There was a time when email personalization meant inserting the contact’s first name into the greeting or subject line of an email. That’s how it started. Since then, marketing automation tools have evolved quickly. It’s now possible to completely personalize every aspect of a message on a contact-by-contact basis:
- Ecommerce stores like Amazon send campaigns with products each contact is interested in based on browsing history, what they added to their wish lists and cart, purchases they’ve made in the past, what similar customers have purchased, and more.
- Community sites like Quora look at the categories of topics you’ve chosen to follow, what you’re clicking and reading, and what’s popular with contacts who fit a similar profile, to send you campaigns with content they know you’ll engage with.
- Netflix looks at your viewing history, how you’ve rated shows, and suggests content that’s enjoyed by people with similar tastes.
As more companies adopt and push the limits of personalization, customers have adjusted their expectations accordingly. Contacts are spending more time than ever reading emails, but they now have a lower tolerance for messages that are poorly-timed or don’t align with their interests. Companies that are still sending “one-size-fits-all” messages stick out like a sore thumb.
The spotlight is on data because of customer expectations,” said eMarketer analyst Nicole Perrin, author of a new report on marketing technology. “Customers expect marketers to provide a personalized brand experience across channels. Using data to create a personalized customer experience is what many marketers point to as the holy grail for marketing technology.”
You may think this kind of personalization is only for enterprise and mid-market businesses. “We don’t have a big enough list to make this worthwhile.” Fair enough, but there’s another important benefit of the personalization process I outline here: You’ll gain insight into your customer’s interests and behavior that you can use to guide the overall direction of your product or company. Each of your contacts becomes a rich case study and a detailed customer profile.
In this post I’ll show you how ActiveCampaign’s features work together to enable the advanced personalization strategies used by companies like Amazon and Quora, who are known for their spot-on recommendations and content.
When you implement this personalization, you’ll see a steady improvement in your opens, clickthroughs, and conversions as contacts learn that your messages are always relevant to them. You’ll begin a positive feedback loop that ultimately results in more customers, more repeat purchases, and more advocacy.
The personalization process
There are three steps to creating personalized marketing:
- Listen – Your marketing processes (automatically) collect key customer insight.
- Learn – This data is stored and organized to create a unique profile for each individual contact.
- Adapt – That profile is leveraged to customize campaigns and follow up sequences so that each contact receives a unique experience
Step 1: Listen
The first step is to “hear” what your contact is doing online. You want to set up your marketing so that you are listening for important signals.
Online, the primary voice of your customer is clicks. A click tells you a lot, if you’re willing to make some assumptions. What someone chooses to click on indicates which link they felt was most important, interesting, and relevant to them at that moment.
The listen step involves setting things up so that you can “hear” the voice of your customer and, later, use that data to personalize your marketing.
- You want to set up Site Tracking so that your marketing is listening to which links your contacts are choosing to view on your website.
- You want to set up Event Tracking so that you can define custom events to track important behaviors. You’re able to set up events for almost anything, so you could track everything from adding an item to a shopping cart or watching a video 75% of the way through.
- You’ll want to turn on campaign link tracking so that when a contact clicks a link in one of your email campaigns, that information is being attached to their contact profile.
Another part of listening to your contact is to ask them questions. You can ask them for information on forms. Just be sure that this is data you need and you have a plan for how you’ll use it to customize your marketing or it just creates needless friction during the form submission process.
Step 2: Learn
Now that you’re set up to “hear” what your contacts are saying, you need to store that information on the contact profile as it happens. By consolidating and organizing this data you’re “learning” about each contact. You might think of this as the memory of your CRM. Similar to remembering what an acquaintance does for a living or how many kids they have, this step is like storing information into long-term memory so that you can recall it and use it later on.
The information from forms will be automatically attached to the contact and the rest will be stored using automated workflows. The data you’re listening for in Step 1 triggers an automation that stores the information for you.
So, you might have an automation that begins when someone visits a product page more than two times. The automation applies a tag such as “INTERESTED IN: Product name.” Now that their interest is stored, you can begin leveraging that to customize your marketing (we’ll cover some ways you can do that in Step 3).
You can also store information in custom fields. For many marketers, tagging is often the go-to solution for storing information but custom fields have a couple of major advantages:
- A custom field’s value can be inserted into a campaign. You can’t do this with tags. When you create a custom field a personalization tag is automatically created for you so you can insert the field’s value into your campaigns.
- A custom field can be unique. A tag is rather rigid. You define what the tag will be in advance. A custom field can house whatever you need it to and, just like with tags, you can specify its value if you need to for easy segmentation.
When a contact opens a campaign, you can update a custom field to the current date and time so that you can begin varying your send times so that they receive a message within X number of days since their most recent open.
Step 3: Adapt
In the third stage, the Adapt stage, you leverage the information that you listened for in Step 1 and stored in Step 2.
You can use Site Tracking data to send triggered emails when someone lands on certain website content.
You can use Conditional Content to swap out sections of your campaigns so that the information is as relevant as possible. For instance:
- You might look for certain interest tags and display offers for those specific products
- If the date of last purchase is more than 30 days, you might include a special discount offer
- You might look for interest tags and include related content
You could also use date-based automations to trigger workflows:
- If it’s been two months since someone last visited your site, you could begin a re-engagement campaign
- If someone’s contact renewal is coming up, you could begin a retention campaign that brings any concerns to the surface and reinforces the relationship
If you’re using custom fields to store important information, you can insert that information into your campaigns dynamically. So, this:
Goals are another powerful way to adapt your marketing when a customer takes certain behaviors. You can look for things like visits to certain web pages, events being performed, tags being applied, custom field values changing, and more to have your automations adapt:
- A general marketing sequence could end and a new one could automatically begin when an interest tag for a specific product is applied.
- You can end all your marketing follow up and begin a customer onboarding sequence when a purchase is made
- A contact could be moved to a more aggressively timed automation sequence if you find that they’re at a later stage of the customer lifecycle based on their web page views
Getting Started with Listen, Learn, Adapt:
The key to effective personalization is that you’re listening for the data you need to create the impactful personalizations that make a difference to your customers and, by extension, your business. So, it helps if you work backwards… decide what personalizations would be the most impactful.
Ideally, how would you customize your marketing follow up? In a dream world, what would you be able to do?
Would you reach out to a contact after they’ve viewed a particular product twice but didn’t purchase? Would you send them content that aligns perfectly with their interests with ads for products they’ve viewed but haven’t purchased?
So, working backwards, you’d:
- Map out an ideal flow (Adapt),
- Figure out what data you need to make this reality (Learn), and then
- Figure out how you’ll collect that data (Listen).
The specifics of how this personalized follow up will look and what data you need to make that happen will be different for different businesses, so I can’t provide it to you here, but it’s the key to unlocking the personalized campaigns that drive some of today’s most successful online businesses to their success. Email is the ideal channel for bringing people back to your website and nothing works better than personalized timing, copy, and content.