Advice: What is Email Personalization?

"Hi, I'm doing my degree paper on email marketing but I'm stuck at e-mail personalization.

Can anyone tell me what kind of software is used for generating personalized content (ie. product offers based on the user's activity on the website, what's in their shopping cart)? Thank you!"

The email personalization process

Very good question, which reveals a weakness in traditional email marketing.

Many marketers are working with siloed data - one set of data in their ESP which can be used for email personalization, and completely separate data in their eCommerce system which includes the activity you mention, but which can't be used.

The standard way to bridge the gap is to build custom processes to integrate this data, for example, a schedule to regularly extract data from the eCommerce system overnight, copy it via FTP, clean it, and load it into the ESP. Configuring and managing this sort of process is labor-intensive and it can be expensive to design and setup, especially because it needs work from several stakeholders. (I know because I founded an ESP and have 15 years experience in this industry).

In the last few years, the issue has been largely solved by Real-Time Marketing Systems (RTMSs), such as Fresh Relevance. These automatically take eCommerce data and load it into your ESP, using a combination of screen scraping and API calls. This is usually much cheaper and the data is available in real-time, which allows you to be more reactive when marketing.

Once the data is in your ESP, you can do two types of personalization:

  1. Merge fields, e.g. Dear {{first_name}} {{last_name}}.
  2. Merge complex content, such as product offers based on the user's activity.

The first can be done by all ESPs, using their native functionality to merge profile fields.

The second usually cannot, because most ESPs can't handle structured data. Very few ESPs can natively format dynamic content such as product suggestions. For most of them, the way to do this is to use dynamic content that is actually formatted by the RTMS, then either loaded into a profile field as a large block of HTML and merged at send time using the ESP's native functionality, or embedded in the email as dynamic images which get formatted at at open time.

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