Personalization in Email: Now It’s Personal—for Real

personalization fruit segmentsAs I ponder what to expect in 2016, personalization strikes me as the biggest new area to email marketing—and one that’s growing fast. In many cases, what started out as a way to remarket to consumers after cart abandonment is morphing into powerful technologies that enable targeted email marketing like never before, taking personalization to a whole new level.

Personalization is only going to keep going and growing, and marketers should take note—and take action. Cliff Condon, chief research and product officer at Forrester Research, says, “2016 is the year of action for businesses that are advancing down the customer-obsessed path. For those that aren’t, the need to do so has only become more dire.”

It does seem that most marketers are on the personalization path, however. According to new research by Ascend2, personalizing the customer experience ranks as the most important objective of a data-driven marketing strategy.

What is personalization?
Personalization: What does it mean really? It means more than it used to. In the early days, personalization meant using a subscriber or customer’s name in a subject line or greeting (something as simple as “Dear Ted”). Today personalization goes far beyond the “first name basis” method. Utilizing data and technology, today you can learn a lot about your customers, and then market to those customers using targeted email marketing based on facts (a.k.a. known behaviors) rather than assumptions.

This kind of content can be data-driven based on all kinds of behaviors. Today, “personalizing” means sending customer-specific content, not just including a name. In fact, today the term personalized can also be used to describe the images that are served up in an email based on customer attributes. Today’s customer dataset might include which emails were opened and clicked on, the items someone browsed while on a website, the date of their last visit to your website, what they bought and how much they spent.

Personalization means ROI
According to DMNews.com, marketers using real-time personalization see improved engagement, customer experiences and lead generation. According to one study, this kind of targeted email marketing increases transaction rates and revenue per email six times higher compared to non-personalized emails. In addition, personalized promotional email had 29% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click-through rates.

More importantly, they’re seeing increased ROI. In my experience, I’m seeing marketers achieve an ROI of between 10x and 15x on average. There’s also a competitive edge inherent in personalization, because only 17% of email marketers in the U.S. are using it.

And you’ll have happier customers, because you’ll only send email that’s relevant to them rather than bombard them with marketing emails they have zero interest in…a factor that can most definitely help your competitive edge when compared to the competitor that isn’t personalizing their email marketing.

The players in the field of personalization
These kinds of numbers don’t happen solely on the basis of wishful thinking, however. It takes both data and technology to make this kind of targeted marketing possible. The data is supplied by you, obviously, and the technology by a vendor. If you’re a marketer wanting to move your email marketing strategy farther down the path of personalization, here are some of the standout vendors we’re watching as email marketing consultants.*

SmarterHQ, Boomtrain and Monetate are players that have been around for a while. Up and coming players include Rejoiner and Bluecore. Oftentimes (albeit not always), these companies started out building remarketing technology to target cart abandoners. Now each offers a suite of personalization capabilities that move businesses far beyond batch-and-blast to true one-on-one email marketing. To try and give you a rundown of these key players, we’ve borrowed some marketing speak from each of their websites:

  • SmarterHQ blends behavioral and transactional data from online and offline sales channels to create a holistic, evolving view of customers in real time, generating predictive analytics unique to a brand.
  • Boomtrain offers technology built around advanced machine learning and complex predictive algorithms, to make sending 1 million different, individually personalized notifications as easy and automatic as sending the same email to all 1 million people.
  • Monetate enables marketers to design data-driven customer experiences across the web, email and mobile apps, based on behavioral and contextual insights.
  • The Bluecore platform is engineered to power marketing communications on top of large customer datasets and product catalogs, enabling the marketer to capture, analyze and take action on ecommerce data in seconds.
  • Rejoiner helps clients to maximize customer lifetime revenue with highly personalized and automated data-driven retention emails and continuously optimized campaigns.

As you know, the email marketing industry is in constant flux, and other companies might materialize to take a place among these key players. For now, however, I think these five are the ones to watch.

And watch them you should. Even if you’re starting out your personalization efforts like these companies did, with retargeting after cart abandonment (something that will give you an immediate payback when studies show 68% of site visitors put something in the cart then leave), chances are your personalization efforts will grow ever more sophisticated. And since 70% of surveyed marketers say technology is a barrier and 60% say personalizing content in real time is a struggle, you’ll definitely want to know whom to turn to when you’re ready to get really personal.

*Disclosure: We partner with SmarterHQ when ClickMail clients need this kind of personalization capability.