2 Ways to Solve Your Greatest Email Personalisation Challenges

By Kath Pay

Wow! I’m still buzzing from the fantastic Holistic Live Circle we hosted recently with our friends at Pure360. Komal Helyer, Pure360’s marketing director, and I talked with marketers from a wide range of industries about what they’re doing right now to increase conversions: what works, what doesn’t, and how marketers can drive higher conversions from their email programmes using email personalisation.

First, the great news. What’s working?

Our roundtable discussed brought out the challenges that marketers from brands such as Chelsea FC, Stena Line, Feel Unique, Joe’s Tea Company, Tails and Trusted Sitters are working on every day.

But we also were excited to hear marketers report on their successes as well!

One brand proved what I’ve said elsewhere about “best practices” and how you must always test them to see what works for your brand and customers rather than just blindly accepting them. This brand tested the image of an adorable puppy looking excitedly at the viewer versus a calmer puppy looking at the call to action.

Guess which image won? If you’re a dog lover, you know the answer: the happy puppy! It was a bit of a surprise because psychological cues that direct the viewer’s eyes toward the CTA usually drive greater conversions. The lesson here: Never assume you know what your audience will do. Always test!

Tackling the email personalisation challenges

It was refreshing to hear that everyone has issues with conversions at one time or another. Nobody has found the perfect solution that works every time!

We discussed in detail questions such as “How can we persuade our customers to convert for the first time? What’s the best way to bring them back to convert again and again? What can we test to increase conversions?”

As Komal and I fielded questions, offered advice and moderated the conversations, we could see email personalisation emerge as a major discussion point. We all agreed that effective personalisation is essential for driving more conversions and increasing engagement with customers beyond the sale. But getting the data to implement it is often a major roadblock.

Challenge 1: Collecting enough behavioural data for segmentation and automated messaging.

Solution: Set up a welcome email programme and begin collecting data based on subscriber actions.

Email personalisation was a major focus of our conversion discussions, because we agreed that it’s essential for driving more conversions and increasing engagement with customers beyond the sale.

However, many of our marketers said they lacked data. This is a major roadblock to email personalisation, whether as dynamic content, triggered messages or segmented messaging based on activity, demographics or other variables.

A welcome-email programme launches you down the personalisation path because it reflects an action your customers have taken – they signed up to receive your emails. You can begin collecting data based on their activity with that email: Did they open it? Ignore it? Click to fill out a customer profile or preference sheet? Click on any of your other CTAs in the message?

Once you launch your first welcome email, you can expand its functions with a follow-up message, which also delivers more opportunities to collect data for future personalisations.

A welcome programme I developed for Facebook helped the social media giant solve a major problem: persuading new members to stay active on the platform.

Facebook knew that if newbies could attract 20 friends to join them, they would stick around longer. Using that knowledge, I developed a welcome programme that would help them accomplish this.

PetsPyjamas sends its new email subscribers a welcome email series that begins with a first-purchase email. Several days later, it begins the data collection process. Here, the brand asks customers for information on their pets and then sends subsequent emails whose content reflects that data. Check the email to see how clearly PetsPyjamas explains the benefit for sharing data and how it will use the information.


Challenge 2: Collecting reliable preference data.

Solution: Make a game of it.

This is the flip side of the data challenge we tackled above. Preference data (what customers say they like versus behavioural data, which measures what they do) can be even more elusive than behaviour data.

Turning data collection into a game can make the process more fun, engaging and rewarding for your customers and result in more useful preference data.

Why seek preference data at all?

Customers can be reluctant to give up their personal data unless they see a direct benefit or trust you enough to handle it properly. And, sad to say, they don’t always tell the truth. Many will tell you what they think you want to hear from them, or what they’d like to be true someday, but it doesn’t match what they’re buying on your site.

You need preference data to start segmenting your database and targeting messages for greater relevance. Also, preference data rounds out the customer profile. Behavioural data shows you only part of the picture.

Someone who buys a tennis racquet might be a dedicated golfer shopping for a tennis-loving spouse or child. Behaviour data alone can close off this major targeting opportunity.

Surveys are a popular marketing tool, but I’m not a fan, especially the way many brands use them. They’re easy to ignore, and response rates can be low.

A series of one- or two-question quickie surveys could help you get into progressive profiling, in which you try to collect only a few data points at a time and then build on it in follow-up messaging.

Scotch sent the email below to longtime subscribers, offering to exchange updated preferences for a sweepstakes entry, possibly as part of a re-engagement programme:

Run a quiz: Our Holistic Live Circle attendees were quite enthusiastic about another form – using visual quizzes and gamification to make the data-collection job more fun, engaging and rewarding for everyone involved.

Here’s one example: A visual quiz that explores skin types can generate individual data a beauty retailer can use to segment a list by skin problems (oily versus dry, wrinkles versus red patches, etc.) and target users accurately with products and helpful content. (See my column on “helpful marketing” for more about this approach.)

The examples below are from Ipsy, a subscription cosmetics company, which asks its new customers to complete a quiz, not manage preferences. Data from the quiz helps the company target email content and choose products for each subscription bag.

The first email invites the customer to take the quiz. The second email goes to customers who took the quiz but did not order the bag on offer that month.


Caveat: The data you collect, whether preference or behavioural, must be relevant to your messaging and your relationship with your subscribers. Your customers expect it, and soon the law will be clear on it when GDPR’s new rules governing data transparency go into effect on 25 May.

 More to come: Writing subject lines that increase conversions

The points above represent just one highlight from our wide-ranging discussion during our Holistic Live Circle meeting. One other issue that excited much discussion covered subject lines and how to write better ones to increase opens and conversions. I’ll tackle that in a separate post, so stay tuned.

For a complete report, see this post on the Pure360 site: 7 Ways to Increase Conversions: Lessons from Holistic Live Circle.

‘A great morning collaborating with other CRM professionals. It’s the perfect place to share ideas & challenges with others that understand. The input from both Kath and Komal was very valuable and I came away feeling inspired as well as new connections to liaise with.’ – Lauren Dougherty, Feel Unique

If you’re a Brand CRM professional and Holistic Live! Circle sounds perfect for you, please apply for our next one here.

Interested in finding out more? Check out how the awesome team at Holistic Email Marketing can help take your email programme to the next level.