By John Landsman, Director of Strategy and Analytics

When email marketers talk relevance best practices, “personalization” is one key principle to which everyone subscribes.   But there’s wide disparity as to what personalization really means and how to achieve it.

Of course, personalization means use of the customer’s name.  But it goes much deeper than that.  When email is personalized, it’s also a smart intersection of (at least):

  • Targeting audiences based on customer description, location, preference and behavior; and
  • Reflecting those selection factors in populating message content

But there’s one more important piece of the personalization puzzle.

  • Personalized email messaging should reflect customer “status.”    This is the basis for a great many high-value email trigger types, and it’s a key element in reflecting that you know who your customers are.

But here’s where things gets dicey — because “status” can have many meanings, and establishing elements of true customer status requires precise definition.

Here’s what we do know.  Customer status elements are best classified around waypoints of the customer lifecycle, beginning with acquisition of a new email subscriber, and extending to stages of first and subsequent purchase cycles, and then to possible retention and reactivation opportunities.  

That sounds pretty simple.  And it is . . . unless you can’t access sufficient data to classify each customer’s status, based on various elements of email contact and subsequent behavior.  The chart below shows the key activity elements you need to see and consider in defining the status of an email subscriber.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.28.14 AM


It may not surprise you to know that there are many retailers who define customer activity status solely on the basis of what’s visible through their ESPs deployment and reporting platforms. That’s okay if you’re defining customer status solely on the basis of email open/click engagement.  The problem is that often, these ESP platforms do not see any purchase activity that didn’t occur from having clicked-through an email.  That’s a huge limitation, and it creates serious risk.  For example:

  • If we’re trying to stimulate first purchase from a newly acquired email subscriber, we may be sending emails (some with extremely attractive incentives) to someone who’s already been purchasing from us.


  • If we’re trying to reactivate a customer with “no” 12-month purchase activity, we may be ignoring this customer’s possibly extensive purchase activity in online sessions separate from emails —- or in-store.  In retail operations with extensive brick-and-mortar coverage, this in-store piece of email response is a substantial slice of the activity pie.  It shouldn’t be ignored.  Sending “We miss you” emails to customers who’ve recently purchased from you doesn’t make much sense.


The point is that we look silly when we communicate with a customer based on some presumption of her status, without having considered all data elements which may define that status.    

So — once again — the name of this game is DATA.   Do you have — and use, and refresh in timely fashion — a 360-degree view of your customer’s overall behavior with your business, in relation to direct communication contact you have with that customer?  This means, at least:

  • Browse and purchase data (i.e., transaction detail, by sales channel)
  • Direct communication contact history, by channel; (email/direct mail)
  • Email engagement data, by campaign (e.g., opens, clicks, unsubscribes)

If you cannot access these data elements, then you won’t be able to fully classify any customer’s activity status, or communicate with that customer in credible fashion.


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