A Quick Guide to Marketing Personalization

personalization through automation

In the broadest sense, personalization in marketing refers to a concept. It’s about making the prospect feel like they’re getting a unique experience. You’ve heard this for as long as you’ve been a digital marketer, “You have to make people feel like you’re talking to them directly”.

They have to feel like what they’re seeing on their screen was put there just for them. It doesn’t matter if they’re reading your blog, receiving a newsletter or looking at your products page.

In the past, small and medium-sized businesses didn’t have much in terms of fancy technology to help them achieve this. They used to be limited to studying market research, learning copywriting and then adjusting their tone accordingly.

personalization starts with a friendly tone

Basically, you would try your best to understand who the person is (based on statistical analysis and targeting). Then you would craft a message that addresses them as if though they’re a long-time friend. All the while addressing all their major issues and concerns (as if you know them personally).

This is still a necessity, don’t get this wrong. You still want to be a good copywriter and master that “personal tone”. But now in 2017, fancy personalization technologies are becoming available for even small and medium sized businesses and their marketing teams.

Some marketing experts are even saying that increased personalization will be the number one trend in marketing for the foreseeable future. So, let’s look at some of the areas where personalization features are becoming available to you.

Advanced Email Personalization

Before we talk about “advanced” email personalization, we need to make sure you have the basics down. Are qualified leads joining your email lists? Are you specific in whom you’re targeting?

Get qualified leads for specific lists

If you want to write emails that “resonate” with the reader, you should at least do proper targeting. You need to decide to whom a list is speaking, and then target and capture those kinds of leads.

Let’s take an easy example. You sell a service that allows people to edit and store their photos in the cloud. It can be purchased by individuals or businesses. So, you would want to create one list for the individuals buying the service for home use. Then, you would have a second list for business owners.

You want to achieve two things. First, you want to target specific kinds of people. The ones that are most likely to be interested in your software. Secondly, you want to send each type of lead to each kind of list.

There are many ways to achieve this

You might use content marketing. In this case, you would write articles discussing the exact things that your “likely buyer” is to be interested in. So you wouldn’t target everyone on the planet who has any interest in photography at all. Just focus on topics that are relevant and interesting to your potential customers.

Then, to differentiate them by list, you’d have one article targeting the needs of individuals, and a different one targeting business owners. Each one would feature a different sign-up form, leading them to subscribe to a different list.

The same is true if each of your services is featured in a different section of the website. The home users would be looking at the home-edition pages, which would promote subscribing to the “home-users list”. The opposite would be true for potential business users.

Another option is using different ads to target different types of leads. You would craft the entire campaign to target (for example) those business types. And then have them sign up for the “business” list. The same would be true for creating campaigns targeting home users.

You could also have a form that lets people choose manually as well. Most decent lead-capture software solutions offer an option like this. You can build a form where people choose what they’re interested in from a dropdown or by selecting a radio box. This will sign them up for a different list, depending on their choice.


Now that you’ve made sure to get the basics right, let’s take this a step further. Making sure that you get the right people on the right general lists is a great first step. But there’s only so much differentiation you can accomplish before they’ve become regular readers.

It’s after they subscribe that the really fun stuff begins. The longer a person is subscribed to your list, the more data you have to individuate them with.

Retargeting gets you mindshare with the customer

For example, you might identify which of your subscribers open your emails the most often. Then you would segment them out to a specific “big fans list” that is based on open rates. Or perhaps you might slice out the subscribers who always click on your calls-to-action and move them to a “high-responders list”.

Want more examples? Consider this. Let’s say that you offer several different kinds of services or products that are interesting to different kinds of people. If you have a general list you’d promote all of your products and services on there. But with good email marketing software, you can track which subscribers open which categories of emails, and click on which product links.

To take the earlier example, suppose you offer both a home edition and a business edition of your software. If a subscriber keeps clicking on those links that are relevant to business users, you can segment then out to the business-centric list. And vice versa.

Segmenting your lists is a very broad topic, however. In fact, we could write an entire guide on this topic alone. So we can’t go into more details here. A lot of this will also depend on your specific email software as well. Be assured though, it’s well worth learning how to do it. If you need help, consider hiring a quality marketing team.

Going beyond “[First_Name]”

You want to make sure to use their first name where appropriate. That’s a good classic of personalization that as relevant as ever. The best use is in the starting sentence of emails such as “Hi, [first_name]”. But also in the subject lines. For example “Hey, [first_name] did you see this yet?”

Nowadays good email marketing software lets you define as many custom user fields as you need. For example, let’s look again at the example of having a list that caters to business users. The opt-in form for this list might also ask them to enter “company name” aside from just their first name. You can then use this personalization tag in your email campaigns.

Depending on the email marketing solution you use, getting this additional data can be done in a variety of ways. At the very least, your vendor should let you define custom fields for opt-in forms. But this limits you in a way. You can’t have 12 different fields in your opt-in form as few people will fill it in.

A much better solution is where your email marketing solution lets you append additional data over time. In some instances, it will even automatically detect some of these, such as state and city. In other cases, you can send surveys that ask the user for additional data, and it then gets appended to their profile. Again we can’t go into every possible scenario, this will vary a lot on your chosen solution. However, you definitely want to explore “personalization tags” further.

Behavior-based triggers

Now we’re getting to the really exciting stuff. If you want your email marketing experience to be truly personalized to each subscriber, you want to base it on their actual behaviors.

This can be based on their behavior inside of the emails themselves. For example, if they opened an email or clicked a link inside of an email. Or, alternatively, it may be based on behavior they perform on your websites. For example, if they do something on your website.

Let’s look at a very simple and practical example. Suppose that one of your email readers clicks on that email link promoting your latest product. She lingers on your “service membership” page for a couple of minutes and then leaves without purchasing a subscription.

