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Building Customer Relationships: Your Ultimate Guide to Personalized Email Marketing

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With spam, incessant ads, and messaging fatigue, marketers have to earn their way into customers' inboxes.

In the same way that mailboxes are protected, email inboxes are the digital equivalent, where  customers ruthlessly decide what gets read and what goes straight into the trash folder. 

320 billion emails are sent every day. One way marketers can cut through that clutter is with AI powered personalization to enhance their email program. Customers don’t have time for another generic ad, but they do have time for the messages that are tailored to them. 

Cutting-edge email personalization is at the heart of modern marketing strategies. For it to succeed, brands should leverage the right data to send the right message at the right time.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. The Definition of Email Personalization

  3. The Power of Email Personalization

  4. Basic Personalization

  5. Intermediate Personalization

  6. Advanced Personalization

  7. Best Data Practices

  8. The Key Tools for Personalization

  9. Email Personalization Examples

  10. Conclusion

The Definition of Email Personalization

A personalized email is a tailored message built from fresh-off-the-press customer data, influencing its content, format, and context. 

  • Customer data: Think of your marketing tech stack: CRMs, behavioral data, and analytics from your latest campaigns.

  • Content: Whether it’s promotional or editorial messaging, the email is personalized to the customer’s unique needs and preferences. Think of a clothing retailer. Expectant mothers will receive product recommendations for maternity clothing, while camping lovers will get outerwear suggestions.

  • Format: Sending emails with the right data is only the first step. For an email to really stand out, information must be communicated with eye-catching visuals and engaging copy.

  • Context: Customers’ current context is a great way to personalize emails. Use their preferred location, weather, or recent online behavior to create an individualized email.

When each message needs a personal touch, email personalization may sound like time down the drain for busy marketers. With new mobile and social media channels cropping up every day, it can be easy to think that email lives low on the priority matrix for today’s customers. 

That idea is simply a missed opportunity. Here’s why email personalization presents the best way for brands to thrive.

The Power of Email Personalization

  • More than 75% of marketers still cite email as their most powerful and effective channel. 

  • Nearly 80% of marketers have seen their email engagement rise over the past year. 

  • 99% of email users check their inbox daily, and almost 85% of all consumers say they check their emails at least once a day.

Now more than ever, email is the channel to reach customers. But it’s not without its challenges.

The Challenge of Email Personalization

  • 42% of marketers struggle to catch customers’ attention in a crowded inbox.

  • Nearly half of marketers cite email engagement as their biggest digital challenge. Even if customers are opening—and those waters are muddy post-Apple Mail Privacy Protection—they aren’t taking the next step and engaging with the brand’s CTA.

The right email personalization strategy maximizes the channel’s potential while turning challenges into winning opportunities. Below, explore how your brand can seamlessly integrate email personalization, whether you’re just getting started and looking for first steps or are a veteran in the email game looking for some fine-tuning tips.

Basic Personalization

A little goes a long way when it comes to personalization. While the basics may seem—well, basic—marketers should note that these foundational personalization tactics still work wonders in engaging customers. Don’t run before you can walk, and make sure you have your basics nailed.

Stay on the Subject

Including the customer’s name in the subject line may be a dated trick, but you don’t have to fix what isn't broken. After all, a personalized subject line alone increases open rates by 50%, proving the efficacy of small changes that make customers feel seen. A simple integration from your existing CRM or ESP can easily transform a {Name} into a personal invitation.

Remember the rest of the subject line. Be ready to A/B test your subject lines to discover what copy resonates with which customers.

Call Customers By Name

If including a customer’s name boosts open rates by 50%, imagine how much further that can go if marketers add powerful visuals to the mix.

An example of an email where the readers name is included for personalization

Here, the brand calls out the customer by name, welcoming Mary into the Inkredible Retail family. With a rich image to bring the call-out to life, get ready for an open rate boost that flies above 50%.

Including visuals in your email personalization plan is a must, no matter what stage of the game you’re in. Over 65% of surveyed customers prefer emails chock-full of images, and that number is only set to grow.

Intermediate Personalization

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to take your email personalization to the next level. While this article discusses several methods, there is a common thread that links them all together: customer-centric messaging. Here, each message seeks to serve the customer’s individual needs using the basic facts the brand knows about them.

Segmentation and Beyond

Segmentation is only the first step towards 1:1 personalization, but brands can start here to build the foundation for lifelong customer-brand relationships.

  • Segmentation: the practice of organizing and dividing existing customers using basic demographics such as gender, location, or broad interests concerning product categories. Brands often have this information readily available through their CRMs.

