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"Email personalization" tactics that we need to stop talking about

"Email personalization" tactics that we need to stop talking about

Because of its current buzzword status, "personalization" means many things to many people (and vendors). At Jetlore, we see traditional "personalization" as a number of tactics and strategies that are meant to group customers together, and create large batches of content that are somewhat contextually relevant to recent interest.  

At Jetlore, we don't personalize content, because we don't believe personalization is enough for modern consumers. (Hence the frequent hash-tag "#gobeyondpersonalization).  Our focus is in the next phase of customer relationship management, which focuses on developing an understanding of each individual customer and using AI to predict what they will want to see, and ultimately want to buy.

With that in mind, there are vendors, marketers, and reporters who still discuss and suggest certain aspects of traditional personalization that either A) are a pre-requisite that anyone with Excel can master or B) ineffective and off-putting for consumers.  This blog post will focus on several aspects of personalization that are simply no longer worth talking about.

1: First name personalization

Essentially, first name personalization involves a short HTML token that auto-populates a customer's first name in the subject bar or body of an email; as long as a there is a method of attributing a customer's name with their email address and a database to store that information, it's incredibly easy to implement, un-intrusive, and helps your automated emails seem a bit less robotic.

However; first name personalization is reasonably superficial, and is no longer a strategy that drives significant increases in click-throughs in any way.  Because every company can personalize first name easily, most customers have come to expect it - the ability to call someone by their first name in an email is no longer a differentiator for you or your brand.

At the same time, it's a tactic that matters very little if the rest of the email body is generic and un-inspiring.  Hypothetically speaking, if you receive an email with 10 merchandised items that you don't care about at all, is a brand's ability to recognize your first name enough to inspire a purchase?

While it's easy for B2C companies employ some sort of personalization snippet in their email program, it's very difficult to create email body content that relates specifically to their interests.  Most organizations end up sending manually curated content designed to appeal to a wide group of customers in the email body - creating an experience that starts with a very specific greeting, and ends with very broad and generic calls to action. 

2: Triggered email on birthdays or anniversaries

It's always a great idea to collect as much customer centric information as possible - if a customer is willing to provide their birthdate, the ability to leverage that information with relevant and timely discounted offers might make them feel special, and increase loyalty with your brand.

But it also teaches your customers to expect discounts that they can strategically wait for.  At Jetlore, we've been vocal about the downsides of discount-centric emails for quite a while. Often times, discounts apply site-wide or for a specific category, possibly one a customer has shown interest in.  But by presenting customers with discounts frequently, or at times they can anticipate (like birthdays), retailers unintentionally train customers not to purchase at full price.  

Discounts are not an inherently bad offering, and sometimes do activate customers; but discounts alone, whether they're timely or not, don't create value for your brand, and need to be paired with relevant content.  Instead of a site-wide or category specific discount, a more compelling birthday offering would include a discount for a specific item or collection of items a customer had shown interest in. 

3: Segmentation

This section is going to be controversial to most marketers, because segmentation is a religion for B2C enterprises.  But the reason we need to stop talking about segmentation is that when you stop to think about it, segment based messaging and accurate personalization are diametrically opposed concepts.  The point of personalization is to create a unique experience that inspires each individual customer to engage with your brand; segmentation is less about creating a unique experience for an individual, and more about grouping people who recently acted in similar ways.  This creates a more contextualized experience, but can't actually be considered "personalized."

For example - if 5,000 customers purchase sporting goods from Amazon, are placed into the "sporting goods" segment, they'll all see the exact same curated content for the foreseeable future.  Curated content might be relevant to some, but there's no way it's accurate for the entire segment; they are still relying on a great deal of guesswork.

Segmentation is great for data analysis and monitoring performance, but ultimately shouldn't dictate the content that customers see for a few reasons:

1: Content is more focused, but still generic.

2: If you place a customer in the wrong segment group, they'll receive the wrong content for long periods of time moving forward.  This can happen to customers purchasing a gift.

3: Segment based content still has to be curated by your marketing team - depending on the number of segment groups you create, that can add up to a great deal of work.

The email channel is incredibly important; without it, B2C enterprises have to wait for customers to engage with them. Email is the only channel where retailers have any influence over what their customers see.  Retailers have a tremendous opportunity to create content that resonates and creates long term customer loyalty.  Content that resonates needs something more meaningful than first name personalization; it requires the ability to create value beyond discounts and the recognition of a single data point; and it has to be unique, relevant, and timely for each individual customer, not a targeted group.

As mentioned above, Jetlore believes that traditional personalization methods like the ones above (and several others - take a look at our post on collaborative filtering here) are no longer enough to sustain the modern consumer.  Because of that, we've built a system that understands each customer on an incredibly granular level, that goes beyond personalization to AI-powered Predictions.  For more information on the Jetlore Platform, click here.