with that. Sometimes we only think of our competitors of those who sell other products. For example if I sell a car, another car maker is a competitor. But that's not true. In the email inbox every other email is your competition. You're competing with some very, very personalized emails, such as emails from my sister, emails from Courtney. That's who you have to compete with. That is the challenge, but here is the upside because personalization offers, email offers that personalization opportunity that, for example, print advertising or TV advertising or even paper click advertising does not.

So while the challenge is others in the inbox, especially real people are able to personalize. In other mediums you don't even get that opportunity. And why it's so powerful is, let's think about personalization for a second. What do people care most about? It's not your product, it's not your offer, it's not even the product they already own. Themselves, that's what people really care about. So when you can personalize it and get it down to what really matters to people that can be really powerful.

So, let's start out. We wanted to ask you a question to help personalize this webinar a little. How often do you test personalization tactics? Let's launch that and take a look. How often do you personalize your optimization tactics? Are you all over it? Are you constantly testing different personalization tactics to see which works better? From time to time you occasionally get a chance to test these personalization tactics? Not something you do often? Once in blue moon? You are aware of this possibility, but it's not something you do all the time, or you can answer simply huh? How do you test personalization tactics? What are personalization tactics? That's a perfectly fine answer as well.

So OK, this is rounding out here. Let me close the poll and display this to the audience. As we can see most people are fairly in the middle. They are doing some testing or occasional testing. Not many are doing frequent testing and there are some people who aren't even sure how to test personalization tactics or what those personalization tactics are.

So as we look at, again, here's another chart from the Marketing Sherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report. You can go on the #SherpaWebinar and a free excerpt of that report has been tweeted out if you want some more information. You can see here which elements marketers are testing. Not surprisingly subject lines, very, very high. Many marketers are testing that.

Subject lines, frankly they are very easy to test and also they are powerful because they are one of the first things people see affecting that open rate. So you tend to get a high sample size. Call to action also makes a lot of sense. Personalization is a much lower on that list. Only 42% of marketers, so less than half are testing personalization.

So with that, we're going to dive in. We've got a question here from Danny. He says, “Does data prove that a personalized subject line wins over the same subject line without?” He's guessing it does. We're going to find that answers because we do have a personalized subject test in this webinar but first Courtney why don't you give us an overview of what we're going to be talk about today.

Eckerle: Great. Thanks Dan. So what we're going to be covering in today's webinar is creative ways to add a personal touch to your email sends. Personalization in subject lines, why you should extend personalization into your landing page, tips on how to quickly personalize a template, and how to get the right amount of information from a consumer.

So tactic one is tweak your sends with personal touches. So a lot of marketers get caught up in the patch and blast approach to email marketing. It's very tempting to use as a way to quickly bring in a lot of money, but it can really erode your results over time. So sending general emails to your entire list ad nauseam, it's a rut that a lot of marketers find themselves in and it's exhausting for your consumers and it will really show in your results eventually. However, personalization, humanizing your content and sends that can be a way to change up and really freshen the emails you're sending out. So three key ideas here are a lot of attendees wrote in at registration. They were worried about crossing a line and creeping out their subscribers.

Burstein: We've got a really great question here on #SherpaWebinar from Grant Baker and he asks, "How do you incorporate personalization in subject lines without being creepy?"

Eckerle: Exactly. One of the registrants called it Big Brother. How do you avoid that interaction where a subscriber opens up your email and goes, “Ew, how did they know that about me?” Well, really you have to think about personalization. It's not necessarily about getting personal with your subscribers and throwing a bunch of information about them in there. It's really about injecting personality into your sends.

Burstein: It's not "I Know What You Did Last Summer" in an email form. Right?

Eckerle: Exactly. So presenting the information you need them to have in a way that shows off your company's spirit and value. But if you do find yourself questioning if a piece of information will make your subscribers feel uncomfortable or give them that "I Know What You Did Last Summer" kind of creep, just ask if it's information that they've knowingly submitted to you, anything on the registration page for example, the comments people sent into this webinar, and if you're presenting it in a way that's helpful and informative for them.

