Email Marketing Featured Marketing

How to Improve Personalization by Using Data

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Personalization doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. In fact, you’re probably sitting on top of lots of data you can use right now to create a more personal email experience for your subscribers. You just need to filter out the noise, find what’s important, and connect these insights to the emails you send.

Though your access to data is important, using it in a way that’s smart, relevant, and timely for users is critical. Data gives you a glimpse into your customers’ lives, it’s up to you to decide how to use it and make it profitable.

How to Combine Your Data with the Human Aspect 

Your customers are more than just data points: They’re real people for whom your product or service answers a need. By engaging with your brand, they’re reaching out for help in some way.

Tapping into the data you collect and that they provide lets you build genuine relationships with your customers.

These relationships don’t have to end after a purchase is made. The data you collected and will collect can continue serving you and your customers, satisfying future concerns or needs.

After all, consumers are more than happy to share their data, letting businesses use it for personalized offers as long as it benefits them.

Here are some ways you can do exactly that.

Use Data to Craft 1-to-1 Emails

When you have a list with tens of thousands of contacts, does it make sense to send unique emails to single subscribers? Is it even possible?

Yes, it does, and yes, it is.

The more you use email personalization, the better results you should expect. And when you can send unique emails at scale — that’s what email marketing platforms are for — the impact gets multiplied.

Data comes in many forms, and each piece of it can be used for different kinds of emails.

Use Behavioral Data for Just-in-time Emails

Leveraging behavioral data for your marketing can feel like a superpower. Seeing what people are doing right now can help you influence their decisions.

Abandoned cart sequences and “Since you bought A, are you interested in B?” emails are classic examples, but they’re not the only ways to leverage customer behavior.

You can also tailor your emails based on:

  • Recent browsing activity.
  • Content consumption (e.g., someone that completes a beginner-level course with your brand).
  • Purchase frequency.

These transactional emails are a very powerful tool for your marketing activity as they combine data-based and time-based personalization, ensuring hyper-relevancy and increasing engagement.

Use data to create meaningful segments

Segments aren’t rigid groups: They go stale if your subscribers live in them indefinitely.

Segments should be fluid, almost without boundaries, so contacts can be in multiple segments at the same time. Or jump from one segment to another as they interact with your brand.

You can’t keep track of all these changes manually, but you can define segmentation and tagging rules for each action customers take to automate the process and create dynamic segments.

Innovative ideas for such segments include:

  • VIP customers – A segment for those who buy more than x products per month.
  • High-clickers – A segment for those who click on x emails per week.
  • Soft bounces – An exclusion segment to protect your domain reputation.

Contacts can move freely and dynamically between these segments, depending on the criteria you set in advance.

Where to get meaningful customer data to personalize emails

Many email marketers love the idea of personalization. But they feel it’s unfeasible due to a lack of data.

This may be true for some, but if you look hard enough, you’ll probably discover that much of the data you need to personalize your emails is readily available — you just need to know where to look and how to collate it. 

Leverage these sources to learn about your customers and send emails that speak to their needs and preferences.

Your Lead Forms and Sign-up Flows

We could write and source infinite articles about the perfect number of questions to ask on a web form.

On the one hand, you want to keep your forms as short as possible to increase conversions. On the other hand, the more fields people are willing to fill in before submission, the more data you can use to sell them better down the funnel.

It’s a balancing act where the best answer is: test.

Other than the usual demographic questions (age, location, language, etc.), you can ask prospects about their current situation. Try questions like:

  • How did you hear about <product>?
  • What’s the #1 problem you’re trying to fix with <product>?
  • What else have you tried so far?
  • How are you planning on using <product>?

As a bonus, prospects that are OK with answering more questions are usually better qualified for your business.

Just don’t overwhelm customers by asking them a thousand questions as soon as they sign up. Stick to 1-2 questions they can answer quickly, from which you’ll get real value.

Then, feel free to find out more about your new subscribers.

