Email personalization techniques beyond 'Dear [Name]'

Published Feb 22 2024 Last updated Mar 30 2024 10 minute read
email personalization marketing
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

You're a savvy marketer who has convinced thousands of leads to give you their email addresses. Now, you want to move them through the sales funnel so they convert into customers. 

Unfortunately, not many people open your messages. Your hard work goes straight into the digital trash can. You tried personalizing your emails by including each lead's name in the subject line, which helped — but by an almost imperceptible amount. 

How can you get more people to engage with your content?

Advanced personalization techniques offer useful ways to take your email marketing to the next level. Personalized emails have been shown to increase engagement rates and improve the overall effectiveness of email campaigns.

But how can you move beyond the standard 'Dear [Name]' personalization to make your emails stand out?

From developing detailed customer personas and advanced automation to leveraging dynamic content, your marketing team has plenty of options.

What is email personalization?

Imagine you go to your mailbox and find a generic letter from your insurance company. What do you do? More likely than not, you scan it for important information and then shred the document. After all, it's just a bulk message they send to all their clients. It has nothing to do with your policy, so you think of it as junk mail.

Now, imagine you get a handwritten message from an insurance representative you've talked to. This person knows you recently bought a new car – because you bought insurance coverage from them – and wants to recommend bundling your policies so you can protect more assets without spending much more money.

Will you take the insurance rep's advice? Maybe. But one thing's certain: you took time to read the letter and consider the offer.

As a marketer, you can apply a similar technique to personalize your email marketing campaigns.

A short introduction to email personalization

Email personalization involves crafting content that resonates on a personal level with each recipient. And there is a lot to be done beyond the basic tactic of inserting the recipient's name into the email. 

Advanced personalization leverages data such as browsing history, purchase patterns, and other customer behaviors to create emails that are not just seen but felt. It transforms a simple email into a personal conversation and delivers content that's relevant, engaging, and timely.

The key to successfully personalizing emails lies in using customer data to address each recipient's needs and preferences to make messages feel like they're written just for them. This can include many factors, from demographics and location to purchase history and website behavior. The more data you have on your customers, the better you can personalize their email experience.

Benefits of personalization in email marketing 

Unsurprisingly, personalized emails have a stronger impact on recipients than generic, one-size-fits-all messages. With advanced email marketing personalization techniques, you can see significant improvements in key email metrics like open rates and conversions.

Here are a few benefits of implementing advanced personalization in your email marketing strategy.

Increased engagement 

Increased customer engagement is one of the most direct benefits of personalized email campaigns. When recipients see their names and content tailored to their interests, they're more likely to feel a connection. 

This connection goes beyond the superficial level of recognition; it touches on relevance and personal significance. Consequently, personalized emails often engage audiences more effectively. Just personalizing your email subject line could increase your open rate by 26%.

Avoiding irrelevant content

Consider a cat owner receiving weekly discounts for dog food. Beyond the irrelevance, it can be annoying and create low engagement. Plus, recipients might mark your emails as spam or unsubscribe from your list. These types of actions can damage your email reputation and hurt your deliverability rates.

Personalization helps avoid such blunders to ensure your emails are always relevant and timely. By utilizing data points like purchase history, location, and website behavior, you can tailor each email to the recipient's specific preferences. This contributes to a better user experience and ultimately leads to higher engagement and conversions.

Building customer loyalty

Customers who feel like you understand their needs and interests are more likely to remain loyal to your brand. Personalized email marketing helps foster this sense of understanding by showing that you value each individual's unique preferences. This can improve customer retention rates, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals.

This aspect of personalized email marketing can't be overstated. At its best, it's like having a personal conversation with each customer. Try to recreate the feel of a one-on-one interaction by addressing your recipients by name, engaging with them on topics relevant to their interests, and being as specific as possible in your messaging.

Driving sales and conversions

Ultimately, all marketing efforts aim to drive sales and conversions. Personalized email marketing is an effective strategy for achieving these goals. Reports show that for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $36.

Where else can you find that kind of ROI?

7 email personalization tricks and tips to try

Email personalization has evolved into a sophisticated strategy far beyond basic tactics like using a recipient's name. It now encompasses a range of techniques that can significantly enhance engagement and conversion rates.

Let's explore some advanced tricks and tips you can implement in your email marketing campaigns.

1. Behavior-triggered email automation

Behavior-triggered email automation is a powerful tool in personalization. It involves sending emails that are automatically triggered by actions taken by your subscribers. For example, if a customer views a particular product on your website but doesn't make a purchase, a follow-up email can suggest related products or provide more information about the viewed item.

