Even if they don’t always realize it, modern consumers prefer more personalization because sophisticated data collection and algorithms have made generic online experiences almost obsolete. Personalized online content has become the standard, not the exception.
Email personalization has a huge impact on your email marketing performance because it’s good marketing fundamentals and delivers the sort of contextually relevant experiences that consumers demand.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to personalize your ecommerce email marketing, and you can get the subscriber data you need to achieve a high level of personalization without any special data collection infrastructure.
This guide has everything you need to know to create personalized marketing emails.
What is email personalization?
Email personalization is using subscriber data in your emails to create emails that feel like they were made specifically for each individual subscriber. Email personalization includes things such as using the subscriber’s name in the opening sentence (the classic “Hi [FName]”) or delivering discounts on products a subscriber has previously added to their cart.
Email personalization makes subscribers feel like your emails are speaking directly to them, which helps you consistently deliver email content your subscribers want. That way they’re more likely to open, click through on your emails, and ultimately become high-value customers.
Benefits of email personalization for ecommerce
The reality is that personalized marketing—including email marketing—works better than impersonal marketing. This has been true since the days when snail mail was the only mail game in town.
Not only that, but personalization is more beneficial for email marketing than for older marketing channels such as physical mail. And personalization can even benefit email more than it benefits other digital marketing channels.
Though the benefits of email personalization for ecommerce can be broken down into very granular detail, these benefits tend to fall into one of four broad categories.
Personalized marketing emails feel more relevant to your subscribers, and with good email personalization practices, your emails truly are more relevant to your subscribers.
Personalization such as using the subscriber’s name in the subject line and email copy make marketing emails feel more personalized. However, using more contextual personalization such as offering discounts on products the subscriber has added to their cart or browsed on your website makes your marketing emails truly personalized, because the email content matches the subscriber’s preferences and interests.
Subscribers are more receptive to emails with this sort of contextually relevant content and are therefore more likely to click through and convert.
When subscribers get emails with content they actually want, they’re far less likely to unsubscribe - full stop. Just a few emails that contain nothing of interest to a subscriber can lead them to conclude that your emails offer no value to them, and people quickly unsubscribe from emails that offer no value.
The great thing about personalization is that well-personalized emails really do offer value to subscribers. It’s not a trick or a marketing gimmick. Personalized emails increase retention because your subscribers learn that your emails are truly valuable.
If your subscribers stay on your email list and understand that your emails consistently offer value, your marketing emails will get a better response. That means more email marketing revenue. Enough said.
Less operational overhead, more customer lifecycle progression
The goal of personalization is to minimize your operational overhead, while maximizing your ability to push subscribers through the customer lifecycle using content that’s relevant to them.
Email personalization helps you do this by letting you send fewer emails. With a personalized email program, you can send an offer email to just the subscribers who have demonstrated an interest in that offer, rather than sending the email to your entire list.
This way you send fewer emails overall, but get the same response because you just don’t send the email to the people who wouldn’t have opened it or clicked anyway.
When your subscribers are only getting emails they’re interested in, they’re more likely to move from one purchase to two purchases and beyond because they continue opening and engaging with your emails.
Generating email marketing revenue from fewer emails and getting multiple purchases from customers increases your email marketing profit margin, which is where things really start to build your bottom line.
Email personalization stats
If you’re skeptical about how much email personalization impacts your email marketing success, the bottom-line stat is that email personalization can increase email marketing revenue by as much as 760%. That might sound outrageous, but think about it for a moment. Would you rather get an offer for a random product or an offer for a product you’ve added to your cart or browsed on a brand’s website? Which offer would you be more likely to click?
If you’re like most people, you would probably rather get an offer for a product you’ve expressed interest in and would be more likely to click on that offer.
80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from brands that offer personalized experiences. In fact, a full two-thirds (66% of customers) expect brands to understand their individual preferences and interests, and 71% of customers get frustrated when brands deliver impersonal online shopping experiences.
All this is likely why 70% of consumers say personalized experiences impact their loyalty to a brand. The impact of personalization is so severe that 63% of customers won’t even buy from brands that deliver poorly personalized shopping experiences.
