According to Litmus, personalization and dynamic content is the number one trend for email design in 2019.
With a quick Google search, you can find hundreds of stats and case studies of companies and brands that made incredible improvements in their email metrics simply by adding some dynamic content to their emails, making them more personalized to the individual subscriber.
However, designing beautiful-looking, responsive emails while using highly personalized email content might be tricky for some.
We want to explore the correlation between professional-looking email design and personalized dynamic email content.
And answer the question: Can we do both?
What is email personalization?
Email personalization is the email marketing process of using the personal information on each member of your email list to create and send targeted emails.
Personalized emails are great because they provide subscribers and users with more relevant information, that interests them specifically, instead of the generic, “mass-produced” email content, that attempts to accommodate to all customer types.
The information and data you collect on every individual in your email list can be used in your email marketing strategy to create personalized emails that will create the feeling of a 1:1 experience with each subscriber
The goal behind email personalization is to make the large-scale emails feel like they are 1 to 1 emails and were tailor-made to the specific individual. The objective is to build a stronger relationship with each subscriber, and ultimately convert them into loyal, long-term customers.
The data you collect and use in your email marketing can be your subscribers’ names, the last products they purchased, the last pages they viewed on your blog, where they live, their birthdays, how many times they looked at a specific type of product, when they last used your application, etc.
Level of Personalization
There are different levels of email personalization ranging from basic personalization, such as mentioning your subscriber’s first name in the subject line, to advanced personalization that requires utilizing different types of data to alter the content of the email entirely based on the individual.
Why is email personalization important?
Email personalization is the number one trend in email for 2 years in a row, according to “The State of Email Marketing” study conducted by Litmus.
38% of email marketers confirmed that improving email personalization was their number one email marketing goal.
This is due to the fact that email personalization is a proven, full-proof technique to improve email marketing metrics.
In fact, email personalization has been guaranteed to boost email ROI, increase email engagement rates, which in turn improve the sender’s reputation, and increase open rates.
36% of email marketers chose personalization as the most effective email tactic.
In other studies, more than 50% of respondents found that email personalization is the most effective out of all other email marketing and design techniques.
This is due to the multiple benefits of email personalization. In fact, this email tactic helps improve email metrics, from higher open rates and click-through rates to lower unsubscribe rates. Email marketers have also indicated that email personalization helps them increase sales and customer satisfaction, by making the emailing experience more customized to the individual.
What are the email personalization challenges?
According to the 2019 Email Marketing Survey, 23% of marketers chose personalized emails as both the most effective type of email marketing technique and the most difficult type of emails to produce.
Producing personalized emails basically comes down to manipulating data. And dealing with data doesn’t come naturally to all marketers.
Email personalization has been listed as the most difficult email tactic to implement. Email marketers find it hard to create and send personalized emails, whether in the data collection phase or designing highly personalized email designs.
Email personalization & responsive email design
We asked 11 email experts a series of questions about email personalization and design:
Which is more important: responsive email design, or email personalization?
How to create highly personalized emails without compromising the responsiveness and aesthetics of the email design?
What are the biggest mistakes that email marketers make when creating/designing personalized emails?
Feel free to jump to the question and answers that interest you the most. We have compiled the experts’ answers and provided examples in each section, to help you get the most out of every piece of advice.
Without email responsiveness, personalization is wasted
Responsiveness comes first. It doesn’t matter if the email is personal if the recipient can’t read it. Amy Hall
Amy is a results-driven email marketing strategist who provides creative consulting, strategic planning, and meticulous implementation services for growing businesses. @GeniuneAmyHall
Amy Hall, email strategist and consultant, makes a good point. If your subscribers can’t easily read an email, then the personalized messages don’t really matter anymore.
A few years ago, we used to advocate for the importance of responsive email design, but today, this is no longer an option or a choice that email marketers have to make.
With over 42% of emails opened on mobile (both smartphones and tablets), mobile responsiveness is a must.
But remember: The goal is to Convert!
