Personalising Email Is Too Hard For Marketers

In an idealised world, electronic marketing was supposed to be able to draw on detailed information about individual customers, sending you a message which exactly matched your interests. In reality, it's apparently all that most companies can manage to correctly attach your name to a bog-standard email template.

Email picture from Shutterstock

A survey of 150 Australian and New Zealand marketers commissioned by content management software developer Sitecore found that 61 per cent claimed that they personalised marketing messages. However, it turned out that for the vast majority of those, the only "personalisation" involved was adding a name to an existing message. "We say we know what we're doing, but the best we're doing is putting a name on an email," said Jane Briggs, director of First Point Research & Consulting, which carried out the survey.

This turns out to be a bad idea, not least because there isn't a measurable difference in how people respond to an offer based on whether or not their name is included. Perhaps more surprisingly, personalising an email based on someone's location doesn't make a noticeable difference to response rates either. "The real differentiator is when you take account of purchase history," Briggs said.

So if businesses are struggling with anything beyond a simple mail merge, what's the reason? No single clear reason emerged, but three themes dominated:

  • Technology that isn't up to the task
  • Inability to merge data from multiple sources
  • Lack of budget

Sorting the last is going to be tricky. Combining data sources is indeed a pain. But I can't help thinking that a little training and investigation of available options would go some way towards solving the first issue.


    Is Sitecore not a CMS (Content management system) instead of CRM? (Customer relationship management) or do they also compete with Salesforce , Dynamics and Sugar? Genuinely curious.

      Sitecore is mainly CMS, but its latest release has a lot of CRM features. Hence the press release on which this article is based....

    I regularly get highly personalised emails from Amazon. Primarily my purchases there are board games, but I get some games locally as well (about 50% from each).

    When Amazon sends out the emails for "board games you might like" - every email I get has about 1/3 games I've bought locally (that Amazon doesn't know about yet), 1/3 games that are on my wishlist, and the remainder are a varying combination of games that I've either seen and don't want or haven't seen yet but might/might not want.

    Their marketing is extremely accurate for such a niche hobby. I almost dread getting the email because I know I'll buy something on the list.

    I agree with you - Twitter/quora can send me digest emails tailored to people I follow/ stuff I'm interested in, redbubble can send me emails about stuff for sale that's been added by people I like. I think the tech is there for any business that chooses to devote the time/budget to it.

    But then, the above are web-based businesses who'd see a pretty good return from that investment... that may not be the case for others.

    I was amazed when I received an email from Lumo asking me to refer a friend, only to find it would crash my iphone when I received it.
    Turns out iphones don't like receiving ~23,000 email addresses in the "To field"

    So much for personalisation. All 23000 of us could see each others email and Google+ profiles, as well as all of us having the one referal link for our "friends"


    My name? It'd be quite nice if they managed to get my name in there, perhaps even some content.

    Here's the web version of a recent email newsletter I received. I'm not sure why it's still on their site:

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