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The ins and outs of message personalization with customer data

You know a lot about your customers—perhaps even more than you realize. From a customer’s name, language and location to their most visited page, purchase history, and app activity, the insights you can gather from your customer data are endless. It’s what you do with that insight that determines the depth of your customer relationships.  

Every data point is an opportunity for message personalization. That means using your customer data to create experiences tailored specifically to each individual’s interests and preferences. Not only does that build trust and connection with your audience, but it also aligns with what customers want from brands:

  • 76% of customers expect personalized attention to develop an intimate relationship with a brand.
  • 80% of people are more likely to make a purchase when they have a personalized experience.
  • 91% of customers are more likely to shop with brands that remember their preferences and give them personalized marketing offers and recommendations. 

If you’re not using customer data for personalized marketing messages, you’re missing out on ways to deepen engagement and drive retention. Let’s dive in to how you can put your customer data to work for more personal messaging.  

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Customer data best practices

Before you can harness the power of personalization, you need to ensure your customer data is handled correctly.

Collect and store data responsibly

First-party data is the information customers actively share with you, either by providing it directly or interacting with your brand. Personalization can backfire if people don’t trust you to use that data responsibly. Simply put, that means being clear about the type and use of the customer data you collect.

  • Follow privacy regulations. Compliance with data privacy laws in your location (like GDPR and CCPA) is essential, not just to avoid penalties, but to maintain customer confidence. Don’t just do the bare minimum required by law; you’ll build better relationships if customers know their privacy is a core component of your data strategy.
  • Get enthusiastic consent. Make sure customers actually want to hear from you and are happy to receive personalized messages. In addition to using double opt-in when people sign up for your list, ask them to consent to the way in which you’ll use their data. A subscription center is helpful here. That way, your customers can decide which types of communication they want to receive from you. 
  • Be transparent. Message personalization can go from compelling to creepy if it uses data a customer didn’t know you were collecting. Clearly communicate what data you collect and how it will be used. And don’t just bury that info in your privacy policy; make it clear during the opt-in process. 

Examine your data sources

Your strategy for collecting and storing data is as important as your strategy for activating it. Make sure you have a reliable system, like a customer data platform (CDP) that gathers and unifies customer data so you can put it to use. 

  • Tap into all your data. Think of all the touchpoints a customer may have with your brand, including your website, social media, sales/customer service interactions, and their actual use of your product or service. Collecting these key behaviors is the first part of building a solid personalization strategy.
  • Zero in on the data you need. Evaluate the information you need to effectively segment and personalize your messaging—including the data required to support your strategy in the future. This data tracking guide (with handy templates!) can help you create a plan for collecting what’s important.  
  • Ensure accuracy and unity. Your CDP can only deliver clean, accurate data if it connects to all the tools in your martech stack—and your personalized marketing messages are only as powerful as the data your CDP provides. Make sure data doesn’t live in silos with a CDP that connects all your tools together.

Maintain good list hygiene

Sending messages only to customers who clearly want to receive them is an important precursor to message personalization. When your audience list is healthy, you’re more likely to engage customers and maintain high deliverability.

  • Enact a sunset policy. If your overall engagement rates are low, email clients are more likely to flag your messages as spam across the board. Remove people from non-transactional campaigns if they haven’t opened a message in six months.
  • Use engagement filters. If you’re not quite ready to sunset an audience member, reduce the number of messages you’re sending them by adding an engagement filter to your marketing campaigns. You can filter out customers based on many different engagement criteria, such as email opens, CTA clicks, and purchase history.
  • Implement a subscription center. What’s worse than an unsubscribe? A customer marking your message as spam because it’s irrelevant to their interests. A subscription center puts people in control of the types of messages they receive from you. Not only does this reduce overall unsubscribe rates and spam complaints, it also gives you more intel for personalization by collecting data about customers’ interests. 

Message personalization best practices

Now, let’s delve into five best practices for message personalization so you can tailor your marketing to individual preferences and behaviors—and foster strong relationships with your customers.

Segment your audience

Segmentation lays the foundation for successful personalization. The more segmented your strategy, the more personal your message will be. 

  • Get hyper-targeted with segmentation. Divide your customers into targeted segments based on their demographics, preferences, behaviors, or purchase history so you can tailor your messages specifically to each group.
  • Consider the customer journey. People have different needs at various points in their customer journey, so use segmentation to deliver campaigns that resonate at each stage. Consider things like message frequency, content, and calls to action appropriate to leads, new customers, people at risk of churn, and your long-time loyal customers. 

Use dynamic content

Dynamic content is when things get exciting for personalization. Engagement increases when you use specific details about your customers to create dynamic versions of your messaging. 

  • Use merge fields and Liquid. Insert individually-tailored content into emails, and go beyond “Hello {{customer.first_name}}”—try referencing specific behaviors related to your product or service, like the last delivery meal they ordered or the book they most recently added to their must-read list. 
  • Create images that include something personal. Try using the recipient’s name or the city where they live—or both! For example, a sports news app could include an image with the customer’s last name on their city’s football team jersey.
  • Use third-party API data. You can reference real-time data that’s relevant to customers’ lives. For instance, an events ticketing platform could use local weather data to suggest an outdoor concert for the coming weekend if it’s warm out, or recommend a stand-up comedy show if the forecast calls for rain. 
  • Employ personalized content in multiple channels. Email, SMS, push, and in-app messages can all benefit from personalization, and dynamic content across all the channels you use creates a holistic customer experience. Pay attention to the specific characteristics and limitations in different channels; personalization needs are different depending on the channel you’re using.
  • Leverage AMP for email. Time spent updating automated emails because details of your products or features have changed is no longer necessary with AMP for email. When you craft AMP components directly into your email, content stays up-to-date dynamically within the message itself. Bonus? AMP allows you to add interactive elements that customers can dynamically engage with in-situ. They can complete surveys, RSVP to events, respond to comments, and so much more. 

