How Personal is Too Personal – Personalisation in Email Marketing

The popular opinion of managers is that personalisation is essential for improved email response rates (Ellis-Chadwick & Doherty, 2012). But how personal should a company be with their emails? Is the email going to capture the attention of the recipient or will it leave somebody worrying what personal information of their’s is recorded in a company’s data, how that information was captured and how protected it is?

To address the question of how personal is too personal, we will assess the different types of personalisation that companies can implement in their email marketing.


Personalisation by Name

So let’s start by discussing the most obvious and easiest personalisation to use in an email, using the recipient’s name. We have all had an email in our inbox, just like the one below, which addresses us by our name, but how effective is this technique for enticing us to follow the call to action of the email?

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 23.50.46

Source: compiled by author (2015)

For starters, it is crucial that this personalisation is correct. This form of personalisation usually involves extracting information from the company’s contact database and if the name is incorrect, all in lowercase or spelt phonetically for the telesales team, the email communication won’t look very professional and certainly won’t have a positive effect. Automatically extracting names from emails addresses is risky businesses too, this is a common trait associated with phishing emails and won’t look good if the email address is obscure and isn’t based on the users real name.

So assuming the name is correct, is it going to improve the emails performance? Probably not. The Economist intelligence (2013) found that personalisation by name was viewed as superficial by consumers, with 63% claiming they are now more resistant to any positive effects than they have been in the past. This is not surprising considering both the popularity of this technique in email marketing and the increase in privacy concerns (Cranor, Toch & Wang, 2012), with almost half of Internet users in this study expressing their concern for security and data privacy.

With 95% of recipients responding negatively to personalisation by personal data (Wattal et al, 2012), using the recipients name for better response rates seems to be an out-dated strategy. Whereas in the past it might have caught the consumers’ attention, now the consumers have clocked on and businesses need to up their game.


Personalisation by Content

Personalisation by content is the practise of sending tailored content to the recipient based on demographics, behaviour or personal information. While a more complex method to personalisation by name, personalisation by content is a good method of targeting for better response rates (Micheaux, 2011).

Triggered emails are emails sent to the recipient based on predefined activities or behaviours. One good example of this is cart abandonment emails, similar to the example below, when the browser has added a product to their cart and then left the website without purchasing. Companies can set this up so an hour after the user has left the website, they receive an email reminding them of the purchase they never bought. It’s a good technique for re-engaging customers. This method uses real-time data and has ben found to increase click-through rates by 33% (Vero, 2013).


Source: compiled by author (2015)

Segmented lists enable the company to send out emails based on categories the recipient fits into. Dynamic content enables the sender to alter the content displayed in an email depending on the categories or ‘smart lists’ the recipient comes under (Hubspot, 2015). For example, if a recipient has previously expressed an interest in IT job categories on LinkedIn, they would automatically be added onto the ‘IT’ smart list, receiving relevant job descriptions. The rest of the email would likely be the same for every user; it would be the job descriptions pulled into the newsletter that would differ based on recipient.

Segmenting can be based on a number of categories such as past purchases, age, gender, geographic location or currency. found a 208% increase in their email conversion rates by segmenting their audience based on how much the customer usually spends, and sending tailored emails (Sutton, 2012). Read the case study here.


Source: compiled by author (2015)

Personalisation based on personal information, such as birthday, can also be set up. This enables companies to schedule emails everyday to send to those with birthdays within a certain time period, like the example below I received from Boost Juice Bar. This could be one week before or even on the day. Doggyloot, a website selling dog products, sends Happy Birthday emails to owners on their dog’s birthdays. This contributes to 16% of daily revenue, which is a phenomenal return from one email message (Sutton, 2012). Read the Doggyloot case study here.

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Source: compiled by author (2015)

Conversely to personalisation by name, 98% of recipients respond positively to personalisation by content (Wattal et al, 2012). If done correctly, this provides the recipient with valuable content, which meets their interests. In fact, 78% of consumers surveyed in a study express a desire for content that is personalised and relevant. Personalisation by content isn’t just useful for the consumer; Taylor (2002) found that it could increase online sales by 40% for a business.

So it seems, when personalisation is useful enough to the consumer, privacy concerns become of lesser importance. In summary, companies should avoid using personalisation just for the sake of it. Adding a name to an email is not only ineffective, it could potentially cause more harm than good. For positive response rates, ensure that personalisation provides the consumer with convenience, relevance and value, the things that matter to a consumer.




Cranor, L.F., Toch, E. & Wang, Y. (2012) Personalization and privacy: a survey of privacy risks and remedies in                personalization-based systems. User Modeling and User – Adapted Interaction. Vol 22, Issue 1-2,  pp203-220.

Ellis-Chadwick, F. & Doherty, N.F. (2012) Web advertising: The role of e-mail marketing. Journal of Business Research. Vol 65, Issue 6, pp843–848

Hubspot (2015) How Personalisation Works [Online] <> [accessed 18th April 2015]

Micheaux, A.L. (2011) Managing E-mail Advertising Frequency From the Consumer Perspective. Journal of Advertising. Vol 40, Issue 4, pp45-65

Sutton, A.T. (2012) ‘Case Study: Email Marketing: 208% higher conversion rate for targeted emails over batch-and-blast’  Marketing Sherpa, 8th May 2012 [Online] <> [accessed 18th April 2015]

Sutton, A.T. (2013) Email Personalization: ‘Case Study: 750% higher CTR and more revenue for e-commerce site’ Marketing Sherpa, 23rd July 2013 [Online] <> [accessed 18th April 2015]

Taylor, CP. (2002) Getting Personal. Adweek Midwest Edition. Vol 43, Issue 44, p1

The Economist Intelligence Unit (2013) Mind the Digital Marketing Gap: Executive Summary. London. Lyris

Vero (2013) Hey You! Personalize Your Emails or Miss Out. Vero. 21st November 2013 [Online] <> [accessed 18th April 2015]

Wattal, S., Mukhopadhyay, T., Telang, R. & Boatwright, P. (2012) What’s in a “Name”? Impact of Use of Customer Information in E-Mail Advertisements. Information Systems Research. Vol 23, no 3, pp679-697

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