In my opinion, you need to have a well-designed and built template in order to achieve 1:1 personalization easily. Just because an email has been built using a template doesn’t mean that you’re compromising on aesthetics. But also remember, we’re in this business to achieve conversions, not just to deliver aesthetically pleasing emails. Kath Pay
As the Founder of Holistic Email Marketing, Kath Pay devotes her time to developing customer-centric eCommerce journeys using a holistic, multi-channel approach. A renowned international speaker, Kath is recognized as one of the UK’s leading Email Marketers. @KathPay
Kath Pay, the founder of Holistic Email Marketing, acknowledges the importance of a well-designed email template but reminds us that the goal behind email marketing is, and will always be to convert.
So if we had to choose between an aesthetically pleasing email or a highly personalized email, we would have to answer the question: which one will convert more?
We know that email personalization is the most effective email tactic, for 2 years in a row. But is it still as effective in a plain text email?
Plain text vs email design
Email design shouldn’t be limited in any aspect. If you have a vision of how your email template will look like, the email code or your email builder of choice shouldn’t stop from fulfilling that vision. How your email looks is something that you can control. It should adapt to your email content, and if you want to include dynamic content in your email message you should be able to do so. Roland Pokornyik
Roland is the CEO, Co-founder of EDMdesigner.com / Chamaileon.io. A retired bass player, husband, and father, he helps companies speed up their email production processes and is on a quest to figure out what makes an email stand out in any crowded inbox. @RolFic
I don’t think personalizing emails should limit the design in any way. Zoran Orak
We couldn’t have phrased it better. Email content personalization shouldn’t limit the email design and its responsiveness in any way.
However, you should always keep in mind the specificities of your email during the design process, and come up with a flexible email layout that best presents your email message.
I’ve found that personalization rarely impacts design if you design the email to be flexible enough to accommodate personalized content. If the content is text, allow the text area to expand/contract based on the amount of content. If it is visual, have an established placement for the personalized imagery. Adam Holden-Bache
Author of “How to Win at B2B Email Marketing: A Guide to Achieving Success” and Director of Email Marketing at Enventys Partners. @adamholdenbache
But for those of you out there who are still a bit hesitant to create and send personalized emails, it can be a bit tricky.
Throughout the rest of the article, we will give you pro tips to avoid sending broken personalized emails and be more confident using personalization tactics.
How to design highly personalized emails without compromising responsive email design?
Start by personalizing the email Subject Line
The first point (and the most important one) of personalizing an email is in the subject line – no impact on the design, yet just by doing this you’ll see better performance with your emails. Zoran Orak
Helps businesses develop and implement a profitable email automation strategy with a mix of common sense and magic @ZoranOrak
The subject line (and preview text) are responsible for open rates. It is the first interaction that your subscribers will have with your email.
Experts argue that email personalization is not just adding a name to the subject line. But that doesn’t mean giving up on subject line personalization completely.
It is the easiest form of email personalization and has absolutely no impact on the quality of your email design.
Subject line personalization can go beyond including your subscriber’s first name. Zoran goes on to explain that “personalization in email subject lines can be a mention of something we know that the subscriber is interested in.
Let’s say for example that we know our subscriber has browsed women’s perfumes when they last checked out our online store. Based on that, we can mention women’s perfumes in the subject line (and include a tempting offer in the email message). And there we go, we have successfully achieved email personalization and sent an email that is relevant to our subscriber.”
However, it’s important to add a fallback personalization tag, that will replace any personalized content in your email subject line, in case there is a shortage of data.
Make sure that the fallback tag is connected to your email content, and that it would make sense for any type of subscriber.
Here’s an example, courtesy of CampaignMonitor.
If the subscriber had provided their first name during registration, this is what they will see.
If not, the fallback tag is set in motion, and the subscriber sees this.
Here’s an example of bad email personalization. This is basically what not to do.
Use Modular email design
Modular email design absolutely makes personalization easier. That’s a big reason that modular email build systems are growing. Modularity makes email personalization much easier to execute and, if done thoughtfully, doesn’t have to detract from your email’s aesthetics. Chad S. White
Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. Chad is also the author of “Email Marketing Rules” and the Email Experience Council’s 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. @chadswhite
What is a Modular (email) design?
