Unlocking the Unblast Step 2: Personalization

We defined the concept of the unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing, and we introduced Step 1 in creating an unblast, so what next? Personalization. Personalization is considered a basic aspect of a successful email marketing program, but I think that may be a bit loaded. If you use personalization to cater the message content to that which the subscriber has interest, you win, but, if you only use the known first name in your email subject lines or content, you may have some work to do.

One of the most valuable and effective opportunities for personalization is using indicated interests, such as those selected during the email subscription process; or theoretical interests, such as those perceived from available data points, including order history data such as seasonality or other identifiable shopping trend, previously purchased products, items in or formerly in a shopping cart, etc.

These interests allow an email marketing message to be tailored to the customer, potentially to a one-to-one perfect match between their interests and your promotions – resulting significantly better engagement and conversion. How so, you ask?

Let’s go back to the snowboard shop. You have a handful of special offers, you have content and creative available for each, and you have a standard email template. Maybe one of the special offers is an additional 10% off closeout gear – that applies to most people, or, most people would at least find interest in it. That’s your main element.

Next, you have a sale on women’s snowboards, men’s snowboard boots, kid’s outerwear, and men’s sweatshirts. You can use dynamic content and a set of queries to push one or more of the elements into the email content.

The result? First, let’s say you only set up a few interests, such as men’s, women’s, and kid’s gear, non-exclusive. Using basic personalization and dynamic content, anyone who indicated they were interested in men’s items could the main element, the sale on closeout gear, and two additional elements, men’s snowboard boots and men’s tees. Any subscribers who indicated an interest in women’s gear would receive the main element as well as women’s snowboards, and those indicating an interest in kid’s gear would receive that content. If someone indicated an interest in men’s and women’s gear, they would receive three additional elements, and so on.

If you took your initial interest selection one step further, adding the option of selecting types of products a subscriber was interested in, you could further personalize the email based on more finite combinations of interests.


Is it easy? No. It’s going to add a lot of work to each campaign. It requires multiple offers, across multiple product ranges or other interest segments, and the data to back it up.

Is it legal? Yes, using customer-selected interests to personalize messages is upholding part of your promise when the subscribers signed up – you’re doing what your customers asked you to do. Caution, though, when considering use of theoretical interests. Using shopping cart and purchase history may breach regulations set for by GDPR, and many of those opportunities are dying with regulations placed on the use of cookies. It can also get a little creepy, and no one likes creepy.

Is it worth it? Yes. Beyond basic benefits including increased conversion rates and higher order values, you’ll likely also see increased engagement and customer loyalty, two benefits with long-term significance.


Have any questions about other aspects of an effective email “unblast” campaign? Leave them in the comments below – I have a few others planned, but always open to requests.

{Email} Marketing Sidebar: Automation

•   the technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a
process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices,
reducing human intervention to a minimum.
•   a mechanical device, operated electronically, that functions
automatically, without continuous input from an operator.
•   act or process of automating.

It seems automation is the key focus of so much of marketing these days. Regardless of channel or media, “automation” is the hot ticket. So, what is marketing automation, and are you/your agency/your team actually automating your marketing program?

MailChimp introduces their Marketing Automation software with a quite clear and accurate definition:

Marketing automation helps you stay connected with your audience (and find more people just like them), so you can eliminate repetitive tasks and focus on other parts of your business. Target people based on behavior, preferences, and previous sales—and use this intel to do things like welcome new subscribers, reach out to people who abandon their online shopping carts, and win back lapsed customers—automatically.

But, that is not necessarily how many marketers are using automation. Instead, many are “scheduling” their marketing programs, rather than “automating” them.


verb (used with object), sched·uled, sched·ul·ing.
•   to make a schedule of or enter in a schedule.
•   to plan for a certain date

What’s the difference? Human action, interaction, and intervention. Automation means removing a significant part of the human involvement in production or distribution process, and, while helpful and efficient, scheduling your messages is not automating them, as you are still clicking the send or post button, just with a deferred action.

Does this really effect you or I? If you are asked to reduce or minimize costs, increase or maximize production and efficiency, or help bring your firm closer to the leading edge of your industry’s leaders, you have likely considered how you can add automation to your marketing program.