What if you could have your email marketing software automatically shoot her an email. Something that acknowledges she almost made a purchase but changed her mind. You could offer her a discount to get her to finish the purchase.

Or you could ask for feedback. Write a very personal-sounding email asking “Hey, I noticed you seemed to like the xyz plan, but didn’t finish the purchase. Are there any questions that are keeping you from making that final choice? Is there anything I can help with. Please let me know, thanks”.

The way this scenario is accomplished is that you set up “an automation” in your email marketing software. You set the trigger to be anyone who lingered on page x for more than y minutes. And you would set it to action to be “Send Email”.

Now, this is just one random example. There are thousands of other scenarios that you can accomplish with behavior-based email marketing.

The possibilities will depend on your particular software

The most common triggers will be “if subscriber opened email”, “if subscriber visited page”, “if subscriber clicked link”… Your email marketing software will offer a range of “triggers” to choose from. Some offer more triggers than others.

The same is true with the range of actions. Some common offered actions are “Move to list x”, “remove from list y”, “send email”, “move to a different stage of the email sequence” and so on. Different vendors will offer a different number and variety of actions.

Smart Website Content

This is just a fancy way of saying “personalized website content”. You know how when you visit Amazon it intelligently chooses what to display on the homepage? Your Amazon homepage looks different than your neighbor’s. It’s based on products you’ve viewed in the past, your purchase history, reviews etc.  

“Smart website content” is kind of like that, but for the content of regular websites. Why should e-commerce websites be the only ones who can completely tailor the website to the customer’s preferences? Fortunately, nowadays this is also available to marketers who want to sell a service or software product.

One of the most popular vendors for this kind of a technology is HubSpot. In fact, some would say they single-handedly pioneered the category. If you’re considering using HubSpot to make use of Smart Content, we can help. We have lots of experience helping teams implement and make the best use of HubSpot.

Personalized Calls to Action

When marketers review a website, there’s one mistake that they are most likely to encounter. The website either has too few calls-to-action or even none at all. The business just expects and hopes the visitor will self-inquisitively look for the “our mailing list” page. Or perhaps they hope the visitor will just go “hmm, how can I contact these people” and go look for the “contact us” page.

call them to action - CTA

We hope that’s not you and you do have great CTAs throughout your website, and that they are performing well. That’s an absolute essential marketing 101 requirement. But you can, and should take this concept even further. Consider making your calls-to-action as personalized as possible.

Let’s take a simple example

You offer a free email course. You have a signup form that promotes this course and appears as a footer on all of your pages. Would it make sense that it appears to people who have already signed up for your course? No, it doesn’t.

This is where you could use personalization technology to hide that form for people who have subscribed previously. The specific way in which you accomplish this will depend on the software you use for displaying forms.

One popular WordPress forms plugin lets you do this with something they call “smartlinks”. If you need more specific help, feel free to let us help you directly. We can help you choose the right software for your needs and help you implement it.

What if you want to get even fancier?

Perhaps you want to personalize your form behavior even further. You want to decide which form appears based on the visitor’s geographical location, their position in the sales cycle or even customer persona. In that case, you might opt for something like HubSpot where you have even more granular forms of personalization. 


There’s a reason that most experienced marketers use re-targeting. Selling is rarely a linear process.

Let’s say that you sell accounting software-as-a-service. In an ideal linear world, a customer would search for something like “what’s the best software for business accounting”. They would discover your platform, read the features list and click “subscribe”.

In the real world, it rarely works that way. The prospect might be doing research on accounting software out of mere curiosity. He or she might visit your site, say “hmmm, that’s interesting” and then move on. They might even forget about the idea of getting accounting software for the time being.

Then, three months later a friend of theirs mentions they subscribed to one of your competitors. This reminds them that they kind of liked what you offered, and they decide to revisit and subscribe.

Retargeting ads make use of this understanding

There are two major types of retargeting. Those based on a list of contacts, and those based on a single page visit. Both have their place in a marketing strategy, but can be quite different in terms of results.

One is more shallow than the other

When you create an ad based on a single page visit, you’re basing it on a very shallow relationship. Let’s say that you create a retargeting campaign called “website lovers”. You even go and create special ads just for that campaign. You assume that they are very interested in your service. They did visit your website after all, right?

Let’s say that you use Facebook ads to create a campaign called “my website fans”. You fill it up with special ads that are meant to retarget website visitors. Now, let’s assume some person visits your website just once out of curiosity. The tracking pixel on your website registers this person immediately.

When they next visit any part of the internet that has Facebook ads, it serves your special “my website fans” campaign and shows those ads to them.  But remember, they only opened your website out of curiosity just once. It was enough to get “caught” by the tracking pixel.

In contrast, if you base your targeting on a list of contacts, these are a lot more qualified prospects. They are people who have shared their contact information with you. Perhaps you got their info from a contact-us form, an opt-in form or a live-chat session. Whatever the case, these people have had a much deeper engagement with your brand.

Don’t get this wrong, we’re not saying pixel-based retargeting is “bad”. Showing your ad to someone who’s visited your website is definitely better than showing it to a completely random person. Especially if you combine it with other targeting options.

In either case, if you’re doing online advertising, you’re going to want to research retargeting further. Alternatively, our team can help you. Whether you want to get into retargeting, or revamp your existing campaigns, just ask.

DemandZEN Can Help You Get Personal

To be fair, personalization is such an exciting and broad subject, that we could fill several books full of knowledge on the topic. The above is a general overview of the personalization trends and technologies you need to be aware of.

get in touch to make personalization easy

But if you want more personalized attention (pun intended), consider our services. Our team of experienced marketing professionals can help you implement the latest marketing strategies in an easier and more efficient way. This includes making personalization work for you.

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