But one reason that marketers continue sending batch and blast over and over is because it's easier. You have your template built and personalization can be easy too. If you just personalize your template with a few quick changes. So personalizing with someone's name, making sure the email comes from an actual person not admin or a long email address that doesn't seem like it's attached to anyone and someone might mistake it for spam. Make sure that your sends are signed by an actual person. Maybe it even includes their picture to further establish that connection between your company and your subscribers. And conducting A/B test is by far the best way to know which elements of personalization are going to work best for your list. Dan?

Burstein: So yes, we have a question here from Jessamine. She says, "What are some different ways to personalize email without using the customer's first name?" We also have another question here from Vince, "How do you accurately attribute names for personalization in B2B scenarios where you have multiple individual team groups sharing a single email address?"

So when we talk about personalization, I want to back it up, too, that doesn't always necessarily mean a name. That means certain characteristics. You're making it more personalized to their experience. In Vince's case it might be focusing on that company and it needs, so if you know what industry that's in, you might be able to say for auto parts manufacturers, you might be interested in this type of information and send that sort of information. It doesn't necessarily have to say, “Bob.” You just want to let them know. It's something that's more relevant to their needs. As we know relevance equals results in emails.

To Vanessa's question, sorry Jessamine's question on different ways to personalize emails. As we look here for more data from the Marketing Sherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report, email engagement behavior is one of the top things people are using. 55% of marketers are using this purchase history, 53%. So basically what they are saying is they are learning what people are interested in by either what they are clicking on in their email or what they are buying and then they can personalize that way. It could be as simple as Dear Chocolate Ice Cream lover if you're selling ice cream. Again, you don't need that name but that's getting more personalized than a typical batch and blast email. Location in the sales pipeline. That's also very big for B2B marketers.

So we're talking about tracking email engagement behavior. That can be challenging. You need to know that email engagement behavior before you're able to send anything and that's where you can get into meeting some technology. For example, some people find that marketing automation platforms are helpful.

I think it's a good time to tell you very briefly about our sponsor Acton. Acton software is the world's fastest growing marketing automation company. They have features like Instant On database for accelerated campaign implementation. They have an email engine with one click integration to CRM solutions. Again, that can help you with the personalization there. They also have tools for website visitor tracking, lead scoring, lead nurturing, and social media prospecting, design tools for Web forums, landing pages, and emails, and more.

Some of those things, like we talked about, lead scoring and lead nurturing doesn't have to be the name but with lead nurturing you're personalizing to where they might be in the sales funnel. For Act-On, contrary to general industry practices, all contracts regardless of size are month to month with prices starting at $500. That's more about Acton software. If you're interested you can go Thank you again to them for sponsoring.

Also, we've shared some data from our email marketing benchmark report. If you'd like a free excerpt you can go to bitly/emailbmr. We've got I think seven or eight charts in that free excerpt, so there's some good data there in and of itself.

With that, let's go into another case study. This is a great case study from a company called Let me give you a direct quote from their CEO, Devin Kimura, to show you the benefit of personalization because here is the challenge that we're facing. He says, "When you have to pay those bills you run a big batch and blast promotion with a site wide coupon that can bring a lot of money in the door. Then you have to replenish that inventory you just sold, so you have to run another discount campaign. Then your customers start to get hooked on the discounts coming. It's a very damaging cycle," Kimura said.

So that can kind of show you the challenge that probably many marketers are facing. When we say email personalization is helpful, it can be hard to just transfer and switch to that because you do see results from your current batch and blast programs, right? As he said, hey you need to get however much inventory out the door by the end of the month, or for B2B marketers, you have to get a certain amount of leads by the end of the month. So you just send it out there, you put some good promotion there, maybe you offer some good free white paper, and you get some people coming in buying things or leads.

What you don't see is that slow degradation where people mark you as spam. You start having deliverability issues. They unsubscribe. Or perhaps they just tune you out because what you're saying is not relevant. So think about that.

