Email Personalization – A Needle in the Haystack

Phone Personalization

So what is personalization?

I’ve been asking myself and everyone I come across in the industry that very question, in hopes of finding a clear and consistent definition. Some talk about personalization as a journey with specific touch points in a digital cycle, while others solely focus on the user experience and how unique it is to the consumer.
“Working with one of the biggest names in sportswear, my client’s definition refers to the consumer story, which looks like personalized product recommendations and a dynamic template.”

Here are three parts to the answer:

1) The approach or a consistent, unified message that successfully caters to the consumer. It doesn’t translate as pushy, creepy, lazy, or as a ‘blast’. The approach includes a unified omni-channel communication stream that conveys a message of confidence and care, which is essential in the world of technology. We are human after all.
Technology and execution
2) Technology and execution which includes behavioral marketing providers that cater personalized content based on consumer site behavior such as browse and purchase patterns. A project I worked on recently consisted of a user receiving an email that had a reference to the page they were browsing only hours ago. Could this borderline on creepy? Maybe, but the technological ability to do that will be key to providing the personal element to something produced by software (or a robot).
Consumer experience
3) And yes, consumer experience or a brand consistent message, can vary with tone, design, content, even font color. To define a personalized consumer experience we can refer back to the basics of the communication flow. This consists of a sender, in this case your brand/retailer/etc., the receiver, which is the consumer, and the message, whether a promotion or a point balance update. The user experience is a result of how the target audience received the intended communication based on the channel they viewed it on. And, in case of a multi-channel presence, how does the overall company voice communicate to the individual at the brand and unique message level. Long story short—is whether or not you’re serving the right content to the right consumer?

So what are the personalization challenges?

Being too creepy
Being too creepy or “Big Brother”
The word “Personalization” implies a personalized consumer experience. It also implies something personal to you, again, on that human level. We know this –modern technology gives us access to personal, even intimate consumer information, we’ve never had access to. For example, with the use of personas and appropriate data analysis, we can curate content based on the fact that you are female, 25-30, like martini’s, and go out downtown every Friday night. In the land of email, we can use algorithms to recommend additional products you may be interested in based on purchase and browse patterns, and will follow-up with you if we don’t hear back. The constant challenge is how do we serve up the right content that’s just personal enough?
 Irrelevant content
Irrelevant content
This challenge may be an edge case but, we also know it only takes one – one person to provide the “right” kind of feedback to another, one person to forward the broken or misspelled email to another, who then forwards it on to their whole organization, and one “right” email or one “wrong” email to leave a lasting impression or perception of the whole brand. So while we focus on creating personalized trigger journeys or support Omni-Channel stories, timing, and the consumer always needs to stay top of mind.
For example, are you messaging a family or a single male with five dogs? Is your consumer a hiker or do they spend nights on the couch watching Netflix? My personal favorite is receiving emails from respected shoe brands claiming they’re about to show me my favorite shoe, which 99% of the time renders as a pair of sparkling, round toed flats. Don’t get me wrong, flats are a classic essential item every woman should have, however this woman, who loves personalization, eROI, and technology, is always in heels (outside the gym of course). So while my reaction isn’t super relevant given the context of this post, receiving 10 emails in three months with a personal subject line use of “This will be your favorite shoe for fall” and leaving me disappointed every time, doesn’t leave a personal impression, and resulted in an unsubscribe.
Ask the questions you think others have asked. Know your audience. If you don’t know your audience, don’t force the message and think of other ways to curate content.
Being a visible
Being a visible needle in a haystack of ads
We’ve all heard the metrics, “…a person 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 or more exposures today”* So how do we stand out within this sea of advertising, and most importantly, how do we connect with the consumer?

Future – what is the “right” content?

Awareness is key in my mantra when it comes to seeing the big picture. Being aware of personalization benefits and challenges, what will this look like in the next 5, 10 or 50 years? I am obviously no psychic, but with the current advancement tech rate, especially one we get glimpses of in Iron Man (think holograms and interactive computers), what will the babies of today see as personal in 2036? The one thing that will stay consistent is being human. It’s a challenging juxtaposition and isn’t a unique call-out in the world of humans vs. technology, but the human brain will continue to be studied, and will continue to evolve in unmatched ways. For now, we stay ahead of the technology mysteries by being proactive and asking questions enough that an answer can be built.

About eROI

eROI crafts compelling digital experiences across email, web, and social channels. Our work has been consistently successful in driving revenue and exceeding goals for our partners.