Finally, it’s not all about stated customer preferences. Marketers see a 60% increase in web conversions and a 35% increase in average order value when they implement personalization.
The stats reveal concrete results. When brands fail to leverage personalization, it’s usually not because they believe personalization doesn’t work. Lack of personalization usually stems from the challenges involved with implementing personalization.
Email personalization challenges
Some personalization tactics are relatively simple to implement, such as using a subscriber’s name in the subject line or opening an email. However, the more meaningful personalization tactics require a bit more data collection and management.
When ecommerce businesses struggle to move the needle with email personalization, it’s usually because they’re running into one or more of these challenges.
Lack of unified customer database (aka Data Silos)
Since customer data comes from a lot of different sources, it often ends up in a lot of different databases, or silos. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to curate, aggregate, and access the data as needed for efficient email personalization.
Theoretically, you could pull customer data from multiple databases and use it for personalization, but this creates a ton of extra work and data management. It often requires so much extra effort that it becomes a severe obstacle to implementing the kind of personalization that really boosts email marketing performance.
It’s okay to have multiple customer databases that you use when you need customer data for things other than email personalization. Even if this is the case, you should have a single, unified customer database that you use exclusively for email personalization.
Inability to maintain segments
Email segmentation is a cornerstone of email personalization. It’s absolutely essential that you can send and suppress emails based on customer preferences and behaviors. That way you can send fewer emails and get better email marketing performance by sending targeted emails.
However, there are endless ways you could segment your email list and many ecommerce companies fall victim to creating email segmentation that’s too complex to manage or maintain efficiently. This makes it difficult to leverage your email segmentation program, even when you have good software for managing email segments.
Additionally, email software that’s capable of maintaining email segments is also essential for proper email segmentation. If your email software doesn’t have strong email segmentation capabilities, you should switch to better software.
We’ll cover email segmentation shortly, but the bottom line is that it’s best to use a relatively simple email segmentation scheme, that way you can more easily manage and use your email segments to improve performance.
Email software can’t evaluate segment membership and/or customer data to select personalized content
In addition to managing your email segmentation program, your email software should also make it simple to personalize emails based on customer data and which email segment each subscriber falls into.
Doing manual email personalization on a large email list is a nightmare. Your email software should be able to track subscriber segments, query your customer data, and dynamically insert personalized content. That way you can create an email campaign, choose which email segments should get that email, and your email software should pretty much take care of the rest.
Again, if your email software doesn’t have the capabilities you need to implement personalization without an overwhelming amount of work, it’s time to switch.
Building the customer data foundation
As you may have noticed, customer data is foundational for email personalization and activities that support personalization, such as email segmentation. You have to know a bit about your customers to create personalized emails.
Fortunately, there are plenty of customer data sources. You just have to make sure you’re taking advantage of them.
Historical purchase data
Historical purchase data is one of your most valuable customer data sources. You collect it by default as part of the order process, and it gives you amazing insights into what customers might want to purchase in the future.
Customer historical purchase data enables your email software to algorithmically select product recommendations based on what customers have previously purchased. You can also nudge customers into exploring new purchases by suggesting popular items from the same category as a previous purchase or that pair well with the products the customer already has.
On-site behavioral data
On-site behavioral data is similar to historical purchase data, it’s just based on what customers check out on your website, rather than what they’ve purchased.
Your on-site behavioral data enables email software to inject browsed products, items added to shopping carts, and other product suggestions based on the browsing behavior of the customer and similar customers.
Not all data has to be collected from your own website or online store. You can also get data from external sources through 3rd-party integrations.
3rd-party integrations enable you to pull quiz results, content preferences, customer support touchpoints, and customer loyalty data into your email software from sources outside your own online infrastructure.
It’s incredibly handy for getting even more context around customer preferences and interests, which might not be demonstrated through interactions with your brand alone.
Demographic data is pretty standard customer data for ecommerce companies. There are multiple points where ecommerce brands collect demographic data, from email subscription forms to checkout flows.
