Note from Jeanne: Happy Throwback Thursday! I wrote this article in February 2014 and it was first published by ClickZ. A year later personalization remains an underutilized tactic in email and other marketing — and a percentage of those who are doing personalization aren’t doing it as well as they could. Here are four tips to make the most of personalization.

There’s a line between constructive and creepy, but when done correctly, email personalization can boost the performance of your email marketing campaigns.

personalization 3I wrote a blog post recently for Only Influencers on email personalization that was creepy. But done correctly, personalization can boost the performance of your email marketing campaigns.

eMarketer recently reported on a Harris Interactive survey done in December 2013 that asked U.S. digital shoppers about email personalization. The results were great news for e-commerce marketers using email:

  • 81 percent said that receiving personalized emails based on their own preferences and shopping behaviors would make them at least somewhat more likely to make additional purchases.
  • 82 percent would be at least somewhat willing to receive more emails from stores that personalized the mailings based on their shopping habits.
  • 69 percent said they would be willing to share personal information about themselves if companies would use that information to send email messages that were more relevant to them.

Here are some tips for good and not-so-good ways to gather information to personalize your email messages; done correctly the payoff will be a better subscriber experience and a boost to your bottom line revenue!

1. Do Ask

Gathering personal information at the point of opt-in can be tricky. The more you ask, the more likely it is that people will either lie or leave without completing the sign-up process. But it can be done.

As a rule of thumb, ask for no more than five fields of information on your sign-up page. If you must ask for more, break it up into multiple pages, with the most important information first, and be sure the answers are written to your database as each page is filled out — not just at the end of the process when all pages are complete.

Tell people why you are asking these questions, in benefit-oriented terms, and they’ll be more likely to answer. For example, I’m more likely to share the fact that I’m 5-feet 9-inches tall if it’s clear that this will get me more emails about pants that come with longer inseams and eliminate emails about petite dresses.

2. Do Ask Again

Gathering information for personalization shouldn’t stop after the opt-in.

Set up a preference and personalization center that subscribers can access anytime they receive an email or visit your site. As they get more comfortable with your brand and more familiar with your email program, they will likely be willing to share more personal information with you.

Show them the information you’ve already gathered on them — then let them update it. Also show them the information you’d like to have but don’t know yet — and ask them to provide it. Don’t forget to make a benefit-oriented case; let them know what they’ll receive in return for providing the information.

3. Do Observe

Observed data can be even more valuable than reported data — but here’s a place where you have to be cautious. There’s a line between constructive and creepy and it’s important not to cross it.

One element of this is how you present the information. Seeing that a customer looked at a dozen bathing suits on your site yesterday but didn’t buy any and sending an email with a selection of bathing suits in it isn’t creepy. But including a message in the email that says, “We saw that you were looking at bathing suits on the site yesterday but didn’t put any in your cart…” is. This is true even if they have opted-in to receive email from you and are a regular visitor to your site.

4. Don’t Forget Permission

Continuing my previous thought: If I haven’t opted-in to receive email from you and you’re sending me messages based on observed behavior…then you’re definitely in the creepy zone, even if you don’t include the message about knowing what I did on your site yesterday.

Yes, I know that there’s a big business in doing appends to get the email addresses of IP addresses that have visited your site. But it’s creepy. If I wanted to receive email from you, I would have opted-in when I visited your site. If I didn’t opt-in, then I don’t want to receive email from you. End of story. Growing your list in this manner isn’t email marketing — it’s email stalking.

If you’re looking to boost the performance of your e-commerce email marketing program, personalization can be the key to your success. It’s all about relevance — figure out what information will help you be more relevant to your audience and then either ask them to provide it or watch to see if you can observe it. Do try this at your office and let me know how it goes!

Until next time,


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