The 5 Best Ways to Personalize Your Emails

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Personalized mass emails, ostensibly an oxymoron, are all the rage these days. Personalized emails improve click-through rates by an average of 14%. A personalized subject line is 26% more likely to be opened. And there are more stats where those came from. Check out this Campaign Monitor compilation for 9 other incredible stats about personalized emails if you don’t believe me yet.

But it’s one thing to say that personalized emails are amazing. It’s another to go ahead and start implementing them. “Personalized email,” after all, is a very vague term and can mean quite a lot of different email activities. What should you be doing? What are some easy wins to implement now? What are some bigger ideas to implement a little further down the road?

1. Use Your Subscribers’ Names.

Typically the easiest win of all is to use variable fields (called tokens by Marketo and merge tags by Mailchimp), to lace your subscribers’ names throughout your emails. Doing so requires very little work, as you just have to go back into your emails and make sure that the tag is in the right place in the sentence, usually either writing it in or drag and dropping the code. The code, by the way, tends to look as simple as something like this: *|First_Name|*. (That is the Mailchimp form.)

That said, where are some good places to put your subscriber’s names? While it’s completely up to your creativity and email designs, here are some places where a name tends to feel most natural in an email:

  • The subject line. “First name, We noticed….”; “How’s it going, First name?”

  • The preview text. Typically the preview text is that small bit of text way up at the top left of the email header. If you decide not to include a name in the subject line, putting a name in the first 5 words of the preview text guarantees that you will still be able to affect open rates with your personalization.

  • Salutation. Most obviously, it’s a great idea to start your email body off with “Hi First Name!” or “Dear First Name,”

As a final note on using names: if you have not previously been collecting the names of your subscribers at some point during your interactions (initial form or later), do NOT send one of your interns on a data collection search to dredge up everyone’s names. Personalization can quickly move from thoughtful to creepy when you use data subscribers didn’t give you, or when you reveal that they have somehow given you extremely personal information they wouldn’t want a company using to target them. Rather than discovering names through the internet, try asking them for names instead, via a survey perhaps.

You can also alter your current forms and begin collecting new subscribers’ names. When you send an email with a variable field to a subscriber who doesn’t have data for that field, it will simply appear blank in the email. Just make sure not to make this common mistake: “First name, rest of subject line…” will appear as “, rest of subject line…” to someone whose name you don’t have.

2. Send emails to small segments.

Segmentation allows you to push your subscribers into highly personalized lists based on aspects of their lives. A well-segmented list will have a subscriber thinking you truly understand them specifically. Here are some ideas of personalized emails based on smart segmentation:

  • The location-based email. A location-based list can allow you to talk to your subscribers about current events and weather occurring in their area. Home Depot can send an email about purchasing snow shovels to its customers ahead of a major snowstorm hitting a region, for instance. Uber can (and does) send its D.C. customers emails about using Uber instead of taking the Metro when the Metro is on fire.

  • The demographic-based email. Demographics are super handy for easy personalization. For starters, companies who sell both men and women’s clothing can send emails that are personalized to their customer’s gender preferences.

  • Emails based on past purchases. If you know your customer liked one thing, why not send them an email that lets them know what other items you have that go with that thing?

3. Don’t waste your email receipts.

Email receipts are perhaps one of the biggest areas for improvement that retailers, in particular, face. Email receipts have up to an 80% open rate and are sent after the point of most data gathering about your customer. They’re a gold mine for personalization. Here are some ideas that you may want to use to personalize these emails:

  • Include information about how to use the products your customer just purchased. This could be a blog post, an infographic, or a helpful video.

  • Include a section that showcases other items that go with the items the customer purchased.

  • Ask your customer to join your loyalty program. Once they’ve done that, you can have the same dynamic content display information about their membership, such as how many points they’ve racked up.

When using personalized promotional content in your email receipts, do remember to follow the 70-30 rule. Ensuring that you have less than 30% promotional content in your transactional emails will make sure that the spam filters don’t touch your emails and your deliverability remains high.

4. Send automated emails triggered by subscriber behavior.

Let subscribers know you are thinking of them by sending them emails when they take certain actions on your page or when they hit certain milestones. TripAdvisor, for instance, sends subscribers updates on how many views their reviews have received. You could send your customers an email a few days after they’ve left a form incomplete on your site asking them to finish filling it out.

5. Personalize your landing pages.

You can make landing pages in your marketing automation provider that are every bit as personalized as your emails, to round out the personalized experience. That means you could include the subscriber’s name on that page. You could also have form fields either pre-filled out or not showing at all based on if the subscriber has already given you that information. You could change the offer on the page depending on their segmentation as well. (Using dynamic content, you could send one email out to your whole list, but display different promotions based on country, for instance.)


Personalizing your emails requires first capturing good data about your customers and secondly using that information wisely throughout your emails. While it will take some strategic planning and effort to execute, there’s simply no better way to send emails these days.