Modular email design is an HTML email design approach that consists of building a flexible email template using modular email content blocks.
You are basically breaking your email template design into small parts. Those small parts are the modules. Each module (or email block) is created independently. Modules are then combined together to come up with a complete and responsive email template.
This email design approach is very efficient. Because each email block is designed separately, email modules can be exchanged, added, removed, and rearranged, making email template design extremely quick, customizable, and easy. Additionally, the email blocks can be reused over and over, which maximizes productivity.
The best example of modular design is IKEA furniture. Let’s take this bookcase for example. Thanks to the modular design, customers can rearrange the furniture blocks and come up with multiple different pieces of furniture.
Each block is independent of the other. And that’s what makes it flexible, scalable, reusable, customizable, and cost-efficient.
Modular email design & email personalization
Modular email design is a very smart solution to facilitate email personalization and avoid any issues that might occur.
Chad S. White, head of research at Oracle Marketing Consulting, showcases the benefits of using modular email design to help preserve the aesthetics and responsiveness of email templates.
For example, in our 2019 Email Design Look Book, we feature a highly personalized email from Grammarly that has a highly modular design but is very inviting and easy to follow.
Email subject line: Now Available: Your Writing Stats from Last Week
Our Look Book also highlights an email from Alaska Airlines that integrates its modularity seamlessly into an overall design structure that doesn’t read as blocky at all.
Email Subject Line: [Name], let’s celebrate a year of going places.
Segment your email list for easier personalization
Primarily, our recommendation is to change what content you show to which visitors so that it’s more curated per the individual or segments. Treat your customers like people you know. If you knew your dad needed a screwdriver would you send him to Walmart 20 miles away or to the gas station down the street? It’s much easier to find a screwdriver at the gas station and a lot faster because the amount of stuff is smaller. Same thing applies to emails. Curate your emails to serve customers directly and business thrives. Matthew Smith
Matthew is the CEO and Founder of Really Good Emails, he also runs the digital design studio, Fathom & Draft. @whale
Email revenue from segmented email campaigns has increased by 760%. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. Imagine combining the power of email segmentation and email personalization.
But, segmentation and personalization are NOT the same things. You’ve heard this a million times before. And while this is absolutely true, the two concepts are not far from each other, and actually, work best together.
Let’s break it down:
- Segmentation is when you divide your email list into smaller email lists (groups and sub-groups) based on one or more segmentation criteria (age, location, gender, interests, etc.)
- Personalization is when you use individual subscriber data in your email content to create 1:1 experienced.
Basically, you can segment your email list based on Location. Within each segment, you can send out personalized emails using dynamic email content that makes the email feel like it was made specifically for each individual. You can use basic personalization like the name merge tags. Or use something a little bit more advanced, like individual customer past purchase behavior.
What is the best email production process for highly personalized emails?
Make sure you have ALL the records to retrieve data from
Our production process for personalized emails is similar to any other campaign except we also test to make sure all the variable content is inserted correctly and we review the data to make sure all records have the required data to populate the email correctly. The QA process will also include additional testing of the personalized content. Adam Holden
If you want to personalize your emails, it’s pretty obvious that you need the necessary data about each subscriber on your email list. Depending on the goal and the content of your email, you need to collect personal information, such as your subscriber’s name, age, address, gender, birthdate, or behavioral data, such as the last products they looked at, their last purchases, the last articles they browsed, etc.
The more data you collect, the more thorough your personalization will be.
The data you collect on your email list will also allow you to improve your email list segmentation, which in turn will help you create more homogenized sub-segments.
Email personalization data sources
To collect data about your customers, you can:
- Create gated content
- Have social media contests
- Use Google Analytics and campaign statistics from your ESP
- Simply ask your customers and subscribers! This is a straightforward method that will help you collect very pertinent and correct data about your subscribers. Check out this podcast hosted by Really Good Email’s Matthew Smith and Mike Nelson, and Litmus’s Jason Rodriguez, where they provide us with some very interesting ways you can collect and use data to create awesome personalized emails.
