How to Create Awesomely Engaging Personalized Email Marketing Messages

A week ago I arrived back in the United States after a week in Turkey and Greece. Throughout my trip I used Foursquare to check in to the various places I visited, and try to grab as many points as possible as the first of my peer group to check in at many of the ancient landmarks contained within Istanbul and Athens.

While I used the service for fun and as a time killer during the little downtime I had on the trip, I discovered a nice side benefit to using Foursquare upon my return back to the states; Foursquare’s Welcome Back Email! This email was sent to me the day after I arrived back in the USA.

Foursquare Welcome Back Email

I am a fan of well done, personalized email marketing and Foursquare hit the mark on their email welcoming me back into the country. Welcome back indeed!

This email is perfectly designed to help me remember where I went and provides me a strong call to action to further engage with Foursquare now that I am home by encouraging me to leave a tip about the places I recently visited. There’s no better time to leave tips than when they are fresh in mind. Foursquare helps me remember those places.

While I made it a point to photograph nearly everything I saw and ate on the trip, some of the names of places visited can become a fuzzy memory after a 24 hour process of flying home. This email from Foursquare is one that I will be keeping handy for months and years to come. Not bad for an email that was automated.

How to Create an Engaging Personalized Email Like Foursquare

Creating an automated email like this is easier than you might think. With just a few basic elements, you can be off to the races with extremely engaging personalized emails like Foursquare.

1) Choose a Template and Format

Many ESP’s (Email Service Providers) have standard templates that you can use for delivering emails. You can start with one of these to create your automatic personalized email.

Tip: Don’t let template selection get in the way of creating an email. It’s the content people care about, not the template. The CONTENT I tell you! 

2) Feed User Specific Data Into your ESP System

This is where things may become complicated, because:

  • Your ESP may not support data feeds for individual users
  • You may need to write a program that automatically sends this data to your ESP

Yes, quality automated emails are not for the faint of heart, but they need not be overwhelming either.  Everyone’s doing it, so you should be too!

Tip: Start with a single manual load of data into your ESP system to get comfortable, then graduate to a nightly batch load of information into your ESP. Eventually you may choose to push this data into your system in real time. This may require help from a DBA or developer to get done, but will be necessary for complete automation of these emails.

3) Match Your User Data With Existing Content

User specific data will allow you to match activity to your users, but will not bringing over formatting, styling and images. It can only provide references to how this information should be stylized and which images to use. Use these references to build engaging personalized emails based on actual user information.

My favorite part about automated emails is that the content itself is already defined and easy to find. It’s all personalized to the recipients journey, which eliminates much of the debate and guesswork normally associated with the creative process.

Tip: It may take a few times to get the data structure right. You may want to start with a hard coded version of your email before moving to a dynamic personalized email. This saves time in the long run.

4) Test Your Campaigns and Tweak Your Template

You will likely need to send several test emails to yourself in order to get the emails to look and act how you want them to act. Test things like how many lines will show up, whether you should use a 1, 2 or 3 column format and how many items you should include. Too few items and the email may get ignored. Too many items and a long load time will hurt the users impression of your message.

There is no perfect number of items to include in an email, but you may want to learn from the pros. I would start by testing somewhere in between 4 and 8 items and going from there.

Tip: Start ugly to get the layout right and then work on making the email prettier. This is why I recommended not worrying much about your template in step 1. The chances are you will need to change formatting several times before the email is complete. Don’t waste your time up front when it will still need to be tweaked in the end. 

5) Do a Controlled Roll Out to 1-10% of Your Users

You wouldn’t sing the national anthem in front of 30,000 fans without practicing, and you shouldn’t email all of your users without first testing on a small sample. Test these emails on users who won’t mind being part of your experiment. This can be your user advocates, most active users or even your newest registrants who don’t yet know what to expect from your email marketing.

Tip: If you are unsure of how people will react to these emails, be transparent with them in the message of your email. It’s perfectly acceptable to let people know that they are part of a test group. They may even be honored to be included on the list!

Are Engaging Personalized Email Marketing Messages Right for You?

They better be! With more competition in your inbox than ever, personalized email messages are becoming an expectation for many consumers. While they may not be necessary for all businesses, I have found that personalized emails from Foursquare, Trip Advisor and Hotels.com have kept me coming back to their websites when I otherwise may have looked elsewhere. That’s not even mentioning the king of personalized emails, Amazon.com. They might as well reprogram my “new email” sound to be the opening of a cash register. Cha Ching!

About the Author

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of a suitcase somewhere in the world. Formerly of Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, CA.