Tip: Don’t overdo it. Customers want to feel like you’re listening and responding to their needs, but too many personalized elements can give your messages a “big brother is watching” vibe. Ensure your personalizations are in service of giving customers more valuable experiences.

Automate just-right timing

As the saying goes, timing is everything. Sending personalized marketing messages at the right time ensures your content is both compelling and actionable.

  • Follow the customer’s lead. When a customer takes action, respond with triggered messaging that makes them feel like they’re getting personalized attention right when they expect it. Transactional emails are an ideal place to include both personalized customer data and information about the action they recently took. You could personalize content based on someone’s web page visits in your welcome email to new subscribers, offer related product recommendations in shipping updates, or provide account activity history in a password-reset confirmation email.  
  • Send relevant messages at the moment a customer is most likely to act. A classic example of this strategy is an abandoned cart campaign. A customer has signaled a high level of engagement by placing something in their cart, and you have a narrow window of time to bring them back to complete the order. A message offering a discount or reviews of the product in their cart speaks directly to their specific needs in the moment. 
  • Don’t forget about timezones. The time of day you send a message matters, so make sure it’s the right moment for everyone by sending messages in customers’ specific time zones. This ensures that messages you know work best in the morning don’t come through in the middle of the night for some people, and gives you an opportunity to personalize your content based on things people are commonly doing at certain times, like eating lunch around noon.

Create relevant, valuable experiences

The next logical step for a customer should be the one you take with your personalized marketing. To create meaningful connections that resonate, ensure the personalized messaging you send is relevant to your audience.

  • Think of communication as a two-way street. After a customer makes a purchase, don’t just send an upsell message; invite them to review what they bought or contact you if they need assistance. After an interaction with tech support, reach out to ask if their problem is fully resolved, referencing the topic they needed help with.  
  • Provide educational content. After they purchase an item, follow up with helpful tips for using it. If they try a new feature in your app, engage them with a walk-through or best practices guide for that feature.   
  • Use engagement data for content ideas. Let customer engagement drive subsequent content. For example, a sporting goods retailer might send a promotional email, then track what categories of products each customer views after clicking through. In the next email, a customer who browsed yoga products would see mats and blocks as featured products, while the same email would showcase shoes and headphones to someone who explored running gear. 
  • Make it easier for customers to reach their goals. Walk through next steps based on actions your customers have already taken. For example, you could provide a step-by-step campaign for processes, such as onboarding to a new SaaS product, renewing a membership, or activating a license.
  • Reinforce value by celebrating milestones. Congratulate your customers when they, for instance, save 40 hours by using your time-management extension, hit a savings goal they’ve set in your budgeting app, or complete an online course. You can even help them become brand evangelists by providing easy ways to share their achievements with their social networks. 

Mitigate risk and test, test, test

Personalization is complex. As a result, things can easily go awry if the right testing structure isn’t in place to help you see success.

  • Implement a standard testing process. With so many moving parts, personalization carries the risk of things going wrong. That’s why a thorough QA of every message and campaign before making it active is key. For example, you can use Queue Draft to see exactly what messages a customer would receive—including dynamic personalized content—and how they’d flow through a campaign. 
  • Implement Liquid fallbacks. Whenever you personalize messages, you’ll want to set up fallbacks to prevent issues if data is missing from a customer’s profile. For instance, if you’re referencing customers’ locations but someone doesn’t have data listed for that attribute, you run the risk of an awkward scenario like “It’s a beautiful day in city-name” appearing in a message; a fallback can avoid that problem.  
  • Test your messages in multiple environments. Different mobile devices, email clients (including browser-based, desktop apps, and mobile apps), browsers, and operating systems. Half of all emails are opened on mobile, so ensure you’re testing thoroughly for message performance on phones and tablets. 

A/B testing your personalized messages

Every audience is unique, so conduct ongoing tests to find out what’s working well for your customers, experiment with different approaches, and refine your strategy over time. 

  • Only test one variable at a time. You can test all manner of things, like specific aspects of content (subject lines, calls to action, images, etc.), send times, personalization aspects, and more. But you’ll only know if a variable is making a difference if you isolate it.
  • Test personalized vs. non-personalized messaging. While personalization has been shown to improve engagement, you need to understand how different approaches land for your own audience. When you add personalization to a message, start by A/B testing the personalized versus non-personalized message to see if that particular type of personalization moves the needle. 
  • Test different elements over time. Use A/B testing to see how different elements of your message content performs. When you’re interpreting results, make sure you’re only acting on outcomes that are statistically significant.  
  • Use cohort testing. Message content isn’t the only thing you can test. Try testing the timing or the number of touchpoints in a campaign. You can even use this approach to test multiple campaigns against each other.
  • Try holdout testing. This method will help you see if sending a specific message is actually valuable. This allows you to compare conversions for people who receive a particular message versus those who don’t.

Ready to get personal?

Once you start with message personalization, remember to keep gathering data and optimizing. In addition to applying insights from your A/B tests, solicit customer feedback and adjust your strategy based on their input. After all, the best way to make customers feel heard is to improve their experience based on what they directly tell you—that’s some truly powerful customer data. 

To learn more about making experimentation an integral part of your personalization strategy, check out our webinar “Live Build: Testing and Attribution.” You’ll discover how to craft more impactful messaging campaigns that lead to increased engagement and conversions.