So, where do you start the effort of automating your marketing program? According to Emma, roughly 48% of email marketers are running an automated welcome email or series, and, if you aren’t, you should, too. Why? It’s a great way to thank recent subscribers for their interest, introduce them to your brand, communicate what they can expect by signing up to your emails, and offer them some sort of value right off the bat. Welcome, thank, set expectations, and offer value – set a solid, good tone to engage them.


Are you using automation in your marketing program? Let me know in the comments below!

Think Unblast Perspective: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing Version 2

“He who chases two birds catches neither.” – Kongwe, The Lion Guard
(Image Source)


Now I’m sure you’re a bit put off by the idea of the “unblast” – most are. How could sending less drive more conversions?

According to the infinite “Wisdom of Kongwe” from Disney’s The Lion Guard cartoon, “he who chases two birds catches neither” – a perfect summation of one of the key failures of non-targeted emails noted in my original post on the topic of four other four-letter word of email marketing: “blast”.

Yes, I do expect you, and I expect the same from myself, to listen to Kongwe here – if you set out to convert everyone, you will convert (almost) no one. But, if you instead set out to convert just one segment of your total target, you have far greater chance to convert.

How so? If you chase one bird, you build a strategy focused on catching just it: you determine where it is, what it is doing, and the best time to catch it. And, your chances of success are much greater based on the strategy involved.

But, if your strategy is based on multiple targets, if you attempt to catch multiple targets, you are not able to determine exactly where they are, what they are doing, or the best time to catch them. The result is reducing your chances of catching any target.

So “The Wisdom of Kongwe” is directly related to email marketing: “He who sends a blast to multiple targets converts none.”

Hey AA – How ‘Bout Some QA?

I don’t like calling attention to errors, but nothing starts a vacation off quite like finding out at 11pm that your flight scheduled for 6am the next morning was changed to 8am, with no communication from the airline that anything was changed. Having booked our flights in March, and received only confirmation emails prior to a missed “Pre-Flight” email delivered at 8am, 24-hours before the take-off time, we were shocked to say the least when we found our flights had changed. I noted the Pre-Flight email was missed – we fortunately found out that the other party in our travel group was flying out at a different time, despite our travel being booked originally for the same flight set.

I had no plans to check-in prior to the flights as we had to check our bags, but considering the surprise from the change in flight times of our travel partners, I decided to click on the Pre-Flight email’s call-to-action (CTA) to check-in online, at least to see if the different flight time was correct. Uh oh again – the confirmation number wouldn’t pull up – no information found. WTF? Exactly, wtf.

After some trial and error, and several people attempting to sort through the confusion, we found that when loaded from the email CTA, there were two spaces at the end of the referenced confirmation number causing their site to load invalid information. So, we could load our itinerary. Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re getting to the big uh oh.

We’re about to start off our vacation on a really bad foot – our seat selection had been changed: myself, my wife, and my two young children were on three separate rows, with one pair of seats and two singles. Now, in many cases this might not be a problem, but when traveling with a five-year old and a three-year old… yeah, not going to work.

Of course, we were already on the phone with the airline trying to sort through this mess, and inquired about the seats – what can be done to move them around, to reclaim our four-in-a-row selected configuration. The answer? Nothing, it’s a full flight (of course, less than twelve hours until take off). Fortunately, we were able to get our seats rearranged at the counter when we checked-in and checked our bags – some resolution, small steps. So, that brings another question: is the flight full? Or not? Hmm…


Quite the introduction for today’s insight… sorry for the rant. But what I’m heading towards is that customer service is (should be) the center of all our efforts, at every level, of every organization. What are we without customers? We cannot be so vain that we let any other element of the business operation or reach to overpower our desire, our need to accommodate our customers. Without our customers we are worthless, we are nothing, we will cease to exist. “Customer-centricity” is a big catch phrase right these days, a “new focus” of a large number of organizations. This in itself is a shame – customer centricity should have always been a primary focus of all organizations, as serving customers in one form or another is the sole purpose of any organization. Everything we do must be centered around better serving them, as that will create, and compound, our potential for success.


