How to Take Email Personalization to the Next Level: Q&A with Damian Borichevsky, SVP Customer Success & Business Development

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Top marketers are aware of how personalization can lead to big wins in email marketing. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened and marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.

Even though there are heaps of articles about how personalization and dynamic content can lead to success, there’s still a lot of confusion about how to make it a reality. What’s more, there’s even more confusion about the differences between email personalization versus email segmentation and how technology makes these strategies possible.

We sat down with OneSpot SVP Customer Success & Business Development Damian Borichevsky to get answers to some of the most common questions about email personalization. Read on for his expert insights on the topic and strategies to help you execute more effective and efficient email personalization.

Q: Research suggests marketers are struggling to integrate personalization into their email campaigns. According to Media Post, only 56% of marketers listed segmentation-based targeting as a top tactic, and only 21% were leveraging real-time personalization or A/B testing. Why aren’t more marketers personalizing email?

A: I think it’s a combination of lack of awareness of the tools that are now available and in a way, fear, and I think the latter is a derivative of the former.  

When an email marketer thinks about content personalization, they start picturing this exercise of breaking up their list into segments, writing dynamic content rules for each of their segment, picking content for each segment and then managing that over time. They see their workload multiplying by the number of segments that they will now have to support and it can be pretty intimidating. This is the picture that they get because for as long as I have been involved in the email industry, which is going on 12 years now, the ESP industry has not provided a better solution.    

Q: For many marketing teams, segmentation-based personalization leads to improved engagement metrics. But while segmentation increases email relevancy and improves general engagement, the level of personalization is fairly limited. How can marketers take email personalization to the next level?

A: For as long as I’ve been around the email marketing space, the terms personalization and segmentation have been used almost interchangeably. In most cases, when email marketers think they are personalizing, they are really segmenting. Most email marketers have gone as far as their tools and time have allowed them to and they are likely seeing good results from their efforts. The irony is that with the right tools, personalization is way easier than segmentation and will provide even better results. The most important thing that they can do is to challenge the status quo and explore the exciting new tools that are available today.  

Q: There are a lot of articles about how generating personalized content can lead to email marketing success, but there’s still plenty of confusion about how to implement true 1:1 email personalization. What data and technology are needed to make email personalization possible?

A: Content personalization is most effective when it is based on a combination of behavioral, contextual and personal data signals. Each one brings something different to the table and exerts its own influence on the result set.  

Behavioral signal is what drives services like Netflix and Amazon and is the signal derived from watching what other people have done. Even if you know nothing about a particular person, you can use behavior signal to select content around some editorially selected theme or topic.

Contextual signal is powered by machine learning techniques like Natural Language Processing (NLP). Using NLP to machine read content allows articles, blog posts and other content assets to be grouped thematically. Again, even if you know nothing about a person, contextual signal can be used to build a content story around a topic. While the personal signal is not required to make quality content recommendations, it certainly amplifies the strength of the results.

Personal signal can help find smaller niche topics within a broader theme that will really appeal to a particular user. For example, if the theme is grilling, but the personal signal we have on a user shows that they have consumed a bunch of seafood recipes, we can deliver a set of grilled fish recipes that both hit the desired theme and leverage what we know about the individual. Another key benefit of the personal signal is that it allows us to select fresh content that they individual has not already consumed. An article that has already been read is generally going to be much less interesting to a person than one that they have not yet seen.

As far as the technology required to take advantage of all this data to personalize your email campaigns with content, there hasn’t really been a great answer until just recently. Email personalization technology has progressed for eTailers with companies like MovableInk and LiveClicker offering countdown clocks, inventory counts and local customization in the inbox.  But, email marketers looking to take advantage of long-form content in their emails were still left wanting. What we are doing at OneSpot is really innovative in this regard and is allowing content-based mailings to move from segmentation to personalization.

Download our guide: How to Master Individualization to Delight Your Customers for best practices for delivering 1:1 personalized content experiences across every channel.