Personalizing Your Email Marketing

dynamic content in email

Recently on the Direct Marketing News Site, Editor-in-Chief Ginger Conlon talked about the positive effect personalization can have on your email marketing efforts. “The sweetest words to anyone is their own name,” she writes. “If you have my name, and you’re a direct marketer, why don’t you use it?”

Every email solution worth its salt at least has the ability to use the first name field somewhere in the mailing. More advanced software can take this one step further by letting you control the sender and reply lines as well—an important feature if the recipients are used to dealing with specific salespeople. Still more sophisticated software will take this even further, allowing you to tailor an email’s content to use any portion of a recipient’s data. Yet, in spite of this, many marketers go out of their way to make their mailings as generic as possible. As Seth Godin has pointed out on numerous occasions, generic means boring, and boring means no sale.

It’s easy to understand where some of the reluctance of marketers to use personalization comes from. When the ability to add demographic data to email was first introduced, many marketers (bad marketers) muddied the field by sticking a person’s first name in nearly every subject line. After a while, subjects like “Jim, look at this great deal!” became synonymous with spam. But personalization is about so much more than sticking a person’s first name in the subject line or at the top of the message. It’s about providing content in each and every email that is specifically relevant to that person alone. Relevancy means not sending generic messages. Relevancy means when people read it, they feel like you are really talking to them.

While you can certainly improve your customer engagement with the simple addition of a first name field to your emails, the key to real personalization is dynamic content. Dynamic content simply means that when it comes time to send email to a person, the software looks for specific information that you’ve entered based on that person’s statistics (demographics). If the demographics say the person likes orange juice, then you may want to say something about orange juice. If the demographics say a person hates orange juice, then any mention of the subject is removed from the email.

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few good ways to use dynamic content to improve reader response:

Location-based offers

Companies with different locations can take advantage of the fact that some recipients are close to certain locations by telling them about nearby site-specific sales or events. There are a few ways to accomplish this depending on the size of the company. State, city, or Zip code information is the easiest way for companies with just a few sites to do this, but if it is a company with many locations all over the country (or the world, for that matter), a site (or store) number field is the best way to accomplish this. Another advantage of using the store number field is if a client prefers to visit a certain location, regardless of its proximity to their actual address. For example: I live down the street from a CVS store, but I never go there. I go to the one near where I work, which is several miles from my home. A coupon for the store near my house might entice me to visit, but one for the location near my office will have a better chance of drawing me in.

Membership privileges

If a person has membership or a similar preferred status, your email should reflect this. Two of the most favorably received types of email are those that make people feel “special” and those that impart “secret” information. Email directed at members accomplish both of these at once. You can also use this information to create unique user coupons, either as components of the email, or dynamic barcodes. If your company has a membership and you are not using that information to advance sales, you are ignoring a strong potential sales channel.

Gender and age specifics

This is almost a no-brainer. Gender and age are two of the most important variables when it comes to assembling an email message. Men don’t buy the same things as woman, and older people don’t have the same needs as teenagers. You can send everyone on your list the same email, but that’s the quickest route to the trash folder. Sending a single man an email about your back-to-school specials might not make sense, whereas a family with kids will certainly want to hear about it. Sometimes this can be handled with segmentation, but if you are tracking a specific event (such as a company-wide sale), then you may want one email to cover it.


In the end, people want email that pertains to them. If they feel like you are only pretending to do this then they are going to tune you out. The careful use of dynamic content will let you create email that speaks to each recipient individually, which, in turn, increases the potential for engagement. With careful and sensible dynamic content use, you can make sure that each person receives the email that best matches their needs and desires, and, in the end, isn’t that what we all want?

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