In this case, the airline committed several critical failures in the initial stages of our customer journey:

  • They changed our itinerary, but did not inform us. Had we found out after getting to the airport at 4:30am, after waking ourselves and our children up at 3am, we would have been “just a bit” more frustrated, to say the least.
  • They changed our seat arrangements as part of the change in itinerary, which could have lead to a very long flight, for everyone on the flight.
  • No automated email program was in place, or it was unsuccessful in this case, to notify passengers of updates to their itinerary.
  • An oversight, or lack, of ongoing QA of their automated “Pre-Flight” email program, possibly not testing with live customer data and clicking all links in the emails, created an error in referencing customer flight information, allowing their primary CTA to load an error page.

The result from this sequence of customer service faux pas is a significant gap between expectations of service and reality of service. Fortunately, my family enjoyed a smooth and easy set of flights, and have been enjoying our vacation since. Plus, we have a few good lessons on customer service, including identification of a couple critical components of an automated email program which are critical to the successful and efficient customer service by an airline.



Unlocking the Unblast Step 1: Targeting and Segmentation

Simply defining the Unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing really isn’t enough, so I thought I’d share some more secrets with a series of steps to help you unlock it and to guide the way to a more effective email marketing program. The first step is Targeting and Segmentation. Truly the foundation of any marketing campaign, defining a specific target helps to determine content and creative, timing, and setting estimations and expectations of results.

In the interest of protecting ongoing and future strategies, I’ll take the perspective of one of my former employers: let’s say you’re a niche retailer of sporting goods, specifically a niche, core market snowboard retailer offering a selection of the finest, most desired, and most rooted-to-the-sport brands – none of those Dick’s Sporting Goods or other megamart brands, only the good stuff here, da kine brah.

You may start by thinking that a niche retailer like this really doesn’t need to segment its customer base any further, as the customer base has essentially segmented itself into a pretty finite, small market based on the products they’re interested in. But, you’d be wrong. Really, no need to be defensive, you’re wrong. Sorry. How? Simple – are your customers interested in men’s or women’s gear? Are they interested in clothing and accessories only, as they don’t have access to snow? Or are they interested in the newest and hottest snowboards?

Defining interests is a start. Let’s say you set up your website guestbook (or whatever you prefer to call it) with a number of interests allowing your subscribers to select among men’s or women’s gear, and each of the product ranges you offer. Done. Right? Not at all. Sure, you can build out a few queries for your email marketing program: one for men’s snowboards, one for women’s snowboards, one for men’s outerwear, another for men’s clothing, and so on. Great, good start.

So, let’s build out an email for men’s snowboards, set the target, and send it. Wonderful. 100% of the work for 25% or whatever it is of your total customer base. Not very efficient, is it? How about building out a single campaign that uses dynamic content to include either men’s or women’s (or both) snowboards based on the interests selected by the subscriber? Maybe include a bit of additional content for those subscribers who are also interested in outerwear? Now we’re getting somewhere, you’ve put forth 120% of the work to reach 40% or whatever of your customer base – I’ll leave it to the mathematicians and statisticians to determine the marginal increase in efficiency. But, the reality is that’s just it – a MARGINAL increase in efficiency.

So then what? All this extra work to for small bump? Yep, exactly. So why do it? Because now you’re speaking directly to your customers, rather than sending a “blast” with all the products you offer, and basically annoying your entire customer base because they have no idea what you’re trying to say, and they start to think that you don’t pay any attention to them. Guess what… your competitors are building out this same strategy of segmentation, and they’re using it. What’s more is that they are already building a relationship with your customer base, locking them in as an expert in the selective niche, the retailer that knows them, and speaks to them.

Targeting isn’t necessarily about driving numbers up. Rather, it’s about driving numbers down. It’s about dropping unsubscribe rates, dropping unengagement, dropping email deployment costs through smaller email campaign send volumes, and dropping the competitive advantage your competitors are already enjoying, with the side effects of increasing engagement, increasing your customer base, and, in the long run, increasing revenue by maintaining and growing your customer base.


Have any questions about other aspects of an effective email “unblast” campaign? Leave them in the comments below – I have a few others planned, but always open to requests.