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.

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.