Email has come a long way in recent years. Has your business kept up with the pace of change? Are you delivering personalised, relevant emails to customers’ inboxes, and getting the results you want?

If your business is like many we see out there, it’s likely that you’ve answered ‘no’ to these questions. Or, perhaps you’ve answered with a naive yes? This is because in my experience many marketers think that they’ve ‘nailed’ email marketing, but are missing out on many great opportunities.

Let’s look at an example of personalisation that frankly misses the boat. I bought a pair of shoes for my wife recently from an online retailer. The purchase experience was seamless, the delivery met my expectations. So far, so good. Yet, ever since I made the purchase, I have received personalised emails containing pics and promos of more women’s shoes. They know I’m male, and they have men’s shoes in their catalogue. Why aren’t they sending me shoes that I’d be interested in?

There are other examples. Think of beautifully personalised and crafted emails that send you to an irrelevant landing page that doesn’t even contain the information you were looking for.

These are rookie mistakes that marketers today shouldn’t be making. Before we look at how you can avoid these mistakes, let’s look at how email has changed in recent years.

The evolution of email

It wasn’t long ago that the ability to insert a dynamic subject line in an email was seen as being pretty cool. Email personalisation back then – and we’re talking over 10 years ago – may have included a person’s name in the subject line and a friendly ‘from’ name.

How times have changed. In the past decade, email has come a long way. After those early days of personalisation, brands started experimenting with basic content, serving up suggestions and recommendations based on a buyer’s gender or previous purchases. These subtle changes all relied on the business creating rules around what they thought customers would want to see.

Today, we’ve moved into the world of predictive intelligence. And, we thought personalised subject lines were cool!

Predictive intelligence uses algorithms to look beyond what a customer has purchased, to the things they are browsing on their smartphones, the ads they click on, their behaviour on social media. Across all channels, data is collected and a rich customer profile is built.

From this customer profile, you can deliver content specific to each customer in real time. You can even anticipate the intent of the customer, and provide a unique recommendation based on your observations. With predictive intelligence tools now at marketers’ fingertips, email has come a very long way indeed.

How can you nail the personalisation experience?

You can go crazy with personalisation. A travel company sends out restaurant recommendations to customers based on the cost of the hotel they have booked – if you are staying in an exclusive resort, then they will recommend three-hatted restaurants. This same company also sends you an email one week out from your trip to recommend activities based on next week’s weather report.

As a marketer, you don’t have to aspire to this deep level of personalisation upfront. If you overcomplicate things, you could never reach your goal.

Instead, start simply following these steps as a guide:

  1. Capture data – without data, you can’t do anything. You need to ask questions of your customers, yet don’t bombard them with 20 questions in a welcome email. Tease out information gradually, collect transactional data, and use predictive intelligence technology to monitor their ongoing browsing behaviour – remember, people’s preferences change over time.

  2. Develop content – content is king when it comes to personalisation. You should develop content for a range of scenarios and customer preferences – from gender-specific to product-oriented content. The most sophisticated predictive intelligence platform is worth nothing if you don’t commit to delivering content that appeals to your customers.

  3. Use your CMS – once you’ve got your customer profile and your content, you can use your content management system (CMS) to automatically send you relevant content for each customer. If it’s tied in with a predictive intelligence platform, it will all happen in real time without you having to do much at all.

Your brand’s personalisation journey may start with its welcome program. Or, you could look at your transactional emails – an often neglected set of emails that can be hugely valuable in terms of ROI. Wherever you choose to start, remember to keep it simple and have a clear goal in mind. You’ll soon be well on your way to the level of personalisation that today’s customers expect from brands.