As someone who has spent over 20 years on email personalisation projects I’ve seen it all over the years. And I’d be lying if every project I’ve worked on in some form has been a success. While personalisation has the potential to deliver you the biggest wins in your email marketing, like anything in life, done badly and you’ll get what it deserves. Here are what I think are the 5 main reasons why personalisation projects fail.
I’ve seen it where a CEO says ‘Personalisation is the future’ and wants something live next week, or where the marketing team has been shown a piece of AI functionality in their email marketing platform and dive in creating campaigns straight away.
This approach fails because personalisation isn’t a tick list exercise that you simply turn on. You need to understand areas such as:
• What drives customer taste and what are they likely to buy next? Understanding this helps you rule in and out various methods for implementing personalisation
• Who are the key distinct audiences we are trying to reach and what is their current performance?
• What is the opportunity size? Even if results are exceptional will that mean a noticeable uplift in actual revenue or will it be so small it will get lost in the day to day noise of trading?
Following on from the lack of research, a linked problem is the personalisation won’t scale up. Often the easiest personalisation ideas are scenarios that don’t happen very often, so even if you double the conversion rate with personalisation the business won’t notice the extra revenue on the bottom line for that activity alone.
For example, perhaps a gardening retailer knows that people who buy a bird table should be cross sold bird food. This absolutely makes sense and is likely to improve bird feed revenue. But if bird tables are only 2% of transactions the overall opportunity size each week is tiny.
Instead of thinking about niche examples brands need to think about how they can scale personalisation across the board, in all email experiences. In this instance creating a global post purchase programme for all buyers, with an AI recommendations model recommending products no matter what they bought last time is one step.
But even then that is only reaching a relatively small number of people.
Better still is to start thinking about how the day to day campaign emails that go to your entire mailable database can be personalised. Its roughly the same amount of effort to put the foundations in place to do this but some simple back of the envelope maths shows how it will dwarf anything your triggered email programme brings in.
Typically (and depending on if you accurately attribute sales) triggered campaigns might make up for 20% of all email revenue, and your ‘bulk’ sends 80%. If you were extremely optimistic and said you could grow revenue across all triggered emails by 20% with personalisation, you would still only need to see a 5% uplift from your bulk emails with personalisation – the latter is far more easily achievable and realistic.
This comes down to an understanding of what personalisation really is. When we talk about personalisation we mean tailoring content to the individuals specific tastes. This isn’t tailoring content to quite broad groups of customers such as product category specific – that will work better than generic but doesn't realise the full potential of personalisation.
If individual level personalisation is a precision sniper rifle, and generic content is a randomly thrown hand grenade then the middle ground described is a shotgun – some of it will hit, but most will miss.
Brands go down that middle ground route because it is a method they understand how to execute – they perhaps don’t know how to reach individual level personalisation, especially as most email marketing platforms don’t have solutions in this area.
The other way customers won’t notice your personalisation efforts is focussing on things that aren’t important. Perhaps throwing a few recommendations at the very bottom of the email underneath stacks of generic content. Your individually personalised content still needs to be front and centre of your email just like any other content you want the highest impact with.
Personalisation projects can’t be mapped out in granular detail at each step. Their very nature means you need to be agile as you test and learn to make refinements. Combine that with the fast paced same day turnaround nature of email marketing and you really can’t be in a position of having to wait for techies.
Yet internal tech resource doesn’t work that way. The modern approach is to put everything into an allocated sprint that could be weeks or months away. Even if it’s a quick fix it still requires a ticket.
As a result personalisation projects lose momentum and don’t evolve from the first campaign that is sent, then wither and die. That isn’t a fault of internal tech teams – they have to be structured this way to serve the needs of the entire business. But for marketers looking for fast execution without internal resource barriers they should invest in tech and partners that can work at the real-time pace they need.
Are your email marketing campaigns customer centric or product centric? I’d probably guess the majority are the latter. Email is the channel used to push tactical offers to drive short term goals whether that is a quick boost to hit the monthly revenue target, promotions to clear old stock or campaigns to launch new products.
This presents a challenge to the email team who want to ensure all messaging is tailored to each individual when they lack control over the content. Personalisation often doesn’t get off the ground here.
That is why to make personalisation succeed the brand has to design it around these business priorities, and even using personalisation to help drive the underlying objectives.
If all of that sounds daunting, don’t fear as partners like Reignite exist to help you at every step of the way to make your email personalisation goals a reality.