First, here’s a snapshot of email personalisation stats from the Email Census:

  • 61% of marketers said they are more concerned about their ability to personalise their emails than any other tactic, from segmentation to automation to testing and more.
  • 15% of marketers they are now able to personalise emails based on behavior and preferences – up from 8% in the 2016 census.
  • 71% of marketers say they’re either in the early stages of personalisation or fine-tuning their integration and execution.
  • Only 14% of marketers say they aren’t working toward personalisation.
  • Marketers who say they’re proficient in personalisation are more than twice as likely to rate their overall email campaign performance as “excellent” or “good” than marketers who do no personalisation.
  • Although data integration remains the most recognised personalisation challenge (43% listed it), understanding where to focus was the second-biggest challenge (35% of marketers cited this, up from 26% in 2016).

Personalisation is key to email marketing’s future

I’m excited to see the future of email marketing unfold because I believe ROI will increase once we embrace the idea of making email all about the customer. We can do this through advanced personalisation tactics and lifecycle marketing programmes, and proceed to optimise them continuously to ensure we’re achieving the best results.

Personalisation at scale is a no-brainer. It can serve up relevant, valuable offers and content intended for each of your customers based on their past email and web behaviour, ther transaction history and their position at the top, middle or bottom of the buying funnel.

However, I also believe we’re making implementation of personalisation harder than it needs to be. Marketers who aren’t achieving the results they want are likely doing two things wrong.

Marketers are doing these two things wrong

1) They treat personalisation as the objective instead of a tactic designed to achieve the objective

All your decisions must support your objective. Personalisation itself is not the objective – it’s the tactic you use to achieve your objective. The objective is to deliver an enhanced customer experience, through using a tactic such as personalisation.

2) They lead with technology, not with strategy

When you let technology rather than strategy drive your decision-making, you can end up sending the wrong message to your customers.

Here, you’re using personalisation just because you can – because it comes with your email platform or you’ve just hired a number-crunching data whiz – and not because you want to solve a major business problem.

Technology, while essential to brins your strategy to life, is only one of the four ingredients in a personalisation plan:

  • Strategy: The plan to achieve your objective.
  • Data: The information that shows your customers you know them as individuals. Data is implicit (observed; behaviour), explicit (stated; preferences) or contextual (situational).
  • Content: The contents (offer/services/products) of the message you send.
  • Technology: The mechanisms you use to create each personalised email.

Once marketers get past these two common errors, they’ll begin to reap the many benefits of personalisation because everything will fall into place.

The business case for personalisation

Personalisation brings market and business intelligence to your organisation, while at the same time rewarding your users.

In other words, everybody wins. We all like to be recognised as individuals, and this, in turn, enhances your email value and burnishes your brand equity.

A personalisation planning template, from objective to tactics

“Web personalization is a strategy, a marketing tool and an art. It brings focus to your message and delivers an experience that is customer-oriented and relevant.” – Christian Ricci, Chia Monkey

The marketing question to answer is not “How can we add personalisation to our marketing programme?” Rather, it’s “How could personalisation help us achieve our objective of enhancing the customer experience?”

This planning template will help you see where to bring personalisation needs and practices into the conversation.

1. Determine the objective

This is always your starting point. What is the business challenge you must resolve? Potentially it is to “to enhance the customer experience by providing more relevant email communications” or it may be to solve an actual pain-point.

2. Develop the strategy

Here’s where you introduce personalisation by focusing on using personalised communications to achieve your objective. You provide value with emails that respond to five customer expectations:

a) Reward me:

Your customers love to be recognised as individuals on special days like birthdays and thanked for their loyalty, purchases or tenure as accountholders, members or subscribers. This personalised email from Pizza Express features the recipient’s name along with the freebie for extra attention.

pizza express birthday email

Pizza Express birthday email

b) Remind me:

Here you can keep your brand in your subscriber’s inbox with reminders about what they’ve previously viewed and searched for, whilst not overtly stating this. A gentle reminder like this is very customer-service oriented and helpful.

ba email

BA reminder email

c) Recognise me:

Your data integrations in your emails recognise your customers’ behaviour, preferences and interests.


Ocado behavioural email

d) Recommend for me:

A recommendation engine can suggest alternatives to products browsed but not purchased or cross-sell /upsell in transactional emails. An integrated preference centre can suggest products or services based on interests and preferences.

amazon email

Amazon recommendation email

e) Support me:

Follow-up email messages can check in with your customers to measure satisfaction, answer questions, offer user advice and tips or suggest alternate purchases.

secret escapes email

Secret Escapes advice email

3. Choose the tactics

Now you get into the specifics, choosing the tactics that carry out your strategy. As I noted before, you must always lead with strategy, not allowing the technology you use make the decisions.

Think of it this way – your technology doesn’t understand your customers, your products, your market and your competition. But your strategy does.

Overt versus covert personalisation:

These are the two major tactics with personalisation. Your strategy will lead you to decide which of these is appropriate for your audience and goals. In fact, there’s a good chance that you will use both within your strategy.

Overt personalisation shows the recipient clearly that the email is meant for her and her alone by including data such as name, location, behaviour, purchases, recommendations, etc.

Covert personalisation is subtle, appropriate when an in-your-face approach could turn off customers – they might not expect you to have that data on them, for example.

The covert approach allows you to send highly personalised messages without crossing the line into unexpected (creepy) personalisation. The result: Serendipity!

Example: Browse-abandon emails. These can both overt and covert. You can either show the customer the exact item browsed and link back to the product page, or you can dress up the email like a newsletter with both general content intended for all recipients with specific products for customers on whom you have browse data.

Overt example: Crate & Barrel

This reminder email clearly is designed to close the sale. Although neither the subject line nor the copy is personalised, the hero image of the browsed product and the “Shop Now” button, which links back to its sales page on the website, appeal directly for a purchase.

Despite the impersonal copy, the service focus (“We’re here to help” is highlighted rather than the “Shop Now” button) makes the email feel more like a helpful reminder than a sales nudge.

crate and barrel email

Crate & Barrel overt personalisation

Covert example: SecretEscapes

This travel newsletter packages up browsed offers in a newsletter format without obvious reminders that they had been browsed. The call to action (“View Deal”) invites curiosity rather than asking for a higher commitment, such as “Book Now.”

secret escapes email

Secret Escapes covert personalisation


Marketers continue to tiptoe their way into email personalisation, although the minority who have adopted personalisation as a strategy to enhance the customer experience are more satisfied with their email efforts overall.

Personalisation can help you achieve your objective of enhancing each customer’s experience with your brand, products and company. Data, content and technology are key ingredients in a personalisation plan; however, strategy must be the force that guides your decisions and allows you to reap the benefits: more conversions, higher revenue, greater return on your marketing investment and a stronger, more loyal customer base.

Personalisation is one of stage topics at the Festival of Marketing in London in October. Book your ticket today.