A few years ago, I implemented an email unsubscribe massacre in my inbox. I realized I was tired of deleting multiple emails from the same brands every single day — emails that I never even considered opening. I decided that instead of simply deleting these emails as they came in, I would unsubscribe every time I received an email that didn’t provide value. I was ruthless about it. After a few days, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. But now, a few years later, my inbox is overrun with unhelpful emails again. How annoying.

As a marketer, I understand why companies send so many emails. Email remains a critical marketing channel for most industries, and it is incredibly affordable compared to other channels. As a consumer, I often learn about a sale or a new product from an email. Sometimes I go on to purchase that product — resulting in a sale that wouldn’t have been made if the email was never sent. So for the marketer, those emails are worth sending because they can produce positive results. But I know I’m not alone in these feelings of frustration with my inbox.

So what’s a marketer to do to avoid annoying email recipients? The answer, of course, is greater relevance. How can you be more relevant to everyone? Well, you can’t! But you can be individually relevant to your audiences by employing better personalization and targeting techniques. Marketers know this. Adjusting the subject line or including a person's name or company name in an email, however, isn’t enough to cut down on email clutter and ensure a person finds value in your content. So in this blog post, I’ll explain three different email personalization principles that you can leverage to improve the relevancy of your emails.

Open-Time Personalization

First and foremost, every email you send to a customer or prospect should be as personalized as possible, leveraging all you know about the person. Including their first names is, of course, a great start. But when I say leverage all you know about a person, I mean more than just her name. I mean the behaviors she has demonstrated, her location, the length of time she has been a customer, her loyalty program status, and more — in addition to what all of this information says about her interests and intent.

For example, the shoes I decide to wear each day are heavily dependent on the weather at that specific moment. Is it cold? Hot? Raining? Snowing? The answer to that question helps me decide what to wear. With that in mind, DSW used the weather in my location to send me appropriate product recommendations in this recent email:  

relevant emails

So this email has been personalized to me based on my location and, more specifically, the weather in that location.

Of course, between when an email is sent and when that email is opened, circumstances can change. A recipient could have already responded to an offer sent by email, or she could have shown interest in something completely different. The key is to be relevant at open time, rather than at send time. By personalizing your emails at open time, you have the opportunity to display the latest or most accurate information (like availability, pricing, inventory levels, etc.), show the most appropriate content by factoring in completely up-to-date information about a person’s preferences, and avoid suggesting an action that someone has already taken or dismissed.

So returning to the DSW example, the weather in my location can vary dramatically between when the email is sent and when I actually see it. It’s the perfect occasion for open-time personalization. When I opened the email again, I saw this image instead:

relevant emails

The weather and the products displayed in the email changed each time I opened it to ensure the email never seems outdated.

Here’s another example. If a financial services firm sends out an email promoting an upcoming webinar to prospective clients, it may look like this:

email personalization examples

But if a recipient learned about the webinar elsewhere and has already signed up, this email will seem behind-the-times (or worse, it could confuse the recipient into thinking her original sign-up didn’t go through). At open time, the content of her email could be updated to acknowledge her registration and suggest a few relevant resources to check out in advance of the webinar.

email personalization examples

The right solution can help you collect all of this data, interpret it, and pick the most relevant content to display in your emails and update that content at open time.

Triggered Emails

The previous section covered what to include in your emails to ensure they’re more relevant. Next, let’s discuss triggered emails. Triggering emails based on certain criteria — such as a person’s behaviors (like cart abandonment), catalog updates (such as a product of interest coming back in stock or its price being reduced), or external conditions (like the weather) — can allow you to send fewer, more relevant/timely emails.

Triggered emails are generally based on “IF/THEN” rules. For example, IF a visitor leaves an item in her shopping cart, THEN trigger an email reminding her to complete her purchase. IF a customer hasn’t logged in to your SaaS application in the last month, trigger an email asking him if his needs have changed.

This image below shows an example of a triggered email from a home improvement retailer. If a shopper has demonstrated specific behaviors that indicate that he may be looking to remodel his kitchen (such as viewing three or more categories of kitchen appliances), then the retailer can trigger an email to help him in his research.

relevant emails

This email wouldn’t have been sent to this person if he hadn’t demonstrated intent to remodel his kitchen while on the site, so it is particularly relevant to him at this moment.

As another example, a SaaS company can trigger emails to inform users of the status of their accounts or remind them of actions they need to take. Once a user has completed all the required onboarding steps, for example, it can trigger an email to her to thank her for completing the steps and suggest content she may find valuable as she begins using the solution.

relevant emails

The right solution will give you the control necessary to define the situations where an email should trigger, so that they always make sense to the recipient.

Bulk Personalized Emails

Triggered emails are useful, but they aren’t always what you’re looking for. Sometimes, you have a specific message or promotion that you want to communicate to your whole email list — or a portion of your list. In those instances, you can send bulk personalized emails.

With this type of personalization, you can send regular emails to your list (e.g., a weekly promotion email or a monthly newsletter), but only to those who will be most receptive to the message. For example, your personalization platform can determine who your frequent purchasers or regular shoppers are, and send the majority of your bulk emails to them. Meanwhile, it can reduce the email frequency for those recipients who don’t always engage with your emails, and further reduce the frequency for those who have never opened an email.

Of course, each bulk email should contain content that is personalized at open time, as described earlier.

So for instance, if you want to send out a newsletter-type email to highlight relevant, recent blog posts to each person on your list, you can do so with bulk email personalization. The email would feature different blog posts for each recipient, depending on the interests they have each demonstrated in their past interactions with you.

relevant emails

Whether or not a person receives this particular blast will depend on how he has engaged with your emails in the past. A person who has never opened this newsletter may not receive it, while someone who always opens them certainly will.

Final Thoughts

Email marketing continues to be a successful tactic for marketers, so it’s no surprise that email volumes continue to rise. But as with most things in life, it’s important to focus on quality, not quantity. Leveraging email personalization, you can deliver more relevant content in your emails to each individual recipient.

For more email tips, check out this blog post, 5 Email Marketing “Don’ts” From the Experts. And for more information on how Evergage can help you with your email personalization efforts, request a demo today.