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How Email Automation and Personalization Help Marketers Perfect Their Campaigns

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Personalization is on every marketer’s mind, and the martech industry is buzzing about it for good reason. With 80% of users being more likely to buy from companies that offer personalization and nearly 75% of customers refusing to engage with messaging that’s not personalized, its power is undeniable. The problem is, sending individualized communications to each customer seems like an impossible task to sustain week over week.

The solution is automation. It’s an invaluable tool that is the key to making 1:1 personalization a reality for brands of every size. 

Automated personalization is an unbeatable combination. Harness the secret sauce behind making the data-driven personalization campaigns you know and love an easy lift.

  1. Introduction

  2. Why Email Personalization?

  3. Why Email Automation?

  4. Step 1: Data Activation Collection and Activation

  5. Step 2: Creative Generation

  6. Step 3: Integration

  7. Automated, Personalized Use Cases

  8. Conclusion

Why Email Personalization?

Using a customer’s unique data trail is crucial to bringing tailored communications to the inbox. 

Everyone loves personalized content, so what’s stopping brands from putting it into practice? It often boils down to three main concerns that, luckily, have clear-cut solutions:

Common Hurdles With Email Personalization

We don’t have the headcount for personalization.

  • Even though personalization boasts such a strong ROI, some brands still hesitate because they believe their resources and team are just too small. But personalization can be a winning solution for any-sized team—all they need is the right automation tool.

We’re overwhelmed with data and don’t know where to start.

  • Sorting through data points can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. But remember, not all data is created equal. Assess what data is most relevant for your brand’s personalization efforts. And when choosing an automation tool, find one that comes with the right support team to determine what data you need to hone in on. 

Personalization will negatively affect our branding.

  • When some brands picture a personalized email, they picture messaging that varies so much that it might as well be from different brands all together. That’s where templatizing comes in. By using a universal template that’s filled with individualized content blocks, companies can get the best of both worlds with brand-forward emails that are tailored to customers.

Your customers have spoken, and they say that personalization is crucial. Brands have spoken, and they say that automation is critical in making it happen.

Why Email Automation?

Email automation is when marketers discard hard-coding every single send for a set-it-and-forget-it approach. By setting triggers and rules to control what content deploys, marketers have an engine that generates communications responding to key customer actions.

When personalization is what customers want and automation is the tool to get there, what’s holding brands back?

Common Hurdles With Email Automation

Automation means sending my customers generic emails.

  • It’s true that automated emails can be generic. The key solution here? Data-driven automation.

  • When brands use relevant customer data to build their automated sends, a nuanced email is possible for every customer at the click of a button. 

I want control over my brand messaging. Automation will make me lose that creativity.

  • With the right strategy, automation is a tool and not a takeover. As the marketer, you get to set the rules and create the responses. The only difference is that you have more bandwidth for the creative brainstorming only you can do, instead of spending time doing manual, tedious tasks.

Automated personalization is a winning duo that allows marketers to bring their best creativity forward.

Where can marketers get started? It comes down to three core pillars: data collection and activation, creative generation, and integration.

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Step 1: Data Collection and Activation

Automated personalization starts with gathering the right data to generate the highly relevant campaigns.

The best place to start is with zero-party and first-party data.

Zero-Party Data Sourcing

Zero-party data is the information customers voluntarily give to brands in exchange for a better experience. Think of when customers first sign up for marketing comms—when they enter their name and email, they’re giving the brand zero-party data.

Here are some key ways you can optimize your zero-party data collection:

Boost your form fills

  • Whether it’s to snag that welcome discount or stay up-to-date on the latest product, the initial form fill is one of the most valuable ways to collect zero-party data. These first messages have a historically high open rate: 8 out of 10 customers will engage with these first comms.

  • Marketers should capitalize on the customer attention they’ve already captured by asking strategic, brand-specific questions. Don’t just stop at names and email addresses.

Gamify the experience

  • Everyone loves to be entertained, and that’s no different when it comes to marketing emails. Brands can send customers a quiz or a poll to learn about their preferences for retargeting emails. Another fun addition is social proofing—include live ratings and reviews to encourage new customers to share their opinions too.

First-Party Data Sourcing

First-party data is the data trail that customers leave behind when they interact with your brand’s platforms. All of customers’ behavior on your website, mobile site, or app are all instances of first-party information. 

Here’s how brands can keep their ear to the ground for first-party data:

Tracking pixels

  • A tracking pixel is a simple snippet of HTML code that lives on your site, whether customers are accessing it from a desktop or mobile device. The code may be tiny, but its powers are infinite. With tracking pixels, brands are able to note what pages customers stay on, what products catch their eye, what they’re leaving behind in their cart—and that’s just the beginning.

