Customize e-zines, don’t just personalize them

Segment lists to nanotarget newsletters, e-blasts

Email receivers have a new definition of spam. They now use the word to describe generic mass mailings not customized to them — even if they signed up for the email in the first place.

How to personalize email

Bespoke content Segment lists, then use meaningful pieces of data — your recipient’s dog’s name, maybe — to nanotarget readers. Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield

As technology and targeting capabilities evolve, subscribers are used to getting just-for-them content. They have negative opinions of generic mass mailings and unsubscribe or delete them or put them in their spam filters.

In this environment, send customized e-zines and email blasts, recommend the Nielsen Norman Group’s Kim Flaherty, Amy Schade and Jakob Nielsen, authors of Marketing Email and Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty, 6th Edition

Here’s how:

1. Segment your list.

“There might be a good business opportunity in creating more targeted newsletters aimed at more granular audiences,” write Flaherty et al.

So consider segmenting your list to offer more targeted, relevant e-zines and email blasts. Instead of producing an e-zine for, say, corporate communication writers, how about targeting subgroups like PR writers, email writers, web writers and social media writers? Or segment those who want to learn more about storytelling or clear and concise writing?

“Because email newsletters are highly precise one-to-one communications, it’s worth thinking of ways to serve smaller (but still substantial) subgroups within your market,” write Flaherty et al. “The more a newsletter speaks to somebody who feels overlooked elsewhere, the stronger their emotional attachment to their subscription.”

2. Ask for details during registration.

Is there a single piece of data you could get during the sign-up process that would help you deliver customized content? E-zine producers have customized content based on:

  1. Dates. BabyCenter asks subscribers to share their due date on the sign-up page. Then it delivers an e-zine called, “My baby this week.”
  2. Names. Vets and dog-food producers increase response rates by putting BoBo’s name in subject lines and email messages.
  3. Location. Use ZIP codes to target nearby conference attendees, for instance. Or filter last-minute flight deals by recipient’s departure airport. Or deliver tomorrow’s weather in your town.
  4. Gender. addresses subscribers as “Mom.” Why not tag subscribers by gender to avoid alienating the dads?
  5. Preferences. Give readers a list of topics to tick off. Then send only what they ask for.

If you ask for these details and preferences, use them. Subscribers assume that if they take the time to fill out the form, you’ll take the time to tag and target them.

And give subscribers a chance to update their preferences via a link from the e-zine itself.

3. Use purchasing, viewing history.

Subscribers are sophisticated: They know how email targeting works.

Consider this recipient of a email blast, who wished she’d received more relevant product recommendations: “They could have directed me to styles I liked from previous purchasing habits,” she told a NNG researcher.

Take her advice. Tailor content based on previous purchases and page views.

Sender, beware. But be careful with this approach. Make sure you’re segmenting based on good data. As a longtime Blue Apron addict, I get irritated when I get yet another eblast inviting me to give their service a try.

And one Lyst shopper was surprised to receive a reminder to buy a dress she’d looked at on the website — after she had already purchased that dress and returned it because it didn’t fit.

Don’t fake it.

Don’t pretend to offer personalized content. Does your subject line say, “The latest industry news and events — curated just for you, Karelyn”?

Then the message better contain curated-just-for-you information — and not just generic spam.

What techniques do you use to personalize emails?


Sources: Kim Flaherty, Amy Schade and Jakob Nielsen; Marketing Email and Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty, 6th Edition; Nielsen Norman Group, 2017

“Personalization — it is not about first/last name. It’s about relevant content.”
— Dan Jak, head of email & SMS, British Gas

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