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Craft an offer for each of your segments
No matter how beautiful your email is, if your offer stinks, no one will buy. Zoran Orak
Just like Kath Pay mentioned, the goal of emails is to convert. And if you want your subscribers to go through with your call to action, you should incentivize them properly.
You need to present each one of your segments with a value proposition they would be interested in. But how will you know what your motivates your customers? The answer is easy: simply ask them.
Jordie Van Rijn, email expert and columnist, explains this with a great example of how you can use personalization to catch the attention of each subscriber and increase your chances of converting them.
Here’s what he had to say:
[Let’s take the example of a] printing on-demand service for your pictures.
When people subscribe, the printing agency asks “what is your favorite subject to take photos about? Is it nature, family, travel, sports, babies?” What an odd question you might think because, after all, aren’t all albums sort of the same no matter what pictures you put inside?
Yes, they are – but when the subscriber receives their welcome email, they will see the right – personalized – image on their product shots.
Let’s say a subscriber chooses babies – well, in their welcome email, they’ll see an image of those babies. For those who chose nature, seeing babies everywhere would be a big turn-off. And so on.
Take a minute and think about how your customers are using your product. Jordie Van Rijn
Email marketing consultant, columnist, and customer philosopher. @jvanrijn
Highly flexible, well-designed Master template
Necessary ingredients [for a successful personalized email]: Highly flexible, well-designed and built Master Template that includes modules that have been designed and included for specific use cases. Kath Pay
A master email template is an email design that is used as the base for creating other emails. Designing a master template is helpful, not only when designing personalized emails, but also when designing any email, no matter what the goal is. Master templates are composed of different email content blocks, that can be edited, duplicated, or removed, in order to adapt it to the goal and content of the email.
Master templates are very useful, especially for bigger or distributed teams. The main (central) marketing team can design a master template containing pre-designed blocks, each serving a specific goal.
When it comes to your personalized emails, creating a master template with different email blocks will help guide your email personalization strategy and optimize your flow, while maintaining full control over who receives what.
A predesigned master template will also help you to make sure that your branding guidelines are always respected, no matter what campaign you are sending.
If you are looking to design a highly flexible master email template composed of saved email blocks, you can use Chamaileon. Our email builder allows you to design and save email content blocks for specific use cases, and save them in your workspace. You don’t need to share the email code or duplicate the master template countless times. All you need to do is save the email blocks in a shared folder. Every team member who has access to your workspace can easily find and reuse the content block, without ever changing the main, saved block that you designed.
What does the ideal email personalization process look like?
So, what does the ideal email personalization process looks like? After compiling all the experts’ responses, the perfect email production process for personalized emails looks a little something like this:
- Start by asking questions to collect the proper data on your customers.
- Segment your email lists based on the segmentation criteria that you select.
- Curate your email content.
- Design your master email template, while taking personalization into account. Use pre-designed email content blocks to
- preserve the quality of your design.
- Send your email campaign. And keep track of performance.
What are the biggest email personalization mistakes?
According to email experts, the worst email personalization mistakes are:
- Collecting data without actually using it
- Not testing the personalized email before sending it
- Ignoring GDRP restrictions
- Not being customer-centric
- Not keeping track of your email performance
Collecting data without using it
The biggest fail story is that clients collect tons of data without using them in a meaningful way. The biggest fault is, when clients upload a new list for each send out – instead of updating the existing one. With that practice, the system can’t use any “historical” user data from the address which prevents segmentation as well. Florian Vierke
Florian Vierke is the Sr. Deliverability Manager, Deliverability at Mapp Digital. He blogs regularly on Mapp’s blog and inboxplacement.com. Florian runs a Youtube show about email deliverability on Deliverability.TV. @florian4ke
Please use the data you gather! You don’t? Well, it’s the right time to start doing so. We have the tools to gather data, analyze them and use them to start nailing our email campaigns! Find out what they viewed, opened, clicked, purchased, how much time they stayed on each page, I mean everything! Then you can segment, set up automation based on their actions, personalize, send relevant content. Marina Kostopoulou
Marina and Florian both make a great point. What is the use of gathering data and not using it? Dealing with data doesn’t come naturally to a lot of marketers. After all, we are not data analysts. In fact, when asked about the main challenges faced when trying to implement email personalization, 55% of marketers responded by “Integrating data”. But it doesn’t have to be so intimidating and overwhelming.
