Why Personalization for Your Email Marketing Messages Might Fail

By Casey Murray

89% of digital marketers surveyed reported an overall lift from personalization efforts. (Evergage Report, Jun 2016)

Every marketer would like to personalize, but the things that make personalization effective also make it difficult. Building a personal message takes time, effort, data analysis, and a lot of content. When it’s done well, you have relevant content that suits your individual audience members. But, when faced with the hard process of tailoring content or blasting another email, many will choose the easy route. Overcome these five challenges and you will be in the rare group of marketers that effectively personalize emails and reap the benefits of increased engagement and reduced churn.

1. The Silo Problem

Data Silos – To effectively personalize your email marketing, you will need to overcome the silos that restrict the free flow of your customer data (CRM data, search data, purchase history). Every organization has rich data on their customers and their prospects, but that data sits in a variety of places and lacks a unifying platform. Leveraging your “known” data and getting it into a usable, aggregated format takes tremendous effort.

“What companies need are systems that can run the advanced analytics to discover useful and practical insights, and then trigger the sending of appropriate messaging, e.g., if customer “A” does action “B,” send item “C.” (HBR- How Marketers can Personalize at Scale. Nov 2015)

Organizational Silos – Silos exist within your organization as well.  Does your Retention Marketing team share nicely with your Acquisition team?  Many companies struggle with internal silos that don’t want to share data or share tools.  Your CRM team does not want anyone to access or foul up their prized possession and they don’t want your API calls to slow down performance either.

“When asked why their organizations have not yet adopted website or in-app personalization, 39% of marketers indicated that the top barriers are a lack of effective solution/technology, budget constraints and a lack of knowledge/skills/people. Other barriers include insufficient integration and consistency across all marketing channels, not enough time, bad quality/dirty data and scalability across sites, to name a few.” (Evergage survey 2016)

2.  Lack of Data Analytics

Getting all of your data into one place leads to your next challenge.  How can you analyze the data and spot patterns that yield actionable insights?  The only manageable way to analyze your customer and contextual data is to use machine learning to identify patterns and optimize your content selections.

“Data and analytics are the backbone of personalization at scale.” (HBR Nov 2015.)

Most data analysis efforts fail to get beyond simple segmentation. That forces the marketer to make assumptions about a group which effectively undermines your personalization efforts. “This group bought from us before when we sent a coupon, let’s send another one,” is not very personal, and it’s not a good strategy.

3. Real-Time email solutions force you to write Policies and Rules for content selection:

If you get your data coordinated and it yields meaningful insight into how to personalize your data, you will quickly reach the next challenge. How do we put this data to work to personalize the content that you show your audience? Most marketers today will use policy-based rules to select the content. They select a group and apply the same “personalization” to each member of that group. That sounds more like profiling than personalization.

Ugh. You went into marketing to drive creative ways of taking your product to market and engaging customers, not to become an “if x then y” programmer.

Proof Point: Why writing rules won’t scale – A large online wine seller recently received accolades for their 1:1 Marketing efforts. Their personalization campaign sent more targeted messages to their buyers with an understanding of their tastes, their region, and their buying history. Upon closer review of their program, the vendor shared that it took over 9 months to build the logic that drove the content selection process. Nine months.

4. Reason why your efforts may fail:  Content creation

If you do garner meaningful data insights from your data analysis and you build a testable hypothesis for what content should be delivered at each step of the buyer’s interaction with your brand, then you reach the next hurdle: making the content.

It will take great content, and a lot of it.

“Content fuels personalization —This puts a significant onus on developing a strong content ‘supply chain’ fed by designers, copywriters, animators, and videographers. All content attributes can and should be tested regularly—to refine the look and feel and tone, calls to action, and the value proposition.”  (From HBR. article on Personalizing Your Marketing. Nov 2015)

5. Patience

If you have a great content team and you can crank out relevant assets for each requirement in your buyer’s education process, then consider yourself lucky and brace yourself for the final challenge. Effectively using data to personalize your marketing takes time and patience to yield results.

Will you and your organization stay patient as emails go unopened and links go unclicked?  Do you have the stomach and does your organization have the perseverance to keep your personalized marketing efforts going? Or will you fall back on blasting out more coupons to spike sales and churn through your database?

With stats showing that consumers want fewer emails and more relevant content in their inbox, you should make the case that personalization is not going to be optional in the near future.


About the Author: Casey Murray is Vice President of Marketing for Wylei. Wylei provides marketers a machine learning solution to optimize and personalize email.

About Wylei: “As customers start to expect personalization in their inbox, today’s digital marketing teams need to utilize their customer and contextual data and to evolve from the batch and blast mentality.  A solution like Wylei, that leverages machine learning, gives marketers an automated way to learn what content is engaging the audience and to use this data to personalize messages in real-time.” Kath Pay, Founder Holistic Email