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The Softer Side of Email Personalization

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In email marketing we talk about subscriber engagement a lot. If your emails aren’t relevant to your subscribers, they’ll end up deleted or marked as spam, negatively impacting your inbox placement and ROI. While many marketers are focused on technology-driven strategies to drive relevance, some brands are seeing increased effectiveness by incorporating “soft” tactics such as nurturing, storytelling, surprise personalization, and behavioral economics into their email program strategy.

As brands are becoming more focused on customer lifecycles, marketers are recognizing that their email programs can’t sustain a steady diet of promotions and offers alone. In the age of personalization and hyper-targeting, consumers expect brands to know who they are and provide a varied mix of content they care about. Whole Foods has mastered the art of mixing promotional content with value-added content, from recipes and healthy eating tips to food tourism advice. Urban Decay creates behind-the-scenes videos to promote new product launches and product demonstrations.

In a recent survey by Salesforce, 76 percent of customers reported that it’s easier than ever to switch brands to find an experience that matches their expectations. So what is it that sets your brand apart? If your company has been around for a while, consider sharing some interesting history or milestones. If your company is committed to supporting specific charities or socially-conscious efforts, share the action steps and the results of your efforts—just make sure the tone is not self-serving. It is much easier to build subscriber loyalty if they believe your company is trust-worthy.

Consider what interesting or useful content related to your products, services, or brand will help nurture the customer experience, even outside of the customer’s buying phase. More relationship-focused emails make for better customer retention.

The email industry is seeing a recent trend toward more intelligent content as brands recognize the importance of speaking with a clearly defined “voice.” Effective brand storytelling creates a more human face for your email program, and which leads to customers having a more personal connection—and loyalty—with your brand.

Storytelling isn’t just about your brand voice. The voice of your customer is a powerful and authentic way to make your brand understandable and relatable. When you share customer stories, it demonstrates that you are listening to customers and you care about them. When other customers read those stories, it helps them identify not just with those customers, but with your brand. Huckberry takes storytelling a step further by using video to connect subscribers to the customer story.

Similar to customer stories, testimonials provide genuine brand advocacy and use cases for your products. While stories are used to draw the reader in, testimonials are often bite-sized for quick insight. Customers are likely having conversations about your brand and products on your social channels, so you can integrate those conversations within email messages while also cross-promoting those social channels.

Surprise personalization
The availability of customer data is driving personalization capabilities. As a result, most consumers expect brands to personalize the email messages they receive. Surprise personalization is unexpected. Where do you start? Instead of placing the first name in the salutation, drop it in the middle of a paragraph, for example. This makes your message come across more like a realistic conversation, because it creates a stronger impression that you are talking directly to that person and not simply inserting their first name into a field.

Personalize messages based on how long it’s been since the consumer joined your email program (Example: “Cheers to another year of exclusive offers and subscriber-only perks”) or how long it’s been since they placed their last order (Example: “Is it time to reorder?”)
Another highly effective strategy is to incorporate a personalized image. This could be as simple as dynamically populating the subscriber’s first name as part of the image.

Behavioral economics
This strategy considers the effects of psychological, cognitive, cultural, emotional, and social factors on the economic decisions of consumers. One application of this strategy is that we spend more time thinking about why consumers respond more positively to some call to action prompts than to others. For example, saying “Last chance to buy!”, or “Flash sale!” motivates consumers to spend, because they place more value on items that seem to be in short supply.

Studies on behavioral economics have found some surprising results. For example, one study found that reducing the number of options available to consumers can actually increase sales. Another study found that just talking to consumers about a certain product attribute can make them desire that attribute more.
Understanding the consumer psyche and decision-making process is key to developing winning value propositions and message content. Because of this, behavioral economics is playing an increasing role in driving up email effectiveness.

Subscriber engagement is critical to the success of your email program. Incorporating the tactics of nurturing, storytelling, surprise personalization, and behavioral economics into your email marketing strategy can differentiate your brand and help you remain relevant in the inbox.


Laura Christensen
Senior Email Strategist at Return Path
Laura is an Senior Email Strategist for Return Path, the worldwide leader in email intelligence. As a true Maximizer, she leverages email program data and insight to identify what’s good and make it excellent, somewhat obsessively at times. After spending more than 15 years in the email industry, she’s passionate about helping her clients create better subscriber experiences for increased engagement, retention, and overall email program performance. She continues to work with clients across multiple industries to identify email program vulnerabilities and opportunities, refining strategies to achieve success.

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