Do you want to make your marketing speak to people? It’s simple: actually make it speak to them.

According to a recent report by eConsultancy, a massive 74% of marketers believe that targeted email personalisation increases customer engagement.

Of course, it only works out that way if you do a good job. The examples featured in this article demonstrate the scope and potential of email personalisation. We’ve included some guidance on how to replicate these success stories in your own campaigns.

Different email timelines for different audience segments

There’s a big problem with sending out the same series of emails to everybody on your mailing list: not everyone is interested in the same thing. That will not only apply in a universal sense, but also within the product or service range of the average business.

The solution to the problem – and the secret to a fair few marketers’ success – is to segment your audience based on the aspects your company you have good reason to believe they are interested in. Each segment receives a different email series, designed to sell them exactly what they want to buy, and crafted according to their inferred tastes.

For example, if you provide B2B services for lone freelancers and for organisations, you may have separate packages and different marketing messages for each type of client – if that’s the case, it’s clear that splitting some of your email marketing activities up into two targeted channels would be a smart move.

How many segments you create should depend on the complexity of your business’ offering and the diversity of your audience. Making a single X vs. Y split would be a sensible way to start off.

Here’s a great example of how to split your audience into its most fundamental constituent parts:



Wedding specialists Paper Style wanted to personalise their email marketing campaigns based on whether the recipient was a bride-or-groom-to-be, or someone else who was assisting with the wedding. Their method was sharp and to the point – they showed the user the above screen and asked them to click on the option which applied to them. Based on their selection, the users were then sorted into two separate marketing email timelines, one tailored towards brides and grooms, and the other towards their friends. Paper Style reported an open-rate increase of 244% and a click-through rate increase of 161%, compared with a control.

It is widely held that the best marketing is based around selling the customer something that they need – so it stands to reason that getting a good idea of exactly what your customers may require from your company would improve your campaigns. The key point to take away from this case study is that you can streamline and enhance your marketing campaigns by segmenting your audience based on who they are and how they relate to your company. How you make the split will depend largely on the nature of your offering.

An ideal start would be to create two mutually exclusive groups based on one clear distinction. Here are some examples:

  • Education website – services for students / services for teachers
  • Computer accessories store – Apple / Windows
  • Translation service – English to Chinese translations / Chinese to English translations
  • Estate agent website – interested in buying / interested in selling

Responding to on-site behaviour

This example is going to build upon our previous point about marketing according to the inferred intent of the customer.

A prominent recent trend in email personalisation has seen marketers using the customer’s on-site behaviour to determine which emails to send them. So if they were looking at Product A but navigated away, you send them a personalised email about Product A; if they added Product B to their basket but never checked out, you email them to follow up; and if they have recently created a user account but are yet to progress any further, you send them an email to show them the ropes and encourage them to continue towards your conversion goals.

Some people regard this level of email personalisation as a bit of a dark art – and every dark art requires a suitably sinister arch-practitioner…


Step forward Jeff Bezos! Amazon are the masters of this type of email personalisation. Their response to the user’s on-site actions is direct and rapid:

  1.  The account holder (customer) performs an action on the Amazon site
  2. Amazon registers the page view
  3. A marketing email promoting the product viewed is automatically sent to the account holder
    The email above was sent when an account holder was browsing products in Amazon’s ‘Music’ category. Let’s break it down:
    A. Useful links – the user can continue with a huge range of shopping/account functions in the space of a few clicks
    B. “Hello NAME NAME” – the most basic of email personalisation techniques (explored later in this article)
    C. “Are you looking for something in our music store?” – makes overt the fact that the email has been triggered by the user’s behaviour on the Amazon website. Consumers appreciate honest marketing practices.
    D. The product – generated according to the user’s previous purchases and on-site behaviour. Judging by the above example, Target Internet’s article writer has excellent music taste.
    E. “Add to Wish List” – an alternative conversion and revenue-increasing option. This appeals to users who are not ready to buy, but do desire the item.
    We do not know the CTR and open rate figures behind these emails, but it is surely safe to assume that the emails will have a positive impact. As an experiment, draft an email template featuring equivalent components to those described in the above list. By delivering this to a small sample of your customers, in an A/B test against a control where no extra emails are sent, you’ll be able to get a good idea of whether this technique will work for your company, based on the mighty Amazon’s model.
    Behavioural email personalisation without user accounts
    Amazon’s personalised emails are aimed at the site’s registered account-holders – but some retargeting services allow marketers to send personalised emails to people who have visited their website irrespective of whether or not those people are registered users. This type of retargeting is facilitated by using the visitor’s IP address to find their email address from a database of web users.