For let's say if you have a list with five different personas or five different possible segments. If what you're sending is one to each possible segment, with each email sent to your entire list, and only one-fifth of those emails are going to be relevant to people opening them. So by the time it comes around to what's relevant to them they might have tuned you out because they see so many things that are irrelevant they might never open.

Let's dive into what Artbeats did. Basically, what you're seeing here is basically a pilot proof of concept. They wanted to show the ability of this personalization so that they could move to personalizing more and doing less batch and blast. Really tried it out and see if it worked for them.

So what they did is they chose a group of subscribers who were one time big spenders on the site. So these are people who bought in the past. These are some of the factors they looked at. Of course, they were a current email subscriber. They made only one purchase in the last 18 months. The purchase amount ranked in the top 25% of all orders placed in that period and it amounted to less of the team's database. That was still more than 6,000 subscribers. Again, it was about 10% of their database. They weren't batching and blasting this to everyone but it was a personalized offer for them.

So as Courtney talked about, personalization is about more than just technology, it's about more than just having a database where you know someone's name or whatever it is. It's also that tone. Again, even if my sister sent that wedding invitation and she said dear Daniel. And she said we have a special offer to people who know the bride and/or groom. That's still not personalization. That's still not human and again that humanization is how you get over the creepy factor.

So what this was, this was an email that was actually from Devin Kimura, CEO and he just talked directly to people. As you can see his first line is, “My name is Devin Kimura, and I'm the CEO of Art I'd like to thank you personally for your purchase on our website.”

Now obviously, he didn't sit down and type this up to each of the 6,000. This is pseudo personalization as the recipient also probably knows. This isn't a real personal email but just by having his picture there you can see and by having that note that's a little more human, a little more personal, I think that really made a difference and there is that 20% offer so they did have a promotion there.

At the end of the day humanization and personalization is going to help but that promotion that gave them a direct reason to act. You can see on the bottom there it says use this coupon by December 24. They sent this on December 21. You can see at the top so people had three days to act.

So while we're saying personalize and be human, we're not saying don't forget all marketing principles. You still have to promote and you have to close and get that deal. The results were pretty impressive. Their open rate was 20.25%. Click through rate 4.36% and version rate 0.71%. That conversion was a purchase. So what we saw here, that conversion rate was 208% higher than even their best performing batch and blast emails. So they were really happy about that. As Kimura said, it's very easy to demonstrate ROI on a program like that. Just opened my eyes to the different possibilities with what we are doing. That's one thing to keep in mind. Look at perhaps people who have purchased, haven't purchased recently. Again, look at that human tone.

With that let us get into the next tactic. Very briefly personalization subject lines. I won't spend a lot of time here. I think a lot of people know about it but we did have a good question about if personalization in subject lines really work. Here's an AV test from a company called AWeber. They tested seven consecutive email sends and they wanted to see if personalization would work in the email.

Let's take a look at what those subject lines look like. The first subject line is pretty typical, email marketing advice from two guys who know what they are doing.

The second subject line, first name email marketing device from two guys who know what they are doing. So it's a very minor change. Just adding in that first name. Seeing if it has an impact. When you're scrolling through your inbox and you see your own name. Does it matter? This is a pretty old technique so would it still matter?

Let's take a look at the results. It had a 5% higher average open rate. 17% higher click through rate. So these aren't humongous increases but they are certainly very impressive for a very simple tactic that's been around for a while. Just adding that first name there in that subject line. With that, let's take a look at another tactic, being creative with the email content.

Eckerle: Great. So we had a comment from Edward Sodolski who said that he was interested in making his email more call-to-action motivated and that is a fantastic goal. It's something for marketers to remember in personalization even if you're implementing personalization tactics you can't lose sight of a clear and compelling call to action that is going to compliment your personalization, not be over shadowed by it.

So our next case study with Helzberg Diamonds is a great example of pairing personalization and a compelling offer in call to action. So Helzberg Diamonds were looking for a way to bring customer attention back to a staple product of theirs, their charm jewelry. Customers were almost too familiar with the product. So the team designed a promotional campaign that addressed the customer directly by having the Helzberg charm spell out their names in the greeting.

