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We all like to pretend that we’re jaded sophisticates who are immune to digital marketing, but the truth is, a well-crafted email with a personal touch can still melt our hearts.

Personalized emails have been shown to lift transaction rates 6X, though only 30 percent or so of companies use them. In a recent survey of 257 email marketers by VentureBeat, the vast majority said that personalization boosted click-through rates.

We’ve all had occasions where we’ve seen how this works: When a well-phrased email has just enough warmth to indicate that an actual human being wrote it and just enough distance to not seem too presumptuous, it can prompt a response or at least a click-through.  By the end of the transaction, you feel you have had a positive experience with the brand.

Seems easier said than done? Not necessarily. Here are some guidelines for how you can apply email personalization to your brand and achieve better results:

1. Work on your salutations

“Dear XX” is way too formal. “Hey Monica,” is maybe a tad too familiar. What strikes the right tone? How about “Hi Monica.” That’s colloquial without being too presumptuous or stuffy. “Hello” is also acceptable. Not everyone agrees. Some prefer to just start with the person’s name, but to me that seems a bit odd if we’ve never actually met. It’s OK to assume a first-name basis, but there needs to be a touch of formality there.

2. Use a real name, not “no reply”

Getting a message with a “No reply” rather than a person’s name can leave a customer feeling cold, since it seems like the email is coming from a machine rather than a flesh-and-blood person. One mitigating measure I’ve seen recently is to use “pleasereply” as the email address rather than “noreply.” If you’re not using a personal name in the email address from which you send your emails, then at least use your brand name in the email address. Recipients want the comfort of knowing the email is legitimate.

3. Use context, but don’t overdo it

There is a fine line between emailing someone about something that might interest them and emailing someone about something that shows you’ve been keeping a close eye on data about them.

A good balance are emails about “people in your network.” Not only are such emails highly clickable, but they also are at least one degree removed from the recipient’s activity. Emails about interactions with the recipient’s own activity, such as “someone liked your post” can also be highly clickable because interaction feedback positively reinforces what that person did.

Be mindful, however, of the fine line into the intrusive realm. Sending an email that says, “I notice you’ve been asking around a lot about X” is too intrusive. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how you might feel about receiving such a message. Is it interesting and helpful or does it merely illustrate your lack of privacy?

4. Mind the social cues

A well-done personalized email can be lost on a poorly-executed campaign that goes too far.  Even if personalized, emails that are too frequent when the recipient has not responded bleed into the intrusive realm.

In the obvious context surrounding that email — i.e., new customer with whom we have no relationship yet — recipients expect that customary social cues will be followed.  When they’re not, that can be a turn-off for the recipient, leaving an impression that the brand is impersonal because it lacks respect for the customer. Scheduling follow-up email campaigns with enough time in between to ensure social cues are minded will keep your brand in the best light.

5. Keep an appropriate tone

The best email messages convey the company’s brand essence. For instance, in its emails to customers, the hip coffee purveyor Blue Bottle Coffee Company describes its staff as “highly caffeinated,” which is cute and shows they take customer service seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

In my business, law, that tone might not be appropriate, but going too formal also can be off-putting and can make the email seem like a form letter. An effective way to modulate your tone is consider how you might convey the information over the phone. Keeping the tone light and conversational yet professional strikes just the right balance. Err on the side of respecting your target audience and respecting their time by keeping the communication short.

6. Segment email lists by relevant categories

If you have a large email list, you should consider dividing it. At my company, Foxwordy, we have separate email lists for in-house lawyers, law firms, academics, and law students. All of them have different needs so it’s important to not waste their time with irrelevant messages. When segmenting your customer base, ask yourself what motivates that customer to use your company’s product or service? Understand why you have a relationship with that customer. With that information, you can ensure the personalization is relevant and actionable on the customer’s part.

While certain organizations are getting extremely personalized in their email messaging, there are degrees of personalization; the right fit will vary based on the nature of your business and customer base. Gilt Groupe, for instance, is known for tapping big data to craft individual deals for its thousands of customers. This is a different take on personalization. From a sales point of view, that approach makes a lot of sense.

If you’re not operating on that scale, though, and you simply want to build up goodwill with your customers and avoid being relegated to the spam folder, then you’ll want to scale the personalization back a bit. You may have to A/B test different types of campaigns to determine the right fit for your customer base or prospect list in light of your industry and product or service.

Whether or not your customers are digital natives, everyone still uses email heavily in their daily life and we all have grown accustomed to personalization in any online services we use. Personalizing email to customers and prospects is no longer optional — it’s a must if you are to achieve any meaningful results with your email campaigns.

As with most endeavors, success comes from planning. Planning out your email marketing strategy to take into account context and segmentation, proper timing, tone, social cues, and basic rules of etiquette will help you to ensure your company’s emails have just the right amount of personalization to generate the maximum response.  Take the extra steps to put a little humanity in your email communication. Your customers will thank you for it.

Monica Zent is CEO of Foxwordy.

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to:

  • Boost sales and cement customer relationships
  • Avoid key challenges to implementation
  • Learn best practices for adopting high tier personalization
  • Get independent vendor ratings for personalization solution
  • Partner with the right companies
  • Avoids the gotchas of personalization

Don’t miss out!

Access the webinar on demand right here.


Stewart Rogers, Analyst, VB Insight

Monica Zent, CEO, Foxwordy

Kevin Michael Gray, Founder, ApproveMe

David Landau, Head of email and onsite marketing, Citi

Matt Olsen, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing, Firehouse Subs


Wendy Schuchart, Analyst, VentureBeat