However, many ecommerce companies don’t leverage their demographic data as much as they could. Geographic data enables location-based personalization such as including the location of the closest retail location, if you have them. Birthday and purchase anniversaries are also excellent opportunities to send offers, even when you don’t have any promotions running.
You probably already have a lot of demographic customer data and there’s a good chance that you could be utilizing it more.
Channel engagement keeps your customer profiles precise as possible. Channel engagement data is often your most recent behavioral data. If you know what your subscribers click on, you have a good idea of what they’re interested in right now, even if they haven’t made a purchase recently.
For instance, if you’re a supplement company that sells supplements for all sorts of sports, your channel engagement will tell you when a customer who has historically purchased running supplements starts to show interest in supplements for weightlifting, even if they haven’t purchased any weightlifting supplements yet.
Your channel engagement shows you trends in the type of content customers engage with and how their interests are evolving, even in the absence of more concrete data such as purchase and on-site behavioral data.
The biggest mistake companies make in collecting subscriber preferences is not having an email preference center. Most customers will tell you what sort of content they want if you give them the opportunity.
If you don’t have an email preference center where customers can tell you which of your products they’re most interested in, what type of email content they want to get, and how often they like to get emails, you should build out a preference center. Otherwise, you’re missing out on a lot of valuable customer data.
1-to-1 email personalization examples
Once you have all this customer data, exactly how do you use it to personalize your emails and get that mind-blowing 760% increase in email marketing revenue? Here are some email personalization examples to show you what we mean when we talk about inserting product recommendations and personalized content.
Easy. Whenever you suggest products in your emails, use relevant items that a customer most recently looked at or added to their cart.
You can also use carted and browsed items for abandoned cart emails and browse abandonment email campaigns, which are some of the most valuable emails you can send. They’re not just emails with personalized content, they’re emails that are almost entirely personalized, right down to when you send the email.
Use your on-site behavioral data to follow up with customers when an item they browsed or added to a cart is back in stock or drops in price. These emails are excellent for retargeting customers who didn’t respond to the initial browse abandonment or cart abandonment email, especially if you weren’t able to offer a discount in those emails.
Once a customer has made a purchase, it’s always a good idea to suggest what they might want to buy next in your transactional emails and follow-up marketing campaigns. However, customers usually don’t immediately buy the same product again, even if the product eventually needs to be replenished.
So suggest complementary products, and suggest products that customers with similar buying patterns bought next. That way you can use existing customer data to help new customers become repeat buyers. Think back to the example above about supplements. Your customer data can tell you what the likely next purchase is. Even though it’s just an educated guess, it’s often pretty accurate.
Quizzes are a great way to help customers determine which products are best for them. When you deliver quiz results via email, always include links to the products that the quiz revealed are most relevant to the customer.
Knowing where your subscribers signed up for your email list tells a lot about their interests. Subscriber opted-in on a page about running? That’s a good signal they want running content.
Whenever you can, tailor your personalization based on what drove a subscriber to sign up in the first place. If you’re getting email addresses from third-party integrations, make sure you know where your email addresses are coming from, so you can create content based on those external sources as well.
Many real-time updates are categorized as transactional emails, but they are a form of email personalization because they’re extremely relevant to the customer. Some real-time updates are super transactional. Order, shipping, and delivery status updates fall into this transactional category.
However, you can also use these real-time updates for more engaging email content. If your products are built-to-order, you can send an email that shows the manufacturing process, so the customer can see how their product is made, while their order is on the production line.
Even if you don’t have any cool production info to share, you’ll deliver a much better customer experience when you keep your subscribers in the loop.
Using the customer’s name and other relevant information in your subject lines will increase your open rates. If you’re sending a browse abandonment email, why not use the name of a product the customer browsed in the subject line? It makes the email more relevant and attention-getting in the inbox.
Scaling personalization with segments
As we mentioned earlier, email segmentation is a cornerstone of email personalization. Email segmentation enables you to only send relevant emails to subscribers, and your email personalization program gives you a high-level strategy for turning subscribers into long-term customers.
It’s wise to start your email segmentation program with five core segments. You can expand your email segments eventually, but these five segments will form the foundation of your segmentation program.
The 5 most important segments in ecommerce
The ultimate goal of email segmentation is to create a lifecycle framework for moving people from zero purchases to multiple purchases and retaining customers for as long as possible.
This lifecycle framework is built on five core email list segments:
- Never purchased
- New customers
- Active file
Your subscriber progression will look like this:
Never purchased (new subscribers) > New customers (one purchase) > Active file (two to four purchases) > VIPs (more than four purchases) > Lapsed
The best thing about this five-segment framework is that the segmentation parameters are very simple. Your segments are determined by the number of purchases and the time since their last purchase.
The first four segments—new subscribers, first-time buyers, active file, and VIP customers—are determined by the number of purchases. The final segment (lapsed) is determined by how long it’s been since a subscriber made a purchase.
You can adjust the number of purchases for each segment, based on your business model and product type. Then you can establish how long you wait before reaching out to customers in the lapsed segment based on the average time between purchases for your customer base.
This five-segment lifecycle framework determines what type of emails will be relevant to each subscriber and guides your messaging for your email content.
These lifecycle-based segments determine what you’ll say
The five lifecycle-based email segments make it easy to identify what you should ask subscribers to do. Of course, you’re trying to get customers to make purchases.
However, asking customers to make a first purchase requires different messaging than asking customers to make a second or third purchase. Similarly, messaging for customers who have made multiple purchases is different from messaging for new subscribers.
Since your email segments group customers into cohorts based on the number of purchases, you can tailor your messaging and calls-to-action to how strong your relationship is with each segment of subscribers. Then you only send emails with the most relevant content and calls-to-action to each subscriber, rather than sending the same email to your entire list.
New customers should get a first purchase email, however, you should send a different purchase email to customers who have already made their first purchase and are buying again. That way you’re sending emails that are tailored to the customer, rather than sending one-size-fits-all emails.
This sort of targeted content and messaging is simply impossible without lifecycle email segmentation.
Operationalize email personalization
Once you have your customer data and your segmentation framework in place, it’s time to put your personalization to work. The good news is that this is easier than it sounds.
There’s only one thing you need to do: automate your email marketing program.
If you read over the types of customer data you need for email personalization, you’ll notice that much of that data is based on customer behavior.
The customer does something—browse an item on your website, add a product to their cart, subscribe to your email list, and so on—and that gives you a useful signal. You can use this signal to automatically trigger an email response.
When a customer abandons a full cart, this can trigger an abandoned cart email. When a customer subscribes to your email list, this can trigger a new subscriber welcome email.
Some of this automation requires a bit of data processing. For instance, when a customer makes a purchase, you have to check your customer data to find out if it’s the customer's first purchase or a follow-on purchase, then trigger the appropriate purchase email.
This, as mentioned, requires email software that can query your customer data and trigger emails by comparing customer behavior to the customer’s profile. The right email software will take care of much of this automation for you, so long as you have a unified customer database and an email segmentation program in place.
Really good email software will even help you with your customer data management and email segmentation (which is why we do). The bottom line, though, is that you should automate your email personalization, otherwise it can be very challenging to operationalize.
Measuring the impact of personalization
The last step is to calculate how much impact your email personalization makes on your email marketing program. If you’re familiar with email marketing metrics and optimization, this will be old hat for you.
To find out how much personalization boosts your email performance, you first need to know the baseline performance of non-personalized sends. If you have no email personalization, your current email performance is your non-personalized baseline.
But don’t just start sending personalized emails and see if things pick up. Be a bit more methodical, by running an A/B test (for example).
When you implement email personalization, set aside a group of email addresses and continue sending non-personalized emails to them. Send personalized emails to the rest of your email list.
Then you can directly compare the revenue produced by each group and get an exact measurement of how much email personalization increases your email marketing revenue (spoiler alert: it’s going to be a big increase).
Start using email personalization to generate incredible email marketing revenue
Personalization is a must for modern digital marketing. Customers expect personalized content, and non-personalized email marketing generates far less revenue than personalized email marketing.
If you’re looking for a way to grow your revenue and your business, personalizing your email marketing should be the next thing on your list. You already collect much of the customer data you need, and the ROI for leveraging that data is going to be huge.
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