So the marketing team designed the animation so that it was the most prominent part of the email, but they didn't sacrifice their compelling offer, which is still very prominent in the lower corner. So buy five beads, choose your free bracelet and they are called action shot now. It's still emphasized in the email, and they didn't lose it.

So one of the marketers on the campaign said, “At the end of the day we are still trying to sell products and promote our offers. Personalization and animation are just the extra attention grabbers that we really use to set ourselves apart from the competition just to wow our customers.” And that's a great way of looking at it. They're decoration. They're jewelry on your email campaigns. So they saw a 288% lift in sales compared to their previous week promoting the same collection to the same audience, and a 55% higher open rate than their average for promotional emails, and an 85% higher clickthrough rate.

Maybe my favorite campaign is with Moosejaw, and Christina Bodie asked, “How should you best personalize your message when your audience only needs to purchase from you once a year?” With that kind of unique situation, I think you should look to Moosejaw who made an event, a once a year event out of this campaign where they were looking for a way to insert a human element that would help them stay relevant and sell an experience to their customers and really insert their company creativity into their send.

So customers had to send Moosejaw an email with information in there. They started a madness campaign where they offered services such as break-up service, a kissing service that helped customers kiss their crush on New Year's Eve. They didn't have their employees go out and kiss random people. An email bribe service to help subscribers motivate family and friends through food which was just fun. They are an outfitter so it wasn't really related to their product. It was just conveying their personality. So customer's had to send Moosejaw some information, the phone number of the person being dumped for example. You know three good things about the person and three reasons for the break up for their break up service.

Burstein: That's a great example too of just really being human about it. You know what I mean? They really connected. That's very human emotions that are going on there. So it's really out of the box. People don't necessarily have to go that far, but that's again just really being human.

Eckerle: It was really creative and it showed a fun side to their company. It helped to show off some of their company's core values. The marketing team specifically listed that they wanted to make customers love us and who doesn't want to do that? They wanted to be notable so that their customers would tell other people about the promotion and they wanted to be engagingly engaged.

Burstein: I like that. Engagingly engaged.

Eckerle: So they actually recorded their representatives doing these tasks, and they put them up on YouTube as well and so using company values like that. That fun spirit is an engaging way to help email content stand out in kind of a crowded inbox where you're bombarded and when you're competing with people like Dan's sister and peoples' friends. You can help insert that human element so you really feel like a friend to them. It really helped them to help people fall in love with the Moosejaw brand again.

Burstein: We've got a question here. "What is Moosejaw?" Moosejaw is an outdoor gear and apparel retailer. Also another question we had when we talked about subject lines. "What is your recommendation for testing out symbols in subject lines? Do these work to improve open rate or are they are a waste of testing?" That's by Vanessa.

Vanessa, we found they are definitely not a waste of testing. We've tested symbols here at MECLABS. For example, %. We've tested from a very general subject line to a very specific like 15% off for example. We did get an impressive lift. But we also have to caution you. That can sometimes affect deliverability. It did hurt deliverability when we tested it but the overall increase in revenue more than made up for the decrease in deliverability. It's worth testing but as you say again, test it to see what works best for you.

Let's talk about carrying personalization through to landing pages. All well and good to personalize in an email, but in an email is not where you are getting the final conversion goal. The point of an email is to get a click over to the landing page where you can get that final conversion. So make sure that you're following through on the landing page. That can have a really impressive impact even from a [name] send.

We've got a lot of questions. If personalization works for B2B as well, it certainly does and we're going to see an example right now from HP. So something that is really interesting from this example. This is from the MarketingSherpa Library, the MarketingSherpa Archive. We have, I don't remember the number, but there are thousands and thousands of free case studies. You can go to You can just type in the search box and search for what you're looking for.