How to use customer data for email personalization?
Here are a couple of tips that will help you get started:
- Start by asking yourself: What is appropriate to know?
You want to collect pertinent data you can use in a smart way that makes sense to your brand and to your email goal. For example, a SAAS company offering a B2B pricing model solution wouldn’t necessarily need to know the gender of their subscribers, as this information has little to no impact on their purchasing behavior. It would be useless to collect this information. It is, however, interesting to collect information about the user’s company or their blog browsing history, as this will reveal insights on their needs.
2. Create a data inventory
You need to be able to answer the following questions: what information do you have? How far back does it go? What are your main data collection sources? These questions will help you figure out what kind of data you have and what you need to start collecting. The organization is key. Keep all your data stored in one place so that you don’t miss anything.
We can basically create custom emails for each one of our visitors, or users. Data is the key, and there is no better moment, when almost everything is doable, to unlock our own success! Marina Kostopoulou
Marina is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Moosend, one of the top email marketing and marketing automation platforms. @moosend
Not testing the email before sending
Thank goodness for test emails. I had inserted a first name merge tag that didn’t insert because the first name wasn’t populating with the first name merge tag. Merge tags are awesome and frustrating at the same time. Amy Hall
By now, we all know the importance of testing emails before hitting send. It is an imperative step in any email campaign, whether it includes some dynamic content or not. You can start by previewing your email inside your email builder. This will allow you to visualize how your email looks on mobile and on desktop, and make changes to the email design.
Send test emails from your email builder or ESP. This will allow you to catch design or content mistakes that you didn’t notice before and will help you look at your email from the perspective of email receivers.
Finally, you can use third-party tools, such as Litmus and Email On Acid. These email testers are great because they allow you to view your email in multiple email clients, browsers and mobile versions.
Testing your email is a very important step to any email campaign. It helps you get a fresher perspective and catch mistakes before it’s too late.
Not caring about GDPR
Do only collect data that you’ll be able to use later. GDPR has brought a broader experience about best-practices, but still a lot of marketers fail at the very basics. Florian Vierke
GDPR or the General Data Protection Regulation is a set of EU regulations that aim at protecting consumers by increasing their privacy and the control they hold over their personal data and how it is used by companies. GDPR is applied to all organizations working in any of the member states in Europe.
However, the GDPR scope affects, directly and indirectly, all other countries, even the US. Indeed, the GDPR has an extraterritorial scope, meaning that even companies outside of Europe (and the EU) are somewhat obligated to comply with the data protection regulations.
We are also witnessing some major shifts in the US regulations, with the abolition of Net Neutrality and the major Consumer Privacy Act in California, the US is starting to take notice of the importance of consumer data protection, and are on their way to come up with their own version of the European GDPR.
👉 If you want to know more about how GDPR affects US businesses, download our detailed ebook.
The put into effect of GDPR had some impact on businesses. More than 15% of brands saw their email lists shrink between 10% to 25% in size.
However, 19% of brands saw almost no effect on their email list sizes. And 41.5% of brands had less than 10% decrease in list size, which might seem like a huge loss, but in retrospect, this “list cleaning” has a positive impact on their deliverability and engagement metrics.
GDPR actually has more benefits than you would think. By complying with GDPR regulations, you show to your customer base that you are transparent and that you respect their privacy and put them first, which has a positive impact on your branding.
