Personalization at Scale

Customers have come to expect personalized email messaging from the brands they interact with. However, brands must overcome data and production limitations in order to target large email lists with customized communications. Cara Olson, Director of Relationship Management at DEG, breaks down how brands can efficiently and effectively deliver subscribers the personal experience they deserve

As the inbox becomes more crowded, it becomes more important for brands to stand out amongst the clutter. You know you need to send more personalized campaigns, but it can be hard for brands to break the cycle of sending the same promotional campaign to a large audience. You’re barely keeping your head above water trying to stick to the campaign calendar, so tackling personalized emails with more versions seems overwhelming.

Overcoming a Lack of Data

Personalizing emails requires having data on file. This can be the first challenge in converting to personalized campaigns, because brands can’t afford to send personalized campaigns if they are only reaching a smaller list size. There are several ways you can capture this data, both explicitly and implicitly.

Explicit Data

A preference center and welcome series are successful ways to collect customer information allowing you to capture explicit subscriber preferences. Here are a few additional ways to creatively capture this information:

1. Get the Most Out of Your Welcome Series

Only about 50 percent of your subscribers will open your first welcome email, and typically engagement rates begin to slowly decline from there over time. To avoid this from happening, you want to keep the initial signup request short, asking for as little information as possible, such as an email address and first name or zip code. Once the signup process is complete, it is ideal to immediately ask for additional information, which helps increases a brand’s data capture rate. This is the perfect timing to ask for at least one more piece of information, such as birthday, gender, who they are shopping for today, etc.

2. Create a Quiz

An offer might be enough to entice subscribers to provide additional information, but offering a quiz is also a great way to collect customer preference data. When creating an engaging quiz, it is helpful to change copy of the questions to be more in-line with your brand’s voice, and offer visual answer options to create a more engaging experience. You can ask one question per screen, to keep the subscriber moving through until they reach the end, or show dynamic additional questions on the screen based on previous answers. For example,

  • Tell us your birthday so we can send you a treat (ssshh, we won’t tell!); then
  • When you treat yourself, will you be shopping for men’s or women’s attire; then
  • Ok this isn’t all about you, will you be shopping for anyone else special?

Collect Data Across Multiple Channels

If a subscriber only provided an email address, retarget those individuals on Facebook to ask them to complete the quiz in exchange for your offer. This is a great way to continue collecting preference information in a feed where subscribers could be more likely to engage.

Implicit Data

It may prove difficult for some brands to take the time to setup a welcome series, create a quiz and collect data across multiple channels. If you need to tackle personalization at scale rather quickly, below are some steps to take advantage of implicit data you may already have on file.

1. Use click-through behavior

Create segments or attributes that automatically populate based on click-through behavior. The easiest place to start with this is from your navigation. These clicks indicate subscriber preferences without them specifically checking a box.

Begin to get more creative in your promotional campaigns with your call-to-actions to build these preferences. For example, a “Shop By Size” campaign is an excellent way to identify what size a subscriber might be, without ever asking that personal question.

Create a campaign that focuses on sub-category links. For example, if you are a retailer that sells shoes, instead simple calls-to-action like “Shop” or “Shop Womens / Shop Mens,” try showing buttons for styles of shoes: “Shop heels,” “Shop sneakers,” etc.

2. Automate Data

Ideally this data would be automated to collect subscriber preferences based on opens and clicks. In addition, automate the integration of site data as well, such as categories and products viewed. This is possible with different tools with algorithms that can be integrated into your ESP, or even using tools within an ESP. These tools can factor in recency of customer data and recommend products based on subscriber behaviors.


Once you have the data on file to target subscribers with personalized content, you need a way to design and build for many options in a timely and cost-effective manner. Here are two ways to get there:

1. Design and build a modular template

Personalization can be daunting when you think about all of the versions necessary to accommodate so many possibilities. Your team is small and already spread thin, so why would you push for more design options?

One key to accomplishing personalization at scale is a modular template design. But your designers don’t like templates? This is something creative teams are embracing more and more. Template design has come a long way and if approached correctly, can save design and build teams hours in the long run. Target about 10 different “content modules,” which can be re-ordered or duplicated as many times as necessary in a design, to allow for thousands of iterations that don’t constrain creative. An example is below.

2. Use your tools

Next up, use any tools available, whether they are third-party or within your ESP, to make personalized content easier to include. These tools can allow you to show the closest store location, based on open, or screen scrape content from your site to pull in the most current promotion. These tools can also create efficiencies, like rules-based editors to show different content based on profile data, or amp Scripting in Salesforce Marketing Cloud to code different content to appear accommodating hundreds of versions based on a combination of subscriber data.

Consumers are savvier and email marketing technology has evolved in the last few years. It’s time to deliver on customer expectations with content that’s personalized to their needs. With the higher transaction rates and revenue per email of personalized emails, accomplishing this at scale will increase your overall revenue from email.

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor