When it comes to email marketing, personalization has always been a top priority for brands. After all, our inboxes are consistently flooded with offers, most of which have nothing to do with our previous purchases or shopping interests. As a result, the data proves that, when we see an email offer that's personalized to our specific interests, we're more inclined to open it than a random, generic one.
Unfortunately, only 27 percent of marketers can execute basic personalization tactics such as including a subscriber's name or birthday in an email. Plus, only 26 percent of marketers can personalize based on additional data beyond name and email (such as browsing history), according to a Yes Lifecycle Marketing survey of 300 marketers.
Anyone who has ever used an email marketing or marketing automation platform knows that personalizing messages based off of a customer's name or birthday is one of the easier ways to provide relevance to an offer. So why are almost three-quarters of these survey respondents having an issue executing on these basic forms of personalization? Forty-four percent of them said they need technology innovations while 37 percent said they need better analytics services to make these personalization initiatives happen.
"It doesn't boil down to a single issue," said Ivy Shtereva, Director of Marketing and Marketing Operations at Yes Lifecycle Marketing. "Sometimes there's too little data or too much data. With so many marketers collecting so much data, they don't know which portions to use to personalize. Some don't collect enough."
One of the biggest issues marketers have, according to Shtereva, is that many single, multi-use marketing platforms can't collect and execute off of the data provided by customers. "A lot of the technology out there is add-on technology; a single platform can't do it all," she said. "A lot of technology vendors are starting to get there and, hopefully, the need for multiple partners to do this will go away."
Because of this, marketers have had to do things such as pull data from customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce systems into marketing software to execute on personalization campaigns. For example, think of how often you receive post-purchase "Thank You" emails or emails that provide follow-up offers.
"An anniversary campaign is the easiest campaign to activate," said Shtereva. "Every single vendor knows the date a person [joins the list]. Every e-commerce platform knows the year of a [customer's] first purchase. It's the lowest-hanging fruit."
Despite this most basic functionality, 17 percent of survey respondents said they either haven't started or lack the right tools to collect, analyze, and derive insights from their data, according to the report.
Email Is Alive and Well
Personalized or generic, email remains the top channel for marketers. Nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) of marketing professionals surveyed list using email as one of their top three priorities for 2018, and 45 percent said it was their number-one priority, the most of any channel.
"Email is absolutely the most consistent channel in terms of performance over the last decade and remains the channel that drives the highest ROI [return on investement] for marketers," said Shtereva. "It's the cheapest but drives the most revenue. It's easy to maintain. That's not to say it can't be improved."
As part of that improvement, marketers are also prioritizing their websites to better funnel data back and forth between the purchase channel and the marketing channel. Almost one out of every four marketers (23.5 percent) listed their website as their top priority for 2018, the second-most selected option.
"An email can only do half the job; a website does the other half," said Shtereva. "It introduces you to the brand and the offer. It's the website's job to convert. Those two go hand in hand. It's also vital as a data collection tool. Form data, contact center data, purchase data—all are collected on the website and can be used by marketers to personalize additional communications. Email activity is something that marketers can gauge from email, but it's the website data that's the true tool for personalizing communications."
While personalization remains the Holy Grail for marketers, finding the proper way to engage customers isn't necessarily the direct goal of a marketing channel for the business overall. In fact, 40.5 percent of survey respondents said the primary goal of marketing communications for their businesses was to drive revenue as opposed to only 17 percent who said it was to drive engagement. Additionally, only 7.4 percent said marketing communications were primarily designed to build customer loyalty.
For Shtereva, these priorities are somewhat backward. After all, if engagement supplies data and data enables personalization and personalization improves sales, then shouldn't engagement be the first and most important objective of an email operation? Not when tomorrow's bottom line gets in the way, she explained.
"I can't stress enough how we need to acknowledge the limitations of business," she said. "Sometimes the longer-term goals that should drive revenue get deprioritized so that the short-term gains are put to the forefront. I don't want to say this is bad practice but [personalization and engagement] will continue to be a challenge if marketers do not attempt to move beyond the year-over-year [revenue] gain objective."