Your Welcome Emails

Want to strike while it’s hot without compromising conversions on your web forms? Use your welcome emails and kick off an engaging email sequence.

Sending a welcome email as soon as people sign up is a classic email marketing tactic. What if you focused on asking questions in your welcome email instead of telling people what to do next?

Asking questions can strengthen the bond with your customers, as they realize you’re trying to learn more about them. Show them you care and that you want to personalize their relationship with your brand.

Customers who spend time answering these questions should be considered highly motivated.

Your Troubleshooting Emails

Sometimes, campaigns flop.

You try your best to get in your customers’ shoes and come up with a killer offer, but things don’t work out as you expected. That’s just the nature of sales and marketing.

Asking questions is a customer-centric approach to troubleshooting your campaigns.

Ask your customers what they’d like to see more of, and fine-tune your campaigns to improve engagement.

Your Users’ Real-time Behavior

If we want to go beyond superficial personalization, we need to capitalize on opportunities in real time.

Tracking what your users do on your website and with your product (if you’re selling software) helps you understand why and when users perform certain actions. You can then use these insights to send emails that keep them engaged and buying.

Your Past Email Campaigns

Wouldn’t it be great to go back to any conversation you had and see how people reacted to what you said?

Clicks, conversions, and even unsubscribes from past email campaigns help you do that. They’re part of your historical conversation with subscribers.

You can go back at any point and see what resonated with your list and use this data to create more effective emails.

Your Customers’ Past Purchases

Some purchases give us insights into people’s lives. Someone who just bought doggy treats for puppies could end up buying many more products from your store if you also sell dog food, dog accessories, dog toys…

Past purchases are great for:

  • Upselling: someone buys soy milk —> you offer them more soy milk.
  • Cross-selling: someone buys soy milk —> you offer them soy-milk chocolate.

But don’t just look at the short-term picture. Past purchases give you long-term insights for nurturing customers.

Someone buys soy milk —> you can assume they’re avoiding or complementing dairy for some reason (confirm by asking them).

Now you know something about their lives you can use to personalize your communication with them. Send them dairy-free recipes. Promote new dairy-free products. Share a blog article promoting a dairy-free diet.

Your API Data From Other Tools

The more you know about your customers and empathize with them, the better your chances of anticipating their needs.

Connect your email marketing platform to the rest of your customer-facing tools for an ever-flowing stream of data.

Check your data is aligned with sales and support before setting up your campaigns. You want to send emails that move each customer closer to their goals without disrupting other conversations your sales and support teams have with them.

Can it get to a point where you have too much data it becomes overwhelming? Maybe.

Here’s how to reduce it:

  • At the entry point: when setting up an API connection, ask yourself, “why am I capturing this data point, and what do I want to do with it?”
  • At the endpoint: if you’re feeding data to your email marketing platform, ask yourself, “how can I use this data to make my communication with customers more meaningful?”

If you do this, you can let the machines deal with management (that’s what they’re for) while you focus on leveraging the data.

Use Data to Inspire Empathy in Email Personalization

“Empathy helps marketers break out of their blind spots, open their eyes to the human side of the consumer and flips the conversation from brand-led to people-led.” – Nick Graham, VP, Insights at PepsiCo

Prospects and customers generate a lot of data, but they’re more than just data points. Data gives you valuable insight into the concerns and needs of your audience, empowering you to respond with effective solutions that answer those needs.

Modern email marketing platforms and other tools help capture and disseminate the data you need to send more personal emails. But it’s up to you to find out how the data fits in your customers’ journey and what they expect to hear from you as they build a relationship with your brand.

About the author


Melissa Pekel and Haim Pekel

Melissa Pekel and Haim Pekel (H&M) are VP Marketing & VP Growth at Ongage, a nextgen email marketing platform. Prior to Ongage, H&M spearheaded marketing and growth operations at Press on It, their agency. They worked with SaaS, Martech, and software companies, building them from the ground up or leading continued growth in large-scale operations.