Last week, Facebook made email headlines again because of a “misconfiguration” that resulted in personalized spam to the friends of Facebook users whose accounts were compromised. A number of my friends’ accounts were among them, so I received a handful of emails that were surprisingly effective in their simplicity. The sender names were my friends’ names and the emails’ subject lines said “for Mike.” My name was also included in message greeting (“hi Mike”) before the spam link. Only the senders’ addresses were incorrect, though the inbox usually just shows the sender name, not email address. The first message actually caught me out and I clicked on the spammy link. The personalization worked because the message tricked me into believing it was from someone who actually knew me, and who was sending me something I would find useful.

That’s the personalization strategy of a lot of legitimate emails as well – use some simple database technology to trick recipients into thinking the message is coming from someone who knows them, and who is sending them something useful. But effective personalization is not a function of tricking somebody. Sure it may work the first time, but your audience wises up pretty quickly. Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, unsubscribe or mark as spam.

Instead of parlor tricks, effective personalization comes from genuinely knowing what different segments of your subscriber base are interested in. It is not inserting a name into the subject line or greeting. Rather, it is a content strategy designed to create relevant messages and offers based on behavioral data.

For better results to personalized messages, begin with what you’ve learned about your subscribers since they’ve become customers or members, not what they told you about themselves when they signed up.

Come back next Monday for another email tip of the week, or see all previous tips here.