To start with behavior-triggered email automation, identify the behaviors you want to trigger your emails. That could be anything from a subscriber clicking on a link in your email to a customer making a purchase on your website.

Once you have determined the triggers, you can start creating your emails. Make sure your message aligns with the specific behavior that triggered the email. You'll also want to include dynamic content elements, such as product recommendations or personalized subject lines, to make your emails more appealing.

At Funnel, we use behavior-triggered email automation to send follow-up emails to customers who have interacted with specific aspects of our service. For example, we might send an email to a subscriber who has signed up for our free plan but hasn't added any channels yet. This approach helps us build a stronger relationship with our subscribers and increases the chances of them upgrading to paid plans in the future.

Expanding on this strategy:

  • Integration with analytics: Integrating your email system with website analytics lets you track customer behavior in real-time and automate your email responses accordingly.

  • Diverse triggers: Besides product views, consider other triggers like cart abandonment, blog post interactions, and social media engagement.

  • Timely responses: Ensure emails are sent promptly, as relevance can diminish over time.

Related reading: What is lifecycle marketing?


2. Detailed customer personas

By creating customer personas, you can customize your emails to match different segments of your audience. This involves understanding their preferences, buying habits, and interests, allowing you to create more personal and relevant content.

Here are some example personas to help you understand what this could look like:

Example persona for frequent buyers:

Imagine a group of customers who have made purchases more than three times in the past 12 months. We'll call them "Loyal Enthusiasts." For this group, you could create emails that:

  • Acknowledge their loyalty with a thank-you message or a loyalty discount.

  • Offer early access to new products or exclusive previews

  • Include personalized recommendations based on their purchase history.

  • Give them VIP customer service options, like direct lines to customer support or personal shopping assistants.

This approach acknowledges and rewards their frequent engagement with your brand, encouraging continued loyalty and higher customer lifetime value.

Example persona based on product category preference:

For customers who have shown a clear preference for a specific category — let's say men's clothing — you can create a persona named "Men's Style Seekers." For this group, your email strategy might include:

  • Tailored product recommendations focusing exclusively on men's apparel and accessories.

  • Style guides, how-to-wear articles, and featured outfits that align with their interests.

  • Exclusive offers or discounts on men's clothing.

  • Feedback requests or surveys about their preferences in men's fashion to further refine their profile.

Example persona for tech enthusiasts:

This persona is for customers who have a passion for technology and are always interested in the latest gadgets. We'll call them "Tech Savvy Shoppers." For this group, you could create emails that:

  • Highlight new tech products and advancements, providing early access or exclusive discounts.

  • Offer educational content, such as product reviews or tutorials.

  • Encourage participation in beta testing programs or product feedback surveys.

  • Include a referral program for tech enthusiasts to share your products with people in their networks.

A targeted approach ensures that customers receive content relevant to their interests, increasing the likelihood of conversion and avoiding dissonance from products they're not interested in.

3. Dynamic content based on personalized data

Using dynamic content based on personalized data is one of the most effective ways to personalize your email campaigns. This technique involves utilizing individual user data, such as information collected from landing pages or customer interactions, to craft dynamic, responsive email content.

For example, you could feature products that align with previous purchases. You could even modify the email's layout and visual style to resonate with their preferences. The key here is to use real-time data to create emails that are personalized in tone and customized in content and presentation, making each message feel uniquely relevant to the recipient.

4. Localized content and timing

Personalization based on the recipient's location and time zone can significantly enhance the relevance and timeliness of your emails. For example, an airline might send personalized emails about hotels, restaurants, and car rental services when a customer books a flight. This localized content shows that the company is attentive to its customer's needs and can provide valuable information at the right time.

Localized content can go wrong, though, especially with timing: If your flight is delayed, getting an email with tips for nice restaurants in your destination city might seem insensitive. 

Another example is a retail company sending an email with a promotion for a store far from the recipient's home. It might be the closest location, but the resulting annoyance can decrease the chances of the recipient engaging with future emails.

These examples highlight the importance of accurate data, timing, and nuance in personalization.

Related reading: Score the best shoppers with these Black Friday email marketing tips


5. Interactive and personalized imagery

Images are a powerful tool to engage your audience, and they can be even more effective when they're personalized. This strategy involves using images that are visually appealing and highly relevant to the recipient's interests, lifestyle, or recent activities.

One way to implement this technique is to use dynamic content in your emails. As previously mentioned, dynamic content allows you to show different images to different segments of your audience based on their preferences or past interactions. 

For example, you could show images of people hiking in beautiful locations for a customer segment interested in the outdoors. If you have a segment of your audience interested in cooking, you could show images of delicious dishes being prepared.

