Friday, May 16, 2014

crafting your email marketing strategy - part 4: personalization

by kirk r gray

in the previous installments of this series, we've looked at nurture campaigns, what happens when a prospect converts or exhausts the funnel, and how adaptive design can be a part of your strategy. in this installment, we'll discuss fun cool stuff - personalization.

personalization is more than just "dear first name". there is a lot that can be done to personalize your email communication. we briefly touched on how adaptive design can be a part of those personalization efforts, especially when that message looks different in desktop or mobile views. personalization is only limited by your (and the esp's) abilities and your imagination. sit back and relax this one is gonna be fun.

the basics
we all know that the sweetest sound to anyone is their own name (unless it's your mom using your full name - then you know you're in trouble), so be sure to use it. just don't be creepy about it. using "first name, here is the information you requested" as your subject line and "dear first name" as a greeting is probably enough. putting someone's first name in the body copy can come off as creepy, use that sparingly and only for emphasis. i once got an email where each paragraph started off with my name - it made me feel unsettled, because the delivery of the message wasn't natural - it gave me that feeling you get when you overhear a conversation that you aren't supposed to hear.

there is a big push to make your messaging and strategy as human as possible. you want to
when you get your list and are getting ready to upload that to your esp, take a few minutes to properly format your data. here's an excel trick that helps. place an empty column next to the first name field, and in the first cell use the "proper formula" to fix poorly formatted data. the formula would look like this: if your first name is in cell a1, then in cell a2 type:  =proper(a1) and hit enter. while the cell is outlined, double-click on the square in the lower right corner to copy that formula to the end of your data.
make the message customized to the reader, but not invasive - everyone knows that they are getting some sort of bulk message - essentially a mail merge/form letter, but you can make it feel more personal. in my opinion, the biggest thing that you can do to ruin the balance of customization to bulk messaging is the use of poorly formatted data and more to the point, a poorly formatted first name.

here's what i mean... many people when they are filling out an rfi or signing up for a mailing list do so haphazardly. they don't take the time to use proper case - if the caps lock is already on, you get FIRST NAME, or they may not use any formatting at all. make sure to clean up your data, either by doing it server side, manually cleaning it in uploaded lists or using your esp's tool (if they have one). the greeting sets the tone of your whole message and "Dear NAME" could be the difference between being perceived as robotic or more human in your communications.

dynamic content
dynamic content is the most powerful weapon an email marketer has. it helps to deliver customized information and can be used to accomplish a long list of tasks. think of the dynamic content as the result of if/then statements. it can be as simple as displaying different graphics or even as complex as  different content based on certain behaviors. most esp's have the ability to send dynamic content, but their interfaces and execution may differ. every email marketer and every email marketing program should take full advantage of dynamic content.

one example of a good use of dynamic content is if you have manage two brands and send the same message to all your subscribers. using dynamic content will allow you to display different logos based on an attribute or a token (a field name) so long as the respective mailing list has that same field.

use the available data that you have
think about all the places you can pull data. if you have tracking built into your website and can get a pretty good history of where and what your visitors are doing, use that to your advantage. data is everywhere - you just have figure out how to use it.

use your data to build profiles and personas. remember joe customer, the car buyer from the earlier posts? here is what we know about him:
  • type of car he's interested in buying
  • favorite color
  • where he lives
  • what he does for a living
  • we might even know his credit score and income levels too based on how far he got through the lead funnel
a dealership can easily look at his data and that of their other prospects to develop a persona. what this could do for you is make recommendations to joe customer for other vehicle options that he might be interested in buying.
  • joe looked car x
  • but other prospects with a similar profile, also looked at car x and car y
why not share this with joe? many of the online retailers already do this - amazon does this flawlessly - and best off the consumer is already comfortable with it, so they won't feel that they are being stalked.

advanced ways to personalize the message
consider out of the box ways to personalize your communications. as part of your sign up program, you might collect pii data in stages - either through progressive profiling or through asking just a few questions at a time on a landing page. this is a good approach because the subscriber doesn't feel overwhelmed when they sign up for a newsletter or are just requesting information - remember, that the virtual currency for this transaction is pii data for deliverable and trust. when these requests for information are presented in the right way - that you want to deliver a more custom germane experience - consumers will give up their information. prospects expect to get the information that requested, but also want it when they want it and in a format that they can digest. think about what you can ask them - gender, age, what kind of pets, how many kids, favorite color... then use that to customize the message. but don't collect data simply because you can.

this is what joe customer looks like:
  • in his mid 30's
  • and his favorite colors are red and black
  • he's single
  • owns a dog
  • likes the outdoors
use this to your advantage. you could create alternate templates for your emails that render the content in your customer's favorite colors (just don't forgo your brand to deliver a custom experience). you could even further that with images of outdoor activities and his purchase of a new car or truck which could make it easier for him to engage in his favorite activity with his dog.

a lot of consumers save emails and if they start to see the message evolve from the a standard template, that might be too brand-centric, to one that is rendering in red and black, and tying in his dog and outdoor activities, joe will realize that you didn't just ask those questions to ask them, but that you are using it make his experience unique. (if you're really good at it, joe won't notice the change at all, but really feel as though his communication with you is 100% two way - that you get him.) actively demonstrating why you collect this data will make the customer relationship that much stronger. joe may not have bought anything from you (yet) with cold hard cash, but he has trusted you with a virtual currency that is much more valuable to the relationship.

in the next post, let's look at the end to end experience and get to the most important part of your strategy.

Other posts in this series you might be interested in:
part 1: nurture campaigns
part 2: customer or exhausted content
part 3: technology in strategy
part 5: meet with your stakeholders

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