5 Reasons to Rethink Your Personalized Email Marketing

8 minute read

Upland Admin

Personalization is a hot topic among email marketers right now, and for good reason! 74% of marketers report receiving increased returns from sending personalized emails, and the other 26% want to know how they can quickly get in on that action. Those budding email marketers have plenty questions about personalization: Where do I start? How do I collect the necessary data? How come they never have my name in those cool personalized sheriff badges?

These are all good questions because with the rush to get a piece of the personal pie, it’s easy to make mistakes. Get personalization right and you form lasting relationships with your audience. Get it wrong, and you become immortalized in a book called 101 Cake Fails faster than you can say “Hoopy Borthday Alexandep.” Or whatever its email marketing equivalent is.

Think back to that display of personalized sheriff badges: You wouldn’t settle for anything less that what’s exactly right, would you? You don’t want what’s “kind of right” or “almost what that kid from school calls you because he misheard your name and you still haven’t corrected him, even though you graduated 8 years ago.” Like with those graduation thank-you notes you never finished sending, good personalized email requires thoughtfulness, so here are 5 things to think about before creating your next campaign.

1. Personalized email marketing without a purpose falls flat. 

While 81% percent of email marketers claim to use personalization, only 3% of consumers report receiving personalized email. Unless those marketers are just sending all their emails to the same people, marketers are wasting their time with personalization that’s failing to resonate with readers. You won’t reap the benefits of personalized email if readers don’t take notice, so make sure your personalization adds value to your message.

A good example of personalization with a purpose is Spotify’s End of 2016 email campaign. Their on-brand emails beautifully provided aggregate listening statistics alongside those from the individual’s personal music library. The useful insights and lighthearted approach delighted users who got a kick out of seeing just how many hours they had spent listening to “Bad and Boujee.”

Common email marketing knowledge says that an easy way to personalize is just to throw the recipient’s name in the subject line. That may have been an effective novelty in the past, but in an inbox full of marketers on a first-name basis, meaningful personalization has to go one step further. In fact, despite the oft-repeated statistics about personalized subject lines leading to higher open rates, some have found the opposite to be true. Of course, it can’t hurt to test it out for yourself. Speaking of testing…

2. If you don’t test your personalized email, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Personalization errors might be part of the charm of ordering a drink at Starbucks, but you don’t want to be that person known for sending bad emails, especially when there are still so many Reply-Allers and Chain Emailers out there!

The most expertly tailored email in the world won’t mean much if it isn’t personalized to particular email clients and devices. Email with dynamic content means email with more moving parts, more things that can go wrong, and more reasons to test whether your email is up to the challenge. Spotify’s email campaign wouldn’t have been so successful if all the people sharing screenshots to social media were only doing so to show their friends the email they got that “looks as buggy as the animation test reel for a Pixar movie!”

Whatever benefits are to be had from personalized email marketing will surely be undone with an untested email. After all, 80% of users will delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their mobile device. If you’re not willing to tweak the recipe to perfection, maybe put that dynamic content on the back burner for now.

3. Too much personalization can alienate your audience.

Many marketers get caught up in the trap of “Well, if some personalization does some good, then more personalization will do more good!” Sounds pretty solid, until you’re sitting outside readers’ window, typing up an email summary of their binge-watching habits. Hooray, you’ve got 1:1 personalization! I’m sure the person serving you the restraining order will be just as thrilled as you are.

While personalized email marketing shouldn’t just regurgitate data for no reason, you also should stay away from intrusive insights, especially when people aren’t explicitly providing that data themselves. Users realize that Spotify keeps count of the tracks they listen to, so they aren’t taken aback to receive an email that their most played song of the year is “You Oughta Know.” That being said, had Spotify taken the next step and asked if they’re seeing anybody again yet, Spotify’s most played songs would quickly become “Sorry,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Stop Calling Me.”

Unlike occasional typos or images that don’t load or even the dreaded %%FNAME%%, a creepy email isn’t a mistake that readers are likely to forgive. The inbox is a personal space, and if you find that your emails sound more like a Personal Space Invader, you might want to think twice before putting another quarter in your personalized email machine.

4. Chasing more and more personalization may not be the best thing for your business model.

A 1:1 personalization has long been the elusive Holy Grail of marketing, but is this fruitless quest actually hurting your bottom line? Maybe. Publishers may actually see greater success ditching personalization’s diminishing returns and sticking to multiple newsletters with static content across different verticals.

Although personalized newsletter content can increase engagement within a single newsletter, most publishers offer an array of newsletters. They then encourage readers to sign up for as many as possible. The more newsletters a reader selects, the more opportunities they have to engage with your content. Sending one personalized email per day gives you one chance to reach your reader; pushing a morning digest, an afternoon political update, and an evening recap gives you three times as many.

A static model is especially beneficial for publishers hoping to drive paid subscriptions. In a volatile digital publishing environment, publishers are quickly seeing just how vital newsletters are for generating revenue The New York Times found that readers are twice as likely to subscribe if they signed up for an email newsletter first, and these chances can only go up with additional offerings. Even if some of the articles won’t be deemed worthy of engagement, putting the breadth of your content on display increases the likelihood that a reader sees value in handing over money for your content.

5. Sometimes the most effective personalization is just to write emails like a person.

So you’ve got the dynamic content, the data to drive it, and the automation to deliver it, so just one question: where are the people? The human people? You remember people, right? All the personalization technology in the world won’t connect with readers if your tone is stiff, distant, and robotic. Sure, you may have a team of robots composing your content, but you can’t let your audience know that!

Companies often use their email newsletters to convey a more casual, inviting tone with their readers that’s not possible in their content elsewhere. It’s no accident that emails tend to be more familiar. As a direct line of communication between you and the reader, the email inbox is the perfect place to drop your guard, kick back your feet, and just have a conversation with your audience.

In Spotify’s case, although the purpose of their emails was to convey personalized insights, the data wasn’t what made their campaign go viral. The real star of the email was their unique brand voice, connecting with readers through a personable sense of humor that made hard data fun. When’s the last time anybody else could say that?

Bottom Line: Don’t pursue email personalization at all costs.

Email personalization is a powerful tool for increasing engagement, but the desire to get in on the hottest email marketing trend shouldn’t get in the way of making sure you do it right. At the end of the day, good personalization delivers results because of its relevance to the reader. Without relevance, you’re just another disappointing display of plastic badges. Tap into that, and you’re well on the way to becoming the next Sheriff of Inbox County.

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