Personalised subject lines

We could have chosen an email from any one of a huge selection of brands to illustrate this point – in fact around 35% of all brands online are at it, according to one recent estimate.

Research from Campaign Monitor (and yes, we realise they have a vested interest), suggests that emails with personalised subject lines are 28% more likely to be opened than their impersonal counterparts. Add in the user’s name or username and hey presto – you have yourself an increased open rate.

Of course it doesn’t always work out like that, we would definitely recommend testing the effectiveness of personalising your subject lines. Remember that this tactic doesn’t necessarily work on every audience; to some people, it seems disingenuous.

Here are a select few tips on how to nail your personalised subject lines:

  • Personal language – add in words like ‘you’ and ‘your account’ to reinforce the personalisation.
  • Don’t make any claims about the customer – because you are obviously not in a position to do so.
  • Ask a rhetorical question – “So-and-so, have you seen our new site?”
  • Language of ownership – use words like get, receive, win, claim.

Personalising the subject lines of your marketing emails isn’t enough to fully realise the potential of your campaigns; nor will it be enough to keep up with the best of the competition. Nevertheless, many marketers find it to be a fruitful starting point.

Playing the motivator

Language tuition service Duolingo operates on a business model that depends entirely on its users completing their courses, each of which is a fairly comprehensive foundational course in a foreign language that will likely take months or even years to complete.

The company uses a number of methods to encourage its users to keep progressing, including gamification of the product itself, browser push notifications, display ads, and personalised emails.



Duolingo’s motivational emails take a number of clever forms – and the above would have to be our favourite. Let’s take a look at how it’s put together:
A. Header – the user recognises the course icon (a temple in this case) which they see whenever they access their Duolingo course.
B. “Daily _____ Reminder” – establishes the email as a daily fixture. Habitual use of the product is essential to the company’s conversion goal of course completion.
C. Recipient’s name
D. Celebrates the user’s achievement
E. Sets a manageable new goal for the day, represented by two buttons (both clickable)

Learning lessons from Duolingo’s emails

Duolingo may have different conversion goals to the average brand, but their emails still have a great deal to teach us all:

  • Be generous and emotive when you address the customer – whether that’s by celebrating success in a gamified context like Duolingo, by sending a special email on the customer’s birthday, or by telling them “we miss you!” if their account has been dormant for a long period.
  • Get straight to the point – note the simplicity of Duolingo’s email. It is telling the recipient: “Here is the great progress you’ve made so far, and here’s what to do next to progress towards your goal”.
  • Create urgency – Duolingo’s email compels the user to act by reminding them that they’re on a streak (if they don’t complete some tasks on the app today, the streak will be broken). An ecommerce brand might create a similar sense of urgency by pointing out a limited offer, e.g. “Mr Smith, our sale ends today!”
  • Make the email contiguous with on-site or in-app experience – the branding, the buttons and the subject matter of Duolingo’s emails all act as an extension of the app/site. This gives the recipient the same mental cues they’ll receive when they are using the product. Other brands do this too – refer back to Amazon’s email, which contains product listings and buttons in the same format used on the Amazon website.

Service reviews

Customer reviews are used in a range of ways to boost trust and facilitate functionalities in online products.
One company which relies particularly heavily on user ratings is Just Eat – the fast-food hub attaches customer ratings to every restaurant which sells food via the site. This establishes social proof for every restaurant featured, thus securing a better conversion rate than would otherwise be possible.
After every time the customer makes an order, Just Eat sends an email prompting them to rate the meal. Prize draws have been used at times to incentive customers to rate their meals. Similar ratings systems and associated emails are used by Airbnb, See Tickets, Uber and many others.