So, personalization is definitely not a new tactic. It's as old as names themselves right? This is an example from ten years ago but it's still very helpful and very valid. HP Education Services, they used to only send out print catalogs to advertise for their IT Pro courses, and they wanted to test out email, so they found a way to get more personal by sending out personalized messages. So here are some of the factors that they used when they personalized. Instead of talking about HP's classes in general, the creative and the email recommended just one single course to the recipient, carefully selected to meet their individual needs based on the courses they've taken before.

This is just a common challenge we see where you email someone a few months ago, helping optimize emails. You saw, I think it was a coin prod. It had several different coins and by several I mean dozens and dozens in an email and it makes it very difficult for the recipient to know where they should click or what they should do. They just kind of get overwhelmed especially if you see that on a small mobile device.

So by narrowing it down again, this doesn't really have to do with name as much but the product or the persona or the key service that recipient is most interested in, you are likely to get higher conversions. Here are some of the other things. They also personalize it with the course location. The course location was chosen to be the one nearest that customer's office. The copy is focused on personal career-related benefits and used the words “you” and “your” repeatedly. Again, that humanizing. The customer's first name was in the headline and here is the important thing, the customers first and last name were in the URL of the Web page they were directed towards. So a sample URL would be for example. That is called a personalized URL or purl if you are interested in ways you can pull that off.

You can see there the email going to the landing page and let's take a look at the results. 16.5% of the emails recipients went to their personal landing pages. 63% of those visitors clicked again to either register or surf other options on the site. 31% of those who visited the site converted into purchasing courses. So that's pretty impressive from an email send to a landing page. Again, that's something else to think about. Don't just personalize the email. That's the lesson here. Personalize the path. Personalize whatever they are going to be exposed to after that email.

Let's look at our last tactic. We have just a few minutes left. Know the right amount of information to ask for. As we talked about when we were talking about Acton, you know you need that rich database with information to be able to personalize. If you don't know anything about your recipients you cannot personalize. But you can also overwhelm those recipients if you ask for too much information especially too early in the process. You're going to create a lot of friction for your customers and they are not going to give you that information. They are likely going to bounce, perhaps not sign up for your email list at all.

So, let's take a look. More data from the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report 2013. What type of data are your peers collecting? Not surprising 100%, they are asking for your email address. Obviously you need that email address. If you look further down the list, name 70% so you can do some name personalization. About a third are asking for location information such as zip code and state and then telephone number is also on there. That tends to be because people need a telephone number for the lead. It doesn't usually help with personalization. So Courtney, you also caution people.

Eckerle: Yes. Don't go overboard with asking for information. It all comes back to relevancy. Really consider what five or six questions that are going to be valuable to you moving forward and if possible develop a system for asking them gradually while building up trust with your consumer. Scott's Miracle Grow is a great example of just asking what you need.

So they send out an email newsletter that delivered local content to their subscribers. Obviously their product is really contingent on where you live in the country so they asked for one piece of information, their subscribers' zip codes. From that they were able to geo target their information to bring more value to their product. Which products you should be using for where you live, what time of year, what kind of soil you have. Those kinds of things. Also, they were linking their email content and their website content to solidify the connection between their company content and solutions to gardening problems and had customers going onto their website.

Another great example is a case study from an online clothing store. They had an objective for keeping the signup for their list as easy and smooth as possible for their customers as possible. So the only problem with that is all they were capturing off the bat was an email address which was made segmenting their list pretty difficult.

What they decided to do is what they call progressive profiling which they launched a three-part series of welcome emails sent over the course of a week that would gradually gather this information from their subscribers. So in the first email that was sent at sign up new subscribers were asked to give a simple piece of information, just what they needed to get started which was are you interested men's products or women's clothing?

From there, four days later they established, it was about emphasizing the value of receiving those emails to reassure the subscriber that they had made a good decision in signing up for the program. They told them they would know about what sales and new products were coming up and as well as getting product information. The third and final email was a discount offer that encouraged subscribers to make a purchase with the discount and that way they could discover behavioral information and segment from there.

Burstein: Well thank you Courtney and thank you for joining us today. Unfortunately we are all out of time. But please take this survey at the end of this webinar. It helps us improve this webinar and personalize it more for your needs. Thank you.