Not being customer-centric
It is important to remember that personalization does not guarantee a good email, it still has to deliver value to the recipient so choose your personalization wisely. There is no point in inviting me to a local Marketing event if I am in HR for example. It’s personalized but still irrelevant so you need to use all the data you have available and think things through thoroughly. Joolz Joseph
Joolz has over 25 years of sales and marketing experience, with 15 years as an email specialist. She’s a member of the IDM and a CIM Fellow, and works as a trainer and consultant. @JoolzJoseph
Personalization is service to the customer. If your personalization is only serving you, then you’re doing it wrong. – Matthew Smith
Personalization is at the heart of a customer-centric approach. Customer centricity, or client centricity, is when a business focuses on building a strong relationship with their customers, placing the customer’s best interest at the heart of their decision-making processes.
You need to be able to show your customers that you care enough about them that you go the extra mile to get to know them. “Personalization is a service to the customer”, meaning that personalized content should not only benefit you but your customers as well. We’ve been praising email personalization, and talking about how it has great positive impacts on your email engagement metrics. But we have to look beyond the numbers and think about how embedding a few merge tags in your email content would affect the relationship between you and your customers.
The bottom line is: Are you personalizing your emails to provide an added value to your customers, or are you personalizing your emails just to say that you personalize your emails?
Here are a relatively simple example from Really Good Emails. If you’ve been following them for a while, you know that they are great at creating fun and engaging emails using dynamic content.
Our colleague Gergely received this email and was very excited about it. He was both impressed and intrigued. When a subscriber sees their name and photo in a company email, they will definitely look twice before thinking of exiting the email. This type of personalization benefits the subscriber (it is fun and engaging) as well as the company (higher click-through rates).
In a podcast where they discussed this specific email, RGE said that they even noticed other subscribers update their profile picture, so that they can receive emails like this one in the future.
Bonus Tip: Personalize your cold emails
We know that marketers often struggle with cold emails. So if you want to grab the attention of your prospect, you can use the power of personalization by collecting pertinent data on your target and sending them a personalized email.
Look for recent guest posts, LinkedIn Pulse articles or other pieces of content developed by the people you’ll be reaching out to. Then, personalize your cold emails with a compliment on the specific content piece. Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel is a co-founder at Right Inbox. He has over 14 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit, and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies. @sujanpatel
Not keeping track of email performance
Personalization is an art (think Covert vs Overt personalization) and we, as marketers need to plan it out carefully and above all test it. But when testing, don’t just test it on a campaign. by campaign basis, test it based on metrics such as increased AOV, CLTV, etc. Personalization affects much more than just the campaign – it can increase loyalty as well. Kath Pay
Just like we mentioned above, testing your email campaign is absolutely crucial. However, testing shouldn’t be restricted to evaluating how the email template would look like on different email clients only. Testing your email, in this case, means evaluating its performance.
After all, why go through the trouble of collecting and interpreting data, coming up with a pertinent email copy and designing a responsive email template, just to never look back at it in the end.
Every email campaign should be a learning opportunity for your email team. Especially for those who haven’t ventured in dynamic content yet, now is the time to start.
How to keep track of your email performance?
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Create a data inventory: collect all the raw data you have from previous campaigns in one place. You don’t need expensive tools for this: a simple Excel or Spreadsheet will do. You can find this data in your email service provider.
- What are the email metrics you can measure:
- Open Rate: Opened emails / Delivered Emails
- Click Rate: Clicks / Delivered Emails
- Opt-Out Rate: Opt-Out / Delivered Emails
- Bounce Rate: Bounce / Delivered Emails
- Conversion Rate: Conversion Number / Delivered Emails
- Find a way to keep track of all your data: Most ESPs will lose your email metrics after a certain period of time. That’s why you need to come up with an easy and secure way to collect and archive your data before it gets lost or deleted.
- Collect data over time: The more data you have, the more you can improve your email campaigns, and determine what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t be afraid to try out new things in email marketing and to think outside the box. A good place to start email personalization would be to take a look at what others in your industry are doing. Get inspired by what’s out there and adapt it to your audience. Listen to your customers and determine what they value most.