  • Personalization: Whereas segmentation is governed by broad categories, personalization seeks to home in on more specific behaviors unique to individual customers. Brands can collect this information through campaigns that collect zero- and first-party data, giving them the inside scoop of a customer’s unique preferences. 

In email personalization, segmentation is the necessary step towards personalization. Segmented emails can lead to a whopping 760% increase in revenue, making it an extremely profitable first step. 

Use location as an example. Here, Inkredible Eatery uses the customer’s preferred location to pull in the corresponding weather updates. With the cold weather on its way, the brand generates a picture of warm soup to match Quinn’s icy locale.

An example of email personalization where the customers location was used to show their weather forecast

By personalizing to the right segment, Inkredible Eatery succeeded in driving appetite for purchasing. You don’t want ice cream in the middle of a cold spell, and customers would find emails with irrelevant suggestions just as jarring.

Trigger Engagement With Personalization

Trigger emails are one of the best ways to re-engage interested customers. Take abandoned carts; customers leave high-interest items 70% of the time, but when nearly 50% of customers engage with trigger emails, brands know customers just need a gentle reminder to close a purchase.

The best part about trigger emails? Automation. By simply setting predefined events and conditions with requisite responses, brands are able to personally re-engage customers without so much as a click of the button.

In this example, Asha left a sweater in her cart. Not only does Inkredible Retail send her a highly personalized email for re-engagement, social proofing—a five star rating from real customers—and bonus points are included for extra purchasing incentive.

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Advanced Personalization

Basic and intermediate personalization strategies are easy wins with high-value results. And while that’s a great place to start, marketers need to constantly evolve their email personalization.

For cutting-edge email personalization, it comes down to data and AI. Below, three key tools and strategies will be explored. Once you find one (or more) that stands out for your brand, you can read on to Best Data Practices to power emails that are more relevant than ever. 

Dynamic Content

In the previous examples of email personalization, each tactic operated reactively. The brand receives the customer’s name and they reply with their name in the subject line. A customer browses a particular product on the brand’s site, and the company sends a triggered reminder.

With dynamic content, the goal is to be proactive in messaging; to anticipate customers’ needs before they directly ask for anything. What could that look like? Here are some key ideas for capitalizing on dynamic content for your brand:

Product Recommendations

Don’t wait for customers to find a show they like; suggest one that you know they’ll love. Using zero-party and first-party data, as well as behavioral tracking, turn an email into a catalog tailor-made to that customer.

A streaming program presenting shows a user might like based on their viewing history taken from their first-party data.

In the above example, the customer receives never-before-seen show recommendations. As the brand continually learns, Inkredible Media is able to suggest new content that’s sure to inspire engagement.

Web Cropping and APIs

Dynamic content stays up to date and always showcases the most relevant content. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than reading an exciting update in an email, only to find the information is out of date when they reach the site.

With web cropping, brands can include live product inventories, prices, and reviews. By using web cropping instead of a static image, brands can ensure their customers always have the most recent information.

Brands aren’t limited to showing the front page of their website. With the power of APIs, brands can link all of their platforms to their email marketing messages; they can include live social feeds, live bookings, and rewards balances—and that’s just to name a few.

Keeping it Real(Time)

While Apple Mail Privacy may have closed the loop on traditional real-time campaigns, marketers are by no means limited in their personalization campaigns with the right data in their pocket.

By constantly collecting high-quality, relevant data brands can still run powerful, personalized campaigns revolving around location and time. 

Here, markers deploy an email that combines a customer’s preferred location with their recent browsing history, generating hand-picked recommendations along with the store they’re available in.

With dynamic content, brands can consistently build the 1:1 relationships their customers crave. Make your customer feel like one in a million with email personalization that puts their preferences in the spotlight.

Data Visualization

No personalized email is complete without the visuals to bring it to life. Marketers are taking note of this; in the last year, 60% of content marketers have pivoted to visual-first customer experiences. Data visualization is a must for personalized emails.

Take this loyalty email from Inkredible Financial as an example. Here, everything is visualized, from the personalized hero image and points status to the redemption recommendations. Imagine this email devoid of the images. Customers would know how many points they have, but without the graph they wouldn’t have the context to quickly understand how far they are from the next threshold, or even how much value they got from the service. The same goes for the recommendations; without visualization, the recommendations wouldn’t inspire anyone to take that next step.

AI Powered Personalization

The future of email is in AI powered personalization. For the most personalized experience yet, delight customers not only by fulfilling their current needs, but by sending products and experiences they love before it even crosses their minds.

Anticipation is at the heart of AI, ensuring email personalization that goes above and beyond.

For brands that want the most cutting-edge email, AI powered personalization is the road ahead.

