Email Personalization: Are Your Emails Really Personal?

Auditing your email segmentation and targeting approach.

Do you remember the promise of true 1 to 1 marketing from over 10 years ago where technology would automagically give a unique message to every customer returning to the site or every email subscriber?

Well our analytic capabilities have advanced a lot, but many companies are a long way from delivering targeted, relevant emails. Indeed many are still in the mass-mailing “Spray and Pray” mindset. By 2014, Forrester predicts that consumers will be deluged with 9,000 email marketing messages annually.

Since much of the excellent content on Online Behaviour naturally focuses around website personalisation and analytics, I thought it would be helpful to non-email marketing specialists to review the personalisation options available through email marketing. Certainly a major trend today is the integration of web site visitor behaviour with follow-up targeted emails.

In this review I’ll explain 5 different levels you can use to review your capability to target.

Level 1. Aggregate response data

This is the most basic level of tracking.

If your reports of email open and click rates are aggregated across the whole list and you can’t drill-down to see the response of an individual or segment, then you are at this basic stage. You can expect all email service providers (ESPs) to offer this level of detail.

Within a web analytics service like Google Analytics it’s worthwhile to setup email specific tracking since visits and conversions from the email channel can then be separately identified as a segment (see my post on Email campaign tracking in Google Analytics for further detail). In my experience even this basic customisation isn’t completed meaning that all email visits are counted as direct visits.

Level 2. Segmented response data

At the next level of sophistication you will be able to compare response or activity levels of different segments, for example male vs female or active against inactive for a consumer list.

The capability and ease of comparing responses for different segments varies considerably for different email management systems, so it is worth testing when reviewing reports in a proposed system.

If you’re using an email marketing system with this capability you’ll be able to review campaign or newsletter response by segment. Comparing response by segment can be really valuable for email activities which span a broad segment such an Email Newsletter. For example, a consumer surfwear brand found that their newsletter appealed more to an older age-group segment than its core younger audience, so it changed the tone, style and offers to appeal to both groups.

Level 3. Individual response

If you can drill down and see reports of all list members who opened, clicked on a campaign or bounced then you have this capability. Most email service providers have this capability although again, the ease of finding the information can vary.

Monitoring and tracking individual response is very powerful to email marketers since they can do a follow-up email on subscribers who open the mail or clicked on a specific type of link.

Of course, this level of detailed tracking isn’t possible within Google Analytics since it’s against its terms of service so an alternative analytics system would have to be used for this approach.

Level 4. Website integration

At level 4 you will be able to link on-site activities such as searching for a specific product or browsing a category to an individual email address. This is very powerful since you can then follow-up on an individual’s site preferences – it gives you behavioural targeting.

For example you can follow-up with relevant offer for situations such as:

A. Abandoned cart – the well known one!

B. Browsed category and didn’t buy

C. Searched for a product and didn’t buy

More advanced email marketers such as Amazon are now seeing the benefit of integrating customer behavioural information from the website with email.

Level 5. Multichannel integration

Level 5 is most relevant to multichannel businesses where the customer may engage with an email but ultimately purchase in store or via the phone. Such offline sales can be attributed to a previous email campaign within a window of 7 days, for example. This requires integration between the email response database and the offline sales transaction system a common unique user identifier such as an email address or customer id is required for this.

Multichannel integration also applies to social media integration, although the inability to identify an individual respondent and link them to an email address limits the options for personalisation here.

I hope non-email specialists will find this approach for reviewing the options analysing email response and targeting with email useful. You can read more on benchmarking your email strategy on the Smart Insights site.

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