How to Avoid the Potential Pitfalls of Email Personalization

How to Avoid the Potential Pitfalls of
Email Personalization
By Dutch Hollis Email personalization is a great tactic. It’s a powerful tool for grabbing the recipient’s attention, talking to him directly, and showing
you value him as a customer.
But personalization can go horribly wrong. You could, for instance, thank the wrong person for a purchase or misspell a customer’s
name. Mistakes like these leave the customer with a bad impression of your brand—quite the opposite of the reason you chose to
customize your digital communications to begin with.
So before you decide to start personalizing your emails, here are a few things to consider:
Get preferences. Find out what name your customers prefer and implement it in your email greeting. Don’t assume a
customer prefers to be called by the name that appears on a billing statement. For example, I have a friend named William
who goes by Bill. When he receives an email that greets him with “Dear William” or “Dear Will,” he knows right away that the
sender doesn’t know him well.
Obtaining your customers’ preference may be as simple as including a field where they can insert their preferred name
during the email opt-in process. Or if your organization employs contact center agents, have them ask customers what
name they prefer.
Be natural. Personalization should be natural. Don’t begin or end each sentence with the recipient’s name. Use the
recipient’s name only once or twice in each email. Keep it real— and relevant—by focusing on the needs and expectations
of the customer, then personalize based on that.
Garbage in, garbage out. Your personalization efforts are only as good as the quality of data in your system. It’s why list
hygiene is crucial. The customer information stored in your database is what will appear in the email. If a customer’s name is
misspelled or just a first initial is provided, that is what they’ll see. Be sure to go through your list and make sure it’s
Have a backup plan. Make sure you have an alternate personalization option if the data you would like to use isn’t correct or
is blank in your system. If all you have for a first name is an initial, use an alternative greeting such as “Dear Friend,” “Dear
Valued Customer,” or even a less formal “Hey there!” Otherwise, your failed attempt at personalizing could wind up being
along the lines of “Dear N…”.
I recommend having two versions of your file. Version A is personalized with the appropriate first name. Version B is a more
generic greeting when that first-name accuracy is in doubt. Creating two list segments will help you properly deal with those
whose names are unavailable. Don’t expose the weaknesses in your data by using generic terms if you can help it.
Test and test again. Email personalization is an excellent way to capture attention and build a relationship through direct
digital marketing. If it’s not done correctly, however, it can be the difference between an email that is read and one that gets
marked as spam. Proper testing helps ensure the email goes through. Send a test email to yourself before you send to your
entire list. Look at it in the various Web browsers to see that the images (if any) render well, and that the links for
personalization actually work as they should. 
December 22, 2010 Chief Marketer 
Think beyond the name. Of course, personalization goes beyond name alone. It can be based on a customer’s street
address, his online search history, or a product they’ve purchased. Personalization also means tailoring the products, the
offers, and even the creative to make the message more relevant to the recipient. For example, if the universal profile data
shows a customer recently purchased a necklace, instead of sending them an email promoting that same item, you could
send one that promotes a complementary item, such as a bracelet or earrings.
Gathering all the useful pieces of marketing data needed to build segments and create personalized marketing messages
can be overwhelming. Marketers should seek out email marketing software with a universal profile management system that
gathers and stores the multiple data points. The closer the recipient data and the marketing content are to each other, the
more efficient (and relevant) your email marketing can become.
Context matters. It’s important to keep in mind that certain events require more personalized emails than others. If a
customer has just completed a purchase that required they divulge a large amount of personal information (name, address,
credit card), sending him a personalized transactional or triggered email will likely make him feel comfortable. In that case,
make an effort to personalize communications. But if you’re emailing about a special offer, too much personalization will
make you appear too pushy or insincere.
Keep the above tips in mind when creating an email strategy. Personalization is all about building relationships with your
customers. Getting to know them and communicating in a way they will enjoy will only deepen your relationship with your business
or brand. Dutch Hollis is the general manager of professional services at Knotice, a direct digital marketing solutions company. For more information about Knotice, visit Call us toll‐free at: 800.801.4194 Email: [email protected] Read more about direct digital marketing and mobile strategy on “The Lunch Pail” blog: December 22, 2010 Chief Marketer