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From the Trenches

What’s in a Name? When to Use Personalization in Email Marketing

Right Source | February 10, 2017
What’s in a Name? When to Use Personalization in Email Marketing

An average email user sends and receives 225 messages each day. But when it comes to email marketing, what is a recipient more likely to respond to — a flashy, well-designed email with an image and catchy headline? Or a personal email that addresses him or her by name?

It depends.

You see, not all emails are created equal. The look and feel of your message can have a very distinct effect on your readers. Emails designed with heavy HTML — with banners and graphics and clever headlines — can immediately grab a reader’s attention, while emails designed in a text-style format feel more personal.

In addition, nearly all marketing automation systems and email service providers (ESPs) now allow you to customize emails by pulling in details for each recipient, such as name, location, sales rep name, and so on. Using these personalization methods makes the recipient feel as though the message was written specifically to him or her — not like a random piece of spam just happened to land in his or her inbox.

What style and level of personalization is best for each type of email you send out? While every business and audience is different, here are some core guidelines and a few tips to get personal with your audience.


Did you know that newsletter emails are modeled after print magazines? A magazine’s table of contents typically includes teaser text, a page number, and a supporting image for each article. The format of your email newsletters should be similar — and should be built using an HTML-heavy design.

Because recipients actually choose to receive newsletters (just like they do for magazines), they’re less likely to disregard them as spam. That means you can make them longer than a typical marketing email. But, keep in mind, it’s still an email — so it should be easy to scan. Include a short and engaging teaser (the length of a Twitter post), as well as images to break up the text.

Personalization Tip: While readers generally don’t expect personalization in newsletters, once you gather enough data, you may be able to target your featured post based on the recipient’s interests or behavior.

Product announcements and updates

“Get it before it’s gone!”

“50% off — today only!”

“Exclusive pre-sale!”

You’ll often see these types of phrases in B2C emails, which tend to rely on HTML design, eye-catching images, and bold colors to promote their products in a flyer-type format.

B2B emails, on the other hand, are usually designed in a one-to-one format, especially if the recipient is an existing customer. Rather than relying on catchy jargon, a B2B product announcement typically highlights features and benefits in a couple of brief paragraphs. In these emails, it’s a good idea to use personalization to assure the recipient that the message is, indeed, for him or her — but keep it subtle. For example, you might use the recipient’s first name in the greeting or refer to the region where he or she lives.

Personalization Tip: You can also use personalization in your email marketing to up-sell or cross-sell to customers or prospects. For example, real-time personalization (RTP) can adjust the photo and products included in each email on a person-by-person basis — based on the pages the user visited on your website or the products he or she has purchased before.

Content launches

How will you announce that new piece of content to your audience? The initial emails will probably be HTML-heavy — you need eye-catching graphics and a bold CTA that hooks the recipient, enticing him or her to click the link and download your remarkable new content.

Follow-up emails, on the other hand (since you plan to track open and click-through rates, and follow up with those who don’t engage, right?), can be set up to appear as if someone on your team is forwarding the original email to an individual lead.

Personalization Tip: In many CRMs, you can set up your follow-up emails as a template, so each sales representative can send and track individual messages. This one-to-one look and feel is very important — prospects like the personal touch, and will appreciate the fact that someone reached out to them specifically.

Drip or nurture programs

When someone downloads your new piece of content, you shouldn’t immediately hammer him or her with a sales pitch. Going too heavy on salesy language can turn your prospects off to your future emails. Using a more personalized, one-on-one format (for example, asking about the recipient’s pain points) softens the approach. Then, once leads are deeper into the nurture track, you can lean a bit more into the sales talk.

Personalization Tip: Emails like this are a great opportunity to automate personalization using data you already have on file — like the lead’s first name, city, state, or assigned sales person. These emails can also be generated to come from different sales reps (pulling in their name and email signature) without having to set up multiple drip programs or emails. Some marketing automation and ESPs also allow you to make your messages dynamic, so the message features content relevant to each recipient.

Webinar and event invitations

Webinar and event invitations should also be a mix of both types of email: HTML for the initial email(s) and a one-to-one style for the follow-up. However, the design approach is a little different for events. For example, you might have a main image or banner, along with CTA buttons. People also tend to respond very well to names and faces, and they want to know who’s involved in the event — so you might also include pictures of the presenters.

Personalization Tip: Using a one-to-one (or “forwarded”) style for your follow-up emails will help your message feel more personal — and tends to result in higher engagement.

No matter what format you use, make sure your messages also include a plain-text version — without it, your email may get caught in spam traps and lower your overall engagement rate.

And when using personalization, here’s one of the most important tips of all: Make sure you have default values for your personalization fields. You don’t want someone to receive an email that says “Hi ,” because you didn’t have the contact’s name and didn’t enter a default value. (Hint: people will often use “friend” as the default for first name.)

To dive further into marketing automation and how it can benefit your organization, download our eBook, “Make the Marketing Automation Decision: A 5-Question Guide.” And if you have more questions about optimizing your email marketing strategy, reach out.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.