Why Your Email Personalization Might Fail

By Meg Columbia-Walsh, CEO and Co-Founder, Wylei

According to Evergage, 89 percent of the digital marketers they surveyed reported an overall lift from personalization efforts. What pitfalls can you avoid to ensure you’re doing it well?

Every marketer would like to personalize, but the things that make personalization effective also make it difficult. Building a personal message takes time, effort, data analysis and a lot of content. When it’s done well, you have relevant content that suits your individual audience members, but when faced with the hard process of tailoring content or blasting another email, many will choose the easy route. By overcoming these five challenges, you will be in the rare group of marketers that effectively personalize emails and reap the benefits of increased engagement and reduced churn.

1. The Silo Problem

To effectively personalize your email marketing, you will need to overcome data silos that restrict the free flow of your customer data (e.g., CRM data, search data, purchase history). Every organization has rich data on their customers and their prospects, but that data sits in a variety of places and lacks a unifying platform. Leveraging your known data and converting it into a usable, aggregated format takes tremendous effort.

According to Harvard Business Review, “What companies need are systems that can run the advanced analytics to discover useful and practical insights and then trigger the sending of appropriate messaging.”

Organizational siloes exist as well. Does your retention marketing team share nicely with your acquisition team? Many companies struggle with internal silos that don’t want to share data or tools. Your CRM team does not want anyone to access or foul up their prized possession, and they don’t want your API calls to slow down performance, either.

Evergage notes, “When asked why their organizations have not yet adopted website or in-app personalization, 39 percent of marketers indicated that the top barriers are a lack of effective solution/technology, budget constraints and a lack of knowledge/skills/people. Other barriers include insufficient integration and consistency across all marketing channels, not enough time, bad quality/dirty data and scalability across sites, to name a few.”

2. Lack of Data Analytics

Getting all of your data into one place leads to your next challenge: How can you analyze the data and spot patterns that yield actionable insights? The only manageable way to analyze your customer and contextual data is to use machine learning to identify patterns and optimize your content selections.

Most data analysis efforts fail to get beyond simple segmentation, which forces the marketer to make assumptions about a group and effectively undermines your personalization efforts. Sending someone a coupon because they bought from you when you sent them a coupon before is not very personal, and it’s not a good strategy.

3. Policies and Rules for Real-Time Email Content

If you get your data coordinated and it yields meaningful insight into how to personalize your content, you will quickly reach the next challenge: How do we put this data to work to personalize the content that you show your audience? Most marketers today will use policy-based rules to select their content. They select a group and apply the same “personalization” to each member of that group…it sounds more like profiling than personalization. You went into marketing to drive creative ways of taking your product to market and engaging customers, not to become an “if x, then y” programmer.

A large online wine seller recently received accolades for its 1:1 marketing efforts. The company’s personalization campaign sent more targeted messages to their buyers with an understanding of their tastes, region and buying history. Upon closer review of their program, the vendor shared that it took more than nine months to build the logic that drove the content selection process.

4. Why Your Efforts May Fail: Content Creation

If you do garner meaningful data insights from your data analysis and build a testable hypothesis for what content should be delivered at each step of the buyer’s interaction with your brand, then you reach the next hurdle: making the content. It will take great content—and a lot of it.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “Content fuels personalization…This puts a significant onus on developing a strong content ‘supply chain’ fed by designers, copywriters, animators and videographers. All content attributes can and should be tested regularly…to refine the look and feel and tone, calls to action, and the value proposition.” 

5. Patience

If you have a great content team and can crank out relevant assets for each requirement in your buyer’s education process, then consider yourself lucky and brace yourself for the final challenge: Effectively using data to personalize your marketing takes time and patience to yield results.

Will you and your organization stay patient as emails go unopened and links go unclicked? Do you have the stomach and does your organization have the perseverance to keep your personalized marketing efforts going? Or will you fall back on blasting out more coupons to spike sales and churn through your database?

With stats showing that consumers want fewer emails and more relevant content in their inbox, you should make the case that personalization is not going to be optional in the near future.

  • Marketing

Meg Columbia-Walsh has achieved recognition as a proven entrepreneur and visionary for marketing, digital, social, mobile, consumer marketing and pharma business processes. As CEO of Wylei, she leads her fifth start-up during her 20-year career in healthcare, consumer packaged goods and technology. She has founded, run and exited multiple companies, including Inverse Mobile (sold to EY); (sold to Pharmacia and Upjohn); CBS Healthwatch (moved to an IPO and then sold to WebMD); and HealthTech Digital Communications (sold to Interpublic Group). In addition, she has held leadership roles across multiple industries and business units, including Cognizant Digital Works Strategy Consulting.

Columbia-Walsh has served as Head of Healthcare for Facebook, where she focused on demonstrating the power of the platform for healthcare advertisers and agencies to drive meaningful partnerships. She was also named a partner and the global lead in digital healthcare at EY, where her expertise fully transformed the digital ecosystem for EY’s Life Science clients. She also served as president of Augume Mobile Health Group, a full-service mobile technology firm, where she earned and managed the mobile agency of record for Pfizer, J&J, BI, Abbott Diabetes and Merck. Prior to that role, she was President of Havas Drive, a Euro RSCG technology company recognized as a Med Ad News Vision Award winner.

Columbia-Walsh is widely recognized as one of the most successful women tech entrepreneurs and CEOs. She was named to the NJBIZ Top 50 Women in Business and has been featured in notable business publications, including Forbes magazine, PM360, MM&M and more. She was recently honored with the 2017 Ogilvy Innovator Award and has received more than 20 awards.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business, communications, pre-med and women’s studies from Rider University.

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