  • Tracking pixels allow brands to show customers the most recent and relevant information, empowering them to engage with the content.

CRMs

  • Virtually every brand has some type of customer resource management tool; it’s basically the phonebook equivalent for a marketing team. If a customer has passed through and left behind any information, this is where you’ll find it.

  • CRMs are especially key for evergreen and semi-permanent information. Think of traditional segments like name, location, email address, and gender. This type of information either never or rarely changes, making it useful to marketers no matter the campaign. CRMs are a perfect link to new incoming data that powers timely, relevant campaigns. 

The All-Inclusive Data-Gathering Email

Get a glimpse of data activation and collection in action, and how your brand can do the same for winning results.

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

In this email from Inkredible Retail, data collection and activation is in the message from head to toe. In the header image Mary, who recently joined the loyalty program, is greeted by her first name. Underneath, social proofing drives home the value of her most recent purchase, making the most of both Mary’s first-party data (her purchase history) and other customers’ zero-party data (their voluntary ratings and reviews). Based on Mary’s purchasing and browsing history, four new products are recommended to motivate her next buy. 

But this email isn’t only activating data, it’s using a poll to collect fresh zero-party data for the next retargeting email. Here, Mary can choose what describes her style best, and Inkredible Retail will respond with even better product recommendations—recommendations that won’t need to rely on reacting to Mary’s recent behavior. With this zero-party data, Inkredible Retail is empowered to make the first move and recommend products Mary has yet to see. 

To finish off the email, Inkredible Retail relies on their CRM to show a map to Mary’s closest store to pick up a new purchase or enjoy some in-person browsing.

Key Data Takeaways:

Whether its zero-party data, first-party data, or a mix of the two, some key steps are clear. Using automation, marketers must:

  • Keep up a data-gathering cycle.

  • Continually integrate all of their data to form one source of truth. 

  • Activate all data types for the most relevant marketing communications possible.

When data practices are strategic, customers are sure to feel like they’re one in a million, no matter how many people the brand is serving.

Step 2: Creative Generation

A brand may use the most current data possible, but still struggle to engage customers. Why? Because customers engage with content, not data. More than ever, customers want their brand information to be visual and communicate all they need to know at a glance. That’s why videos and infographics are booming with three times the engagement of any other post — customers are inherently visual-first. 

It’s virtually impossible to manually code a data-driven, visual communication for every customer. Automated creative generation is marketers’ key to fill that demand.

Taking Names Up a Notch

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

Creative generation at its best makes use of the automation and data-gathering techniques discussed in the section above. Here, the client’s name is pulled from the brand’s CRM and is transformed with a rich image. In a perfect marriage of first-party data and automated creative, Inkredible Travel uses Megan’s most recent browsing history to display the destination she’s got her heart set on. 

Remember, targeted and personalized experiences result in 30% more orders. To gain maximum engagement, marketers need to personalize beyond text and drive home their message with powerful images automated to order.

Bring Year-In-Reviews To Life

With the right automation tool, marketers can take images to the next level. First name personalization is only the first step.

An example of a personalized year-in-review email displaying the customer's habits throughout the year.

While this year-in-review email looks as though it took weeks to create, automation makes highly personalized emails a snap. By pairing a universal template with each customer’s unique data, Hello Fresh was able to whip up the perfect recipe for an automatically generated and tailored email.

The brand pulls in zero- and first-party data to display the customer’s habits over the year, such as boxes ordered, meals cooked, most popular recipes, as well as how much money their loyalty saved them throughout the year. To finish off the email, the value of the customer-brand partnership is shown by the impact the customer’s loyalty has on local community donations. 

Key Creative Generation Takeaways:

Today’s customers not only demand personalization, they are more visual-first than ever. Brands must respond with content that’s both highly visual and efficient to produce:

  • Bring relevant data to life with corresponding media.

  • Automate customizable templates to consistently generate engaging, personalized emails.

  • Create an unforgettable marketing experience through each data point, not just the major CTA responses.

Step 3: Integration

When creating a winning email, marketers have a lot they need to keep an eye on, whether that’s data, personalization, or automation. To make the lift easier, marketers should ensure they’re using the tools they already have at their disposal. That’s where integration comes in. For long-term success, optimize every source you have at your fingertips for powerful, nuanced messaging.

Web Crops

With the power of web cropping, brands can repurpose content from their website and loop it into their marketing campaigns. After all, why link customers to your site when you can showcase the highlights right in the email itself? Whether it’s spotlighting the most popular pages, displaying products your customer has already shown interest in, or promoting the latest store event, web cropping uses your existing content to its fullest potential.

