Keeping your customers engaged and your brand top of mind is one of the great challenges marketers face today. The fact our smartphones allow brands to keep in constant contact with us is also the reason it can be difficult to be heard above the noise of other messages. Add in the ease of channel hopping (social networks, apps, games, news sites, video, music etc.), the mental filtering we have developed and ever diminishing attention spans and the challenge to be memorable increases.

Fortunately, the modern marketer has an ever growing array of tools and platforms to work with and an enormous amount of data to base decisions on. What’s required is a considered approach, one that is based around what your customers really want – and that takes research and testing.

Now more than ever, personalisation is critical. And I mean proper personalisation. Gone are the days when having our name in the email was novel, even loosely targeted emails based on things like gender or past purchases alone is no longer enough. Our expectations have changed and we quickly tune out if marketing messages don’t resonate.

The big guns are making it work

Two of the leaders in the field of targeting using behavioural data and learning engines are Amazon and Netflix, the latter’s global recommendation engine is said to be worth $1 billion to the business because of its effect on customer retention. The figures for Amazon Prime are equally impressive with 73% of 30-day trial users converting to paid members. Annual renewal rates are 91% after year one and 96% for year two. Clearly, there’s something in this personalisation lark!

The best marketers are now using systems that profile us on the fly, layering real-time information over more static data such as geo-demographics and purchase history as well as plugging in multiple strands from websites, social media, mobile apps and location data.

So how can this be applied to email marketing, where do you start and what messages should you send?

We’re now back to our considered approach. The tools are out there and so is the data – but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Some ideas on email strategy can be found here.

Like many of us, I receive at least one email per day from Amazon, some of which are for things I have already bought or resurrected browse data for things I looked at ages ago. Personally, I think they email me too much and that their targeting could be better but I don’t unsubscribe because they’re Amazon and I buy from them frequently. They can get away with it but most business can’t. So to avoid a jump in unsubscribes or, worse still ‘this is junk’ hits, most of us have to formulate a strategy and start off slowly, testing and monitoring along the way.


I bought 18 of these last December (they looked suitable for a mulled wine party) – perhaps Amazon thinks I run a coffee shop so would like some more!

The truth is out there


As email marketers, we already have many of the tools and data to send smarter messages – both manual and using automation. Right now we are able to select lists of people who have opened our emails and clicked on various links. Basic tracking allows us to follow those clicks to our website where browse information can be collected. We know our customers purchase history and physical address, we may even know their gender and be able to guess their family status from past purchases and browse data.

This is enough to enter the personalisation game at a reasonable level without having to develop your own global recommendation engine!

I love it when a plan comes together

Once you have identified your key data you’ll need to analyse it based on your business goals. The tighter your goals the better so something more than ‘increased revenues’ is required. Then look at what you need to send in terms of frequency, email type and recipient profiles to realistically achieve those goals.

Put together a testing plan that runs alongside your email activity, splitting out test segments to determine what works and what doesn’t and rolling out the successes to the rest of your email subscribers. There’s more on what to test with your email marketing here.

If you’re not already sending at least some highly personalised emails now is the time to start, and if you are, now is the time to increase the sophistication of your email personalisation.

Mobile, mobile, mobile


Think mobile first as pretty much all of us do when it comes to being online – our smartphones are our go-to devices for everything these days, overlapping and meshing with every aspect of our lives. This means marketers need to think when and where emails will be read and how the information in them will be used. Factor in the time of day you send marketing emails and adjust the message accordingly – an email opened at 7am is likely to be during a work commute whereas an open at 7pm is more likely to be someone sat on their sofa at home. If your call to action is to make an online purchase, it’s the 7pm person who has more time and head space to make that decision.

For weekend campaigns, consider a lunch time deal if you’re a restaurant – better still if you can use geo-targeting and direct people to a nearby outlet. If you’re a retailer, align your message more to an in-store offer – I’m more likely to visit your shop and buy then and there rather than ‘showroom’ you and it also increases your knowledge about my buying habits which can be used to drive repeat purchases.

Look at feeding in customer reviews, recommendations and detailed product information to bring products to life as it’s easier for us to get closer to the virtual world now that we spend so much of our time there. Think about how your email marketing can work with social networks, apps and video – the more touch points you create the more memorable your brand will become and if it’s done with consideration, the more trusted and useful you become to your customers.

You’re part of my life now


This is contextual personalisation, expanding the usefulness of email and integrating it seamlessly with your overall marketing effort and, more importantly, with people’s lives. It is this that makes your emails recommended reading.