Over the last five years, many businesses have realized the power of email marketing. 

But, despite growing to a $3+ billion dollar industry, some questions remain unanswered:

How do you personalize emails to everybody on your email list? 

How do you make every customer feel like each email they get was made specifically for them?

Sending personalized emails is easy when you start your business, but as your business grows, so does your contact list.

The things that were easy at first, like surveying your customers and keeping track of their information, become enormously difficult over time.

One of the most challenging aspects of growing your business is sending “personalized” emails.

What’s the difference between personalized email and mass email?

Email personalization is the practice of customizing emails and changing content based on the personal information of a contact. Strategies to personalize email range from basic tactics (such as using a customer’s first name), to more advanced tactics (such as changing email content based on location, gender, and their stage in the customer lifecycle).

It’s no surprise that 75% of consumers choose retail brands with personalized customer experiences and roughly half of U.S. shoppers buy products online after brands make personalized recommendations.

Personalization is effective, but not always easy. Nearly one-third of marketers cite the difficulty of personalizing customer’s experience without violating privacy.

So it’s not surprising that most businesses don’t both with personalized email and instead choose mass email blasts that show every contact the same thing.

Good news! You don’t have to choose between personalization and reaching more people.

What if you could have the best of both worlds and send out a personalized email to every single person on your contact list?

How to send personalized mass emails

In the last few years, email marketing tools have allowed for more personalization.

The easiest way to start with personalization tactics  is understanding how to send a personalized “broadcast” email.

Since broadcast emails are going to go out to a large number of contacts (typically, your entire email list), you want to consider two questions before you hit send:

1. Is this email relevant to your entire email list?

A common method to make emails “feel” relevant is to include a person’s name in the subject line or to start the email — but nowadays this is almost expected. To move further, you should ask yourself two questions:

  • If the email is meant to educate → Has every person getting this email shown interest in this topic?
  • If the email is meant to sell or inspire action → Is every person getting this email ready to buy or take this action?

Don’t let this overwhelm you if you’re just getting started. Sending out mass emails, and using that data to personalize in the future is a great start.

2. Is this email timely for everybody?

If you want to know how to personalize mass emails, ask if every person getting your email is at the right stage in the customer lifecycle to take action.

By asking those questions, your emails will get opened more (and make more money).

For example, Hipcooks (a business of seven cooking schools from San Diego to Seattle), ran into a situation where it was impossible to send out a mass email, even if it felt personalized with the person’s name. Why?

How a Cooking School Gets 70% Customer Retention with ActiveCampaign

Hipcooks had to track which contact lived in a certain city so that their communications could:

  • Inform customers about upcoming events in their city
  • Send out recipes specific to the time of year and produce available to specific cities
  • Follow local trends
  • Give customers a way to become part of the local cooking community

By personalizing their email marketing, Hipcooks has drastically cut costs, gotten off the discount treadmill, and increased their customer retention 70%.

8 ways to personalize your email marketing (beyond mass emailing)

To get results similar to Hipcooks, consider personalizing your emails as a two-step process:

  1. Get information from your contacts and customers
  2. Use the information you have to send personalized emails

1. Get information from your contacts and customers

If you’re going to personalize your email marketing, you need to learn about your contacts. The information they give you is the first step to segmenting — and understanding what they want to see.

You can start with basic information, like:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Job department
  • Geographic location 

Often, this information is easily acquired through a signup form, such as this one:

With a strong focus on timing and relevance, consider what form a person is filling out and where they are in the customer lifecycle. If they’re signing up to receive your newsletter, you may not need much more than their email address.

But if you want to immediately personalize your emails, you can add additional fields to your forms, like this one from Hipcooks:

When a person fills out this form, a contact is created in ActiveCampaign. The contact is tagged based on each location the contact selected.

Email personalization also includes tagging contacts with specialized information, like:

  • Customer status
  • Interests
  • Site tracking data
  • Past purchases (perfect for Shopify and WooCommerce users)
  • Content engagement
  • Source

“Tagging doesn’t come naturally in most email service providers, but ActiveCampaign does a great job adding and removing customer/subscriber tags based on behavior. If you’re not using them, you will likely need to build webhooks or have an app installed on your site to automate tagging.”

Kristen Jones, Director of Marketing at The Groomsman Suit

While this information is helpful, it’s also severely underutilized.

How you use this information is the difference between a wildly successful email marketing strategy and a total flop.

2. Use the information you have to send personalized emails

What do you do when you’re ready to move beyond the newsletter and mass emails and start truly helping your contacts and customers?

The most important thing to remember is that personalization, whether basic or advanced, all works together to create a truly special customer experience.

Email personalization in action with ActiveCampaign

Basic Personalization

With basic personalization, we’re telling the contact things that they already know, including:

  • Their name — Often used in the “To:” section of an email, in addition to the subject line and email body, a contact’s name can make an email feel more personal.
  • Your name — Emails that come from a specific person at a company
  • Where they live — Geographic-focused content, like that from Hipcooks, can be very valuable for localized businesses.
  • Their gender — People who identify as women expect to get offers consistent with their gender. The same is true if you’re shopping for children.

With these table stakes covered, you can move on to a more effective level of personalization.

Intermediate Personalization

You can deepen relationships and better serve your customers with a deeper level of personalization. This includes:

  • Conditional copy — Based on specific tags, specific contacts can be shown different content within one broadcast email.
  • Images — Similar to conditional copy, images can be customized based on basic personalization data. A great example of this would be showing a testimonial from a person the contact can most relate with.
  • Engagement — Has a contact attended a previous webinar? Or maybe clicked a series of links around a specific topic? If they have, you can customize that kind of hyper-relevant emails they receive.
  • Site tracking Site tracking allows you to track actions that your contacts take on your website and apps, such as:

Advanced Personalization

70% of consumers saying a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty. How can we show our contacts and customers that we understand their needs as individuals?

Two words: Predictive content.

Imagine that once you have data on your contacts and customers, you could quickly drag and drop a section into your email that would write multiple messages targeted to each specific contact.

Using natural language processing, predictive content takes your already segmented emails and allows you to send one email with five content variants. Based on what your contacts have engaged with, and continue to engage with, they’ll get the emails they’re most likely to click on. 

What’s Next?

Brennan Dunn, founder of RightMessage, describes personalizing mass emails like this:

Source: Brennan Dunn

“A “message” (email, sales page, etc) generally speaks to one sector of that plane, or ends up with a lot of noise to cover all the bases. Personalization is just being able to put a message squarely in one of those sectors.

Brennan Dunn

Sending personalized emails is a game-changer for both the business and the customer. To make that happen, you need to do two things:

  1. Gathering information about your contact / customer
  2. Personalizing emails to drive engagement and revenue

Once you’ve started to personalize your emails, it’s time to start digging into segmentation.

Click here to read our guide about why segmentation is so important, and how to get started.