5 Tips to Avoid Personalization Pitfalls

Kara Condon, Director of Marketing & Sales Operations, Real Magnet 

With the massive volume of email that each of us receives growing at a seemingly exponential rate, marketers are challenged more than ever to try new tactics to catch the reader’s attention and drive engagement.  One such technique that we have at our disposal with Marketing Automation is Personalization. With Personalization, marketers can insert personal information related to the recipient from fields within their Real Magnet contact record  into the body or subject line of an email message. You’ve probably already received hundreds of emails that are personalized with your first name in the subject line (keep reading to learn why this may not be such a great use of personalization, after all).

Personalization can be a powerful tool in the marketer’s toolkit to increase engagement and improve relevancy.  But let’s face it, when email personalization is done poorly, it is worse than no personalization at all.   Consider the email that crossed my inbox last week addressed to someone named “Karl” (my name is Kara).  I pressed the delete key without missing a beat.  

My response to that poorly personalized email is the type of response that fuels a Marketer’s nightmares.  After the countless hours spent writing, editing, designing and deploying an email, to have it hit the trash bin before it is even opened is simply unthinkable.

So, how do you put email personalization to work for you?  We’ve put together a list of what to avoid when implementing personalization in your emails:

  • Make sure you’re not shouting. Poor list import practices can leave your data in a mess where capitalization is concerned.  Let’s admit it – sending someone an email with “Dear JENNIFER” or “Dear MICHAEL” is considered poor “netiquette” and, moreover, is simply just bad form.  Check your data to make sure it agrees stylistically with your design template.  Convert such names to Proper case, which can be done easily in Excel, and re-upload them into your Real Magnet group. Make sure to select the option to update recipient records.
  • Give your list a thorough review. Before you press the proverbial “send” button, check the accuracy of the information in the fields that you’re using for personalization. Export your email group and examine the records carefully.  If your personalization uses the first name field, for example, make sure each first name field on your email file is populated correctly.  Check for misspelled names and typos.  Correct any errors before deploying your campaign.
  • Have a plan for missing data. Real Magnet  allows you to insert a default value to cover for you if the field in a recipient record is blank.  For example, let’s assume you’re inserting a first name field, but the first record in your list has no first name populated.  If you were to deploy that email without planning for missing data, your recipient would receive an email addressed to Dear ___.To plan for these scenarios, set up a default value that fills in “Friend” or “Colleague” in the event your field is blank.  That way, your recipients won’t receive an email addressed to Dear ____, but will see something like “Dear Friend” or “Dear Colleague” instead.
  • Consider Subject Line personalization. Subject line personalization is one of those controversial topics in marketing. Both camps are deeply entrenched and daily Twitter wars are raging! While data shows that a personalized subject line often pays off, to many recipients, seeing their first name at the front of an email subject line is an immediate non-starter. Do your due diligence and test some options, or try tip #5!
  • Think beyond First Name for personalization. Get creative! Leverage other fields such as State or Account Name, or some custom fields that are specific and uniquely relevant to your business and email recipients, to make your personalization even more unexpected – just make sure you’ve followed steps 1-4 above.  Better yet, try using dynamic content to take content personalization to the next level.


What other personalization pitfalls have you encountered? Let us know!