Social Proofs

Nearly 90% of customers trust user reviews as much as a friend’s recommendation. With such a powerful influence, marketers would be wise to loop in product ratings and reviews. 

Similar to web crops, social proofing highlights a specific product, such as a best-seller or one that the customer has shown high interest in. Leverage valuable customer opinions and drive home the true value your products have brought to previous customers.

APIs

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are powerful tools uniquely equipped to make the most of every data source. APIs act as a gopher between softwares, bringing data where it needs to go. 

Take CRMs, for example. When marketers include data they’ve gathered from other sources, they’re able to include that in digital messaging through the power of APIs. As a go-between, APIs are crucial in seamless integration.

Key Integration Takeaways:

Integration is key in creating a highly strategic messaging plan. Here’s a rundown on how to use your existing integrations to the fullest potential:

  • For marketers to get an accurate picture of their customers, they need to take every source into account.

  • Opt for tools that make integration a seamless transition rather than troubleshooting single-solution products.

  • Online sources (APIs, websites, ratings) and offline sources (CRMs, customer feedback) are equally important to integrate when you create messaging. 

Automated, Personalized Email Use Cases

From economic downturns to up-and-coming privacy policies, marketers have dozens of concerns with  their finger in any pie. But ultimately,  the perennial focus of marketers is the customer. In every season and at every stage of the customer journey, customer-centricity is key.

The next few examples will showcase how automated, personalized emails can succeed in shining the spotlight on the customer, ultimately attracting new customers, fostering long-term loyalty, and increasing engagement.

Go Beyond "Hello" with Welcome Emails

An example of a personalized financial services email with a data visualization bar chart.

Welcome emails can generate 320% more revenue than other emails, boasting a staggering 90% open rate. But to make the most of this opportunity, welcome emails need more than the typical cursory message with a slim discount. 

Here, Jane is sent the key information she needs to start using her new credit card, along with CTAs formatted into a fun checklist. To finish off the email, personalized offers are included to inspire Jane to use her card. 

By offering clear next steps, Inkredible Financial guides Jane into getting the best experience possible with the brand, giving her true reason to stay with the brand long after that first welcome email. 

Want to discover how to create a similar email for your own brand? Here’s the layout:

Email Blueprints:

Creative generation

  • Jane’s name stands out with a rich image.

Data visualization

  • Inkredible Financial pulls in data on Jane’s customer status and transforms it into a bar graph that displays how far she’s come and where her next goals are.

Visualize Loyalty

Loyal customers spend nearly 70% more than new ones. Every customer is valuable, but no customer means as much to a company as their brand loyalists. Nurturing these customers and making them see how valued they are is absolutely crucial.

An example of a personalized loyalty email with a product recommendation.

That’s where Inkredible Retail steps in with this rewards email. Here, John knows exactly where he stands with the company with a personalized graph that shows how close he is to VIP status. For added value, John also receives personalized product recommendations that are not only a perfect fit—they rack up the points he needs to get to that next tier. To finish it off, Inkredible Retail’s social feed is looped in to remind John that he’s part of a vibrant community.

Email Blueprints:

Creative generation 

  • John’s name is given the spotlight with a hero image.

Data visualization

  • Inkredible Retail pulls in behavioral data and CRM information to create a personalized progress bar.

Product recommendations

  • Based on first-party data, Inkredible Retail recommends products they know John will love.

Web cropping

  • To inspire action, personalized products are not just recommended—they’re shown.

Social proofing

  • By looping in their social feed, the Inkredible Retail community can shine and motivate John to engage.

Drive a Cycle of Engagement

Automated personalization only works if it’s data-driven. To do that well, marketers must continuously gather fresh data to keep messaging as relevant as possible.

Here, Inkredible Travel sends out a poll to discover what location is most attractive to each customer.

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

Email Blueprints:

Polling functionality

  • Using rich images and Inkredible Travel’s most popular destinations, the brand is able to gather precious zero-party data to influence retargeting campaigns.

Social proofing

  • Once customers engage with the poll, they can see where they stand compared to other participants, stirring up curiosity for destinations that didn’t initially catch their eye. 

Data visualization

  • Numbers don’t mean much to visual-first customers. To turn the poll into at-a-glance information, up-to-date bar graphs appear once customers engage with the campaign.

Conclusion

Personalization and automation go hand-in-hand. With this unstoppable duo lightening the daily workload, marketers are empowered to deliver the great experiences customers expect.

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