Another way to use personalized imagery is to follow up with customers after they make purchases. Imagine a customer buying a poster print of a photo from their vacation. A week later, they receive an email from the print company showcasing products like mugs, notebooks, or keychains, all adorned with the same personal vacation photo.

This approach reminds the customer of their cherished memories and also presents these memories in a new, tangible form. It's a powerful way to drive engagement and potentially increase conversions, as the featured products directly reflect the customer's experiences and tastes.

6. Direct communication from real people

Personalizing the sender's name and details in an email can transform an ordinary marketing message into more engaging, trust-building communication. When emails come from a real person in the company, especially someone the customer previously interacted with, it adds authenticity and a personal touch that's often lacking in generic brand communications.

For example, if a customer had a consultation with a sales representative, receiving a follow-up email from that same representative can create a sense of continuity in the customer relationship. You can apply this to other forms of communication, too, such as social media DMs and phone calls.

In some cases, like a product launch or company announcement, it may be appropriate for the CEO or founder to send a personalized message to customers. This adds a human element and shows that the company values its customers as individuals rather than just numbers on a marketing list.

7. More information to personalize further

Brands that seek deeper personalization in their email marketing strategies often invite customers to share specific personal details. This approach is about creating a more meaningful connection by understanding and catering to the unique aspects of a customer's life.

For example, a pet store might ask customers to add details like their pet's name, type, birthday, and other specifics. This level of detail allows for highly personalized email content, such as sending birthday greetings for the pet or recommending products tailored to the pet's age and species.

Key considerations for this strategy:

  • Building trust: Customers must trust your brand and feel confident that their information will be used respectfully and beneficially.

  • Respectful use of data: Ensure that the information collected is used in ways that genuinely add value to the customer's experience.

  • Enhanced customer experience: Use the data to create emails that demonstrate a deep understanding of the customer's needs, strengthening their emotional connection to your brand.

  • Simple process: Make it easy for them to share their information, such as through a simple form or survey.

  • Give back: Offer an incentive for sharing their information, such as a discount or special offer.

Personalized email marketing examples

Personalized email marketing is a great way to increase open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. By using data about your subscribers, you can create more relevant and engaging emails. Here are some examples of how other companies have successfully implemented email personalization strategies.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's automated re-engagement emails

Image via Campaign Monitor

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital uses email personalization in its donor re-engagement strategy. They send automated messages to past donors six months after their donations, reminding them of the hospital's impact and encouraging repeat donations.

Why this works:

  • Timely follow-up: The six-month interval is a thoughtful duration, not too soon nor too late, to reconnect with the donors.

  • Emotional connection: These emails remind donors of the impact of their contributions, rekindling the emotional connection to the cause.

  • Automated personalization: Automation ensures that each donor receives a timely, personalized reminder without manual intervention, making the process efficient and scalable.

Netflix's image-heavy personalized recommendations

Netflix's email campaigns are a prime example of personalization through visual content. Their emails are heavy on vibrant, captivating images that notify users about new releases and offer personalized recommendations. They also use data from the user's viewing history and preferences to customize the content of the email.

Why this works:

  • Engaging visuals: Enticing, high-quality images capture the recipient's attention immediately.

  • Personalized content: The content is based on the user's viewing history, making the recommendations relevant.

  • Minimal text: The focus on visuals over text caters to the modern consumer's preference for quick, visually appealing content that's easy to digest.

Marie Curie's geolocation-based campaign for the Great Daffodil Appeal

Marie Curie's personalized email campaign for The Great Daffodil Appeal is an exemplary case of using geolocation data for email personalization. 

The charity gathered supporter's geolocation data and matched it to their database of collection sites, integrating a real-time personalized map into their email campaign. This map showed supporters their nearest collection sites based on their current location.

Why this works:

  • Relevance through geolocation: By incorporating geolocation data, Marie Curie provided supporters with information that was immediately relevant and useful to them.

  • Engagement with personalized maps: Real-time maps personalized the supporter's experience, making them feel directly involved and connected to the cause.

  • Targeted emails: The campaign used data modeling to target the population most likely to engage based on collection history and previous interactions, making the campaign more effective.

  • Result-driven strategy: This personalized approach led to an increase in registrations, particularly online sign-ups, demonstrating the effectiveness of personalized, location-based content to drive engagement and participation.

These examples showcase the effectiveness of personalized email marketing when executed with a deep understanding of the target audience's preferences and behaviors. By focusing on relevant content, visual appeal, emotional connections, and timely interactions, these brands successfully engage their customers in a meaningful way, enhancing brand loyalty and driving conversions.

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