With the average ROI of email being 36:1, more marketers are turning to email to reach their audience and get their message heard than ever before. However, this means more emails are getting sent, which means more competition in the inbox.

What does it take to stand out in the inbox in 2022? Personalization and automation. And, though personalization and automation have been around for a while, they are no longer “nice to haves” but rather “must haves” for a successful modern email strategy.

When we asked marketers about their top priorities for their email marketing program, the top three priorities were 1) expanding automation, 2) boosting personalization, and 3) enriching customer profiles. That’s why we brought on Jess Materna (Director of Product Marketing) and Jordan Sawyer (Head of Account Management at Kickdynamic) to help you make personalization a priority in 2022.

Watch the webinar recording below, and read on for answers to your top questions.

Below’s a recap of our answers to some of the most popular questions from the webinar. Got more questions? Head over to the Litmus Community.

Where can teams start when truly automated dynamic personalization may not be possible because of a lack of data?

Jordan: There’s two places to start. One is to look at using onsite behavioral data to start your personalization journey. Our recommendation engine (Kickdynamic) doesn’t rely on data for those 1:1 recommendations; we take the web data and make the recommendation without relying on anything from your ESP or CRM to pass to us.

You can also look at how you can make your emails work for you—so how you can use your emails to actually collect data. By that, I mean click data. That can be a really strong indicator for interest.

A classic example is in retail: You’ll see a lot of emails that contain category boxes (what are you interested in shopping for, shop by category like dresses, shoes, bags, etc.). Use that click data. Customers are literally telling you what they’re interested in. So, if they click on dresses, automate an email or send them a follow-up email that contains all of the “new in” dresses or all of the dresses that related to what they clicked on.

A lot of times, opportunities like that are missed, but they’re really good opportunities to get that real-time interest data. You can build that out into your strategy and create really detailed profiles for your customers, so you can collect things like gender, size, and category. You can also use other parts of our technology, like live polls to ask customers to vote for what they’re interested in, and again, use that data to continually build out that knowledge and information that you have already.

What aspects of email personalization would you recommend when it comes to A/B testing?

Jordan: Test as much as you can (rule number one: test everything) but be mindful of what you’re testing. Make sure you only test one variable at a time. You don’t want to do things like testing a subject line personalization and personalization in the content as well. Make sure that it’s a fair test, so it’s the same email you’re testing against each other with only one element being tested.

But start simple: With the personalized image test results that I shared earlier, that was a split test with two identical emails, with just the personalized hero image in one and the same image but without the personalization. Make sure that it’s valid and the tests really do stand up against each other.

Keep in mind the additional benefit from automating personalization or just personalization in general. They’re not necessarily the hardcore metrics that you would use like click rates, conversion, and revenue, but you can also measure the time taken with the time that you save by using automation, versus setting something up manual. They’re softer things to test, but they’re really useful to have an idea of so you can build that into your reporting for your tests as well.

Is age, gender, or location still relevant to use as a reference for segmentation or personalization in 2022?

Jordan: I would say yes, particularly if your recipient has signified their preference. So if they have signed up and selected a gender preference, then I think you should absolutely respect that and market to their preferences and give them that relevant experience.

And for things like open time location (so where somebody is when they open your email)—I do think that is still relevant, particularly for projects like driving people to your store or—something I’m setting up at the moment—showing a map with your closest electric charge points for your car to where you’re opening. Things like that are super relevant, and they’re really personalized and useful for people to have.

If you’re using preference data, make sure you give your customers the opportunity to update their preferences regularly and take the time to learn more about them though things like progressive profiling, such as what they’re clicking on and what they’re engaging on. Don’t just let them sign up and forever stay in that group; let’s make sure we’re giving people the opportunity to update their preferences, whether that’s their location, gender, age, or anything like that.

How do we communicate personalization in the subject line to grab the attention of the subscriber? Are there any suggestions for subject line personalization?

Jordan: Unfortunately, a lot of senders say that an email is personalized in the subject line, but that’s often not the case. You need to use language that informs the person who’s going to open your email that there is personalized content in the email for them.

But then you need to back it up with content that is personalized, so they learn to see the value in you saying that there’s content personalized for them. Match the language in your subject line to areas within your email, and then make sure that within your email there is content that is actually personalized to that individual.

If you’re saying that the products are handpicked for them, make sure that those products in the email are specifically for them, and that they’re not going to sit next to their friend and open that email and see the same products. We really want to build the trust that this is a personalized experience for them—all the way from the subject line to the content that they’re seeing.

If you work on the content, that will then validate what you’re saying in your subject line.

How do you streamline personalization when everything is manual?

Jordan: For me, it’s about looking at the areas of your responsibilities and seeing what’s sucking the time, what’s really resource heavy, and what emails your team is struggling to maintain or to get out the door. Then, look at ways you can make your life easier—so how can you use a feed, whether that’s a feed you put together, a content feed you put together of all of your latest blogs, news articles, or product feed—and use that to automate the content.

Use the content feed to automate the production of that content so you can then use your data to layer on personalization. Then, that removes the manual content production. That’s where I would start to look at streamlining personalization—by removing the manual work that you’ve got to do. You don’t want to be hands on in that code: changing it or building out all of these different versions.

Let our content automation tool automate that content into your email, so its got the latest content in there without you having to continually work on it, and then you can join the dots to the personalization. If you can nail that, that will free up a lot of time for you to then look into the strategy to then achieve greater personalization and more advanced levels of personalization.

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