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Dear Idiot: Personalise without peril

August 19, 2016

Personalising your email marketing campaign can lift results by up to 800%. People like to feel special and not just a number in a crowd. They like to feel that your brand knows and values them.


But the more you personalise, the more there is to go wrong. Badly personalised emails stand out in the inbox and the email blunders that make the news often feature a personalisation fail. Just getting an email saying ‘Hi Chris’ when that’s not your name feels insulting. Expand into other areas such as job role, life events, gender and it can be even more offensive if it’s wrong.

And if it's your campaign then, take it from me, it’s a really bad day at the office!

So if you want the benefits without the mistakes follow the tips below.

First stop: Your data

How good is your data, really? If it's unreliable, inconsistent or badly filled out by sales people your personalisation may fail. Look carefully at the data before uploading it to your ESP to avoid disaster. Remember if in doubt, leave it out. No greeting at all is better than some readers getting ‘Dear Unknown’ or, merging in an insult written by the sales person.

Test and test again

You should be taking great care when personalising. Don't spend all your time on the design and then drop the personalisation element in at the end without checking. You need to see how your email works using the data, not just the test version using your own email address. 

What are your fall backs?

What happens if the person you’re emailing doesn’t have that field in their data?  How will the email look? Make sure you have a fall back here or that the personalisation disappears altogether. Emails should not go out saying ‘Hi unknown’ or ‘%%N/A%%'.

Be subtle     

I’ve seen examples of personalisation that are so subtle they would not cause offence if the data turned out to be wrong. For example, if you personalised on location you might ‘suggest’ their location with a picture of eg. London or Edinburgh. This is much better than saying ‘As you are based in London’ because if it’s wrong it won't look like a mistake.  

A little humility

As with the location example above don’t tell the reader who they are. Instead of sending an event invite only allowing them to visit the Manchester store, say ‘Our records show your nearest store is Manchester’ with a link to allow them to change this.

Data is not set in stone and people’s location, marital status, occupation etc. can easily change. 

Posted by Jenni Malley

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