Best Data Practices

In all of these tips and examples, engaging email personalization comes down to activating the right data. How can marketers sift through their mountains of incoming data and maximize it to its fullest potential? Here are four best practices to get you started:

Collect Data From the Right Sources

The death of third-party data and cookies was initially a shock. However, it was really a blessing in disguise; the kick-start many marketers needed to focus on the most accurate, relevant data they have access to—not just the most convenient. 

Brands need to home in on zero-party data (the information customers voluntarily exchange for a personalized experience) and first-party data (the information brands gather from customer interaction on their site). To deliver the personalized experience customers want, you need to take them at their word and give them the content they’ve asked for.

Stay On the Pulse of Latest Behaviors

Brands can and should track customer behaviors to fully understand intent. To collect first-party data, for example, brands can set tracking pixels to live on their site. Whenever a customer browses, that information will be relayed back to the brand and influence retargeting campaigns. Often, this is how brands generate personalization campaigns such as product recommendations.

An email personalized with first-party data

In this spring sale email, the featured products are displayed based on the recipient’s browsing activity, making the email more relevant and timely.

For brands to collect zero-party data, they need to track customer responses instead of organic behavior. Running a campaign like the live polling example below is a great option; the campaign itself is fun and drives engagement, all while collecting precious data for future campaigns.

An email featuring a poll to help gather first party data through customer engagement

Unify Your Data

The average marketing team uses nearly 30 software tools at a time. That’s a lot of data to sync, so much that often teams give up on the idea all together. With different terminology, benchmarks, and measures of success, marketers end up with a fragmented view of incoming data.

To use data to its fullest potential, marketers can build a one-source-of-truth and use products that integrate their existing tech stack. Less is more—opt for tools that are not only inclusive of what you need for your brand, but seamlessly sync with the softwares you already depend on.

Respect Customers' Email Preferences

With the rise of privacy and the tightening policies for landmarks like GDPR and CAN-SPAM Act, marketers need to be conscientious with customers’ data and respect their opt-ins and outs. 

Besides the legal ramifications, it's also respectful to your customers. No one wants their personal data treated carelessly, and lifelong customer-brand relationships require honoring that.

The Key Tools for Email Personalization

You don’t need every software in the book for top-tier email personalization. But the right strategic tools can make the road to the perfect personalized email smoother, faster, and more sustainable.


Automation isn’t only for trigger emails. Whether it’s building a campaign, turning data into a visual experience, or even organizing and cleaning data, automation is the foundational tool every brand needs.

Manually coding and designing each personalized email is virtually impossible without it. Use automation to give your team a helping hand so they can focus on the creative brainstorming only they can do.

APIs and Integration

APIs and integration tools optimize data usage. With APIs, brands can easily link all of their data sources—behavioral data, CRMs, ESPs, to name a few—into their email, creating a rich personalized experience. 

Integrated marketing is a great way to put unifying data into practice. Don’t just lean on one database; for a truly relevant email, marketers need to pull in data from every source so that they have a holistic view of their customer.

AI Content Personalization

The future of AI is here, and marketers that want to stay a step ahead in the marketing game will lean on AI. But for an AI program to truly take off, you must ensure you choose the right AI powered personalization tool that not only delights customers today, but continually fosters customers to develop into the healthiest, happiest shoppers they can be long-term.

Email Personalization Examples

The best way to learn is to show it in action. Here are some inspiring examples of email personalization to apply to your own brand.

An example of a personalized travel email with a custom header image

This email starts with a personalized hero image that displays Megan’s name on a backdrop of her home city. The caption calls back to her recent browsing activity.

Underneath, personalized deals are hand-picked for Megan so she can get the best price possible on her dream trip to New Zealand. To finish off the email, a CTA to join the loyalty program is included, along with the points she could rack up on her intended trip.

An example of a personalized email with specific deals tailored to the customer

Turn an alert into a personalized experience with recommendations and unique CTAs. Here, Inkredible Media sends the customer a reminder that a new season of a favorite show starts tonight. To ensure engagement, a CTA to add the event to their calendar reminds customers to return to the site. Underneath, show recommendations are included based on the customer’s watch history.

A personalized email showing a user realtime traffic updates.

A personalized email has benefits beyond digital. In this Inkredible Retail email, the customer receives instructions for his curbside pickup. Besides the appointment information, the best route to Josh’s nearby store is included in a live map. To finish off this cutting-edge email, items that caught Josh’s eye during his online browsing are displayed, featuring the ones that are in stock at the store he’s visiting.


Beat the inbox competition with personalized emails that stand out from the crowd. With the right tools and methods, generating emails that consistently drive engagement is a seamless journey for any brand.

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