Personalisation is massive. We see it more and more in digital marketing and it's partly what machine learning technology will be tasked with in 2018.

But automated personalisation isn't always a good thing. If it isn't implemented sensitively it can jar. Nobody likes to feel like they are in some giant sausage making machine, or being served by a slightly sinister robot butler.

The question marketers need to ask themselves is not just 'Will personalisation positively affect one of my short term metrics?' but also the following:

  • What value does personalisation bring to the customer wherever I use it? How does it balance with my company's interests?
  • What personalisation feels right in a given marketing channel and at each stage of the customer lifecycle?
  • How will personalisation affect the tone of my content and my brand?
  • How 'human' should automated personlisation seem?

Here's an example of how tricky it can be, taken from the slipper brand Mahabis, which sells exclusively online and direct to consumer. In this example I'm looking at a series of cart abandonment emails.

This is a particularly sensitive place to attempt to engage potential customers with personalisation, because the value exchange may not be immediately obvious to the consumer. Too personal can feel a little slimey in a situation where a retailer is simply trying to sell.

Mahabis starts off well, but left me cold by email three. Let's take a look...

A Mahabis cart abandonment case study

Email one: Pretty good

Below you can see the first email, which I received a day or so after adding a pair of slippers to my cart but abandoning my purchase in the early stages of the checkout.

Personalisation is evident in the subject line, where my name is included. I don't have an account on the Mahabis website, but I did enter my email address to grab a discount code from a homepage pop-up, and I also filled out my details in the first checkout form.

You can see where Mahabis has also included my location in the email copy (1), as well as a picture of the product I had in my cart and a cute little note saying "ps gotland green is a great sole choice" (2).

I don't mind this email at all, it reminds me of the product I was looking at and provides me with a bit of encouragement and a link to go back and get them. Sure, I'm aware the reference to Manchester is automated, as is the compliment, but it doesn't feel too creepy. In fact, it makes me sit up and take notice, which is a good thing.

However, as it's the first time Mahabis has emailed me, arguably they should be including something more useful here to get me onside. How about some product reviews? Or some information about how they are made?

mahabis 

Email two: Starting to feel a bit 'uncanny valley'

Email two arrived a couple of days later (see below). This one jarred a little more.

First off, the subject line beats around the bush (1). Does 'Adam' really want to talk about the weather? I think he actually wants to see if I'm still interested in those slippers.

The copy starts 'I wanted to send you a personal email' (2). This feels slightly disingenuous, given this email is likely automated.

Next, Adam tells me it's going to nine degrees celcius in Manchester – not exactly frosty and yet the copy tells me those slippers are "amazing for cold weather". This makes me wonder at what temperature threshold the copy changes.

And now here's the clincher that means this email inhabits the 'uncanny valley' – Adam repeats his compliment about those gotland green soles (4). I must admit, I'm not entirely sure if there any rules in place here based on whether I opened the first email, but either way this repetition feels clunky. After all, the only thing I chose was a colour.

mahabis email 

Email three: Give me a break

If you think I've been a bit harsh to single our Mahabis so far, you're probably right, but email three contains what I believe is the coup de grâce.

Let's jump straight to it. Look at the beginning of the second paragraph (2) – Adam says "I've pushed internally to get you a special 15% discount." What a guy. I've never even met Adam, but of all his potential customers to have abandoned the checkout, I'm the one he's putting his neck on the line for.

In the same paragraph, Adam tells me the offer is only valid for 24 hours but "fingers crossed" I'll have time to buy them. This might seem kind of patronising to some.

The subject line also says "15% off just for Ben" (1) – again that feels disingenuous.

At the end of the email is a curious bit of marketing gone wrong. The perfect example of jarring automation. Adam declares "The feet of Ben will love them..". How strange to refer to me in the third person. It's a classic example of a situation where personalising for the sake of it doesn't add anything to the email.

mahabis email

Conclusion

When faced with the stats behind these kind of campaigns, I imagine I may have to eat my words. Mahabis must be able to demonstrate an increase in sales off the back of these emails.

But can every impact of these emails be measured in the short term? Put a different way, are these tactics harmless?

I would say perhaps so, but I would also ask whether Amazon would do something like this? I tend to think not.

In Europe, the GDPR has recently got marketers talking about the benefits of transparency. In the world of branding, authenticity it the word du jour. With these abandonment emails, I feel like Mahabis is being artistic with the truth and inauthentic. Is that a brand I can warm to? Not yet.

More on cart abandonment:

Ben Davis

Published 14 December, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)

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Graham Charlton, Editor-in-Chief at SaleCycle

Hi Ben,

It does seem pretty clumsy to me. Like they've tried too many different ways to personalise the email. I can't see how the weather forecast helps.

Personalisation is a great way to make these emails more relevant, but it's about more than just using the customer's name .

Also, as you say, some product reviews and maybe hooks like free and next day delivery could well be more effective.

6 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

LOL. That's what they call #tryhard. Here are some better examples. Mix appropriate personalization with a pinch of social proof and you'll do fine.
https://www.freshrelevance.com/resources/10-amazing-abandoned-cart-and-browse-emails-and-what-you-can-learn

6 months ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant Agency

I think this is a case of a bad strategy - there's no doubt there... But most of their prospects probably won't even notice that. And then the brand, Mahabis are also blinded by the results - they're probably attributing a lot of revenue to this campaign, so why change it? It's not the right way to look at it, but this is almost certainly the problem.

Then secondly, this is a classic case of "use all the tools we bought". I'm talking about the weather and location. Just because you have data or a snazzy tool, doesn't mean you should use it, of course.

I wonder if they did a split-test on that final email offering no discount versus 5%, 10%, 15%... I'd actually be surprised if there was much of a difference in performance.

6 months ago

Ana Jenkins

Ana Jenkins, Content Producer at Investec

Absolutely love 'the feet of Ben' - epic! And yet another misinformation: it turns out the 15% discount code they sent you (AC2KD463T) is still valid! And open to anyone. Though I doubt anyone who reads this will be using it...

6 months ago

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