Inauthentic Email Marketing Personalization

ID-100234288 (1)A lot of aspects of email marketing get lumped into good and bad categories.  One such aspect is personalization.  The more personalized the better.  In some ways that is true.  If you can cater content to a particular audience to ensure relevancy then personalization is good.  However many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches don’t have an infrastructure or list size to make segmentation   practical.  So instead they “personalize” by adding a form field name to the top of a newsletter or offer email.  This is inauthentic personalization where the communication is meant for a group but contains superficial personalized elements.

Personalized email means its set up for a particular person or audience.  Trying to make general communication personalized is often a transparent effort that has no measurable effect on metrics. We recently ran a test on a client’s stock newsletter that had always included a first name.  There was no measurable difference when we tested a version with a name vs. a version without.  The audience understood that they were receiving a company communication not intended as a personal message, therefore the added name was just superficial.

Adding a name to something like a newsletter usually does not do any harm but it’s also not creating a personal connection.  Generally people can identify when they see a form field in an email.  Real problems arise when trainers, consultants, and professional coaches attempt personal messages delivered in a mass communication method.

Recently a client asked about doing an email campaign to local business owners. The campaign included a report specific to their geographic target.  Furthermore they had generated a list of business owners of the applicable size and industry verticals.  Seems like the perfect setup for a true personalized email right?

The issue was that they wanted the emails to come from individual consultants in their office as if the consultant had typed it.  The reason for this is that each consultant was to be assigned a particular business owner to call and offer a customized analysis of how the report related to their business. The plan was to run the emails through an email marketing platform.

The emails from an email marketing platform have to include SPAM compliance information and opt-out instructions.  That’s non-negotiable so it served as a clear give away that the consultant had not actually written an email to the business owner but rather done a group blast.

Instead of doing an inauthentic personalized send we restructured the email to send from the companies actual email addresses.  Furthermore, the groups were broken down into smaller sections that allowed for very specific customization by demographics.  The result was that it was more time consuming to get the emails out but responses were better as the emails were actually personalized.

Inauthentic personalization might make you feel like the email is “better” but often has no real impact. If personalization is desired then an effort need made to actually personalize it.

Image courtesy of cuteimage/

Website Maintenance: It’s just got to work

Many times the complex can blind us to the simple.  This is true in online and email marketing campaigns.  We become immersed in metrics, schedules, and best practices to refine our online campaigns to their top performance.  That is admirable unless we let the simple items slip.  Stripping away all the complex online marketing vehicles that are available we are left with our website, and it just has to work.

It’s a good idea to do functional checks on your website.  This includes submitting test versions of forms or surveys to make sure they function properly.  Few things can make as bad an impression as a form or link that is broken.  In fact when this happens all the online and email marketing are an exercise in futility.  Even if people get to the site they won’t have the ability to take a next step in engagement.

Remember your website is your central point of contact for most online and email marketing.  Make sure that it is perfectly functional so that interested parties can take advantage of your offers and are left with a positive experience.

Don’t Get Caught Up in “Best Practices” – Even Short Subject Lines

There are a lot of online marketing best practices that float around that people take as hard and fast rules.  This can be a big mistake.  Best practices are great guidelines.  They are often a head start for people that are just getting started.  But it’s like pre-school, it lays a foundation so that we’re prepared to actually learn.  Use best practices as guidelines but use metrics and common sense for making the best online marketing decisions.

A recent article from Marketing Experiments is a good illustration of best practices taken too far.  I’ve recently heard this same principle taken even farther.  The new best practice for email subjects being promoted is 5 – 8 Words maximum with 5 as a target.  This has runaway best practice written all over it.   I’m used to recommendations trimming down subject lines.  I’m still getting used to the idea of suggesting more text to at least explain what an email is.

The reason short subject lines became a best practice is that many people were jamming a bunch of descriptive text in subject lines.  Long subjects actually were registered as a knock against an email in spam filters.  I guess like many things, best practices will swing from one extreme to another.

The reasons behind the short subject best practice are that people don’t have time to look at longer email lines so they’ll skip them (this idea is well grounded at this point) and it’s better for smart phone viewing (newer idea but as smart phone usage grows the current minority will be more prevalent and need to be taken into account).

Two good points but an extreme solution.  To me it’s like saying, “I’m tempted to steal, so I cut off my arms.  Sure I could have cut off just the hands but this seems fool proof.”  Was therapy or group support never an option?

So here’s a more moderate solution.  How about a very short (no more than five words) intro so that smart phone users get the idea of what it is.  Then add a second piece to the email line that describes the email (but stays under 10 – 12 words).  Something like Marketing Experiments did is perfect (the 5 words in parentheses would appear for smart phones, the rest is a short descriptor for those that view it):

(IADC 2011 – Exclusive First Look) at New Products, Technology and More

In this way we serve both audiences but provide flexibility.  Maybe I’m guilty of just reshuffling the best practice, but it seems like a distinction to me.  As is stated in the linked article, if a subject is so short that recipients don’t know what it’s about, that’s going to have adverse effects.