Using custom fields for personalised email marketing

With personalised email marketing delivering six times higher transaction rates than standard email, it’s a surprise that only 30% of brands make the effort. Custom fields are the magic sauce that transform simple emails into powerful sales tools. Here’s how to use them.

What we will cover

More and more consumers are now reaping the benefits of e-commerce with its promise of a fast and convenient shopping experience. With the evolution of e-commerce platforms and integrated payment gateways, even start-ups are quickly able to knock up a functioning e-commerce site and watch the virtual cash come flooding in.

Plenty are content to stop there – but not the best!

Personalisation is the key that unlocks high performance sales for many businesses. Could yours be one of them?

What is Personalisation?

In a basic sense, personalisation is simply making products and services personal to an individual buyer. Have you ever seen a child’s eyes light up when you read them one of those personalised fairy stories that features their family, friends and pet dog?

As adults, personalisation becomes more about the various ways in which businesses market and design products and services to suit individual tastes and styles.

Another way of offering personalisation is by alerting customers to discount offers that specifically apply to the products or services they tend to buy. This is exactly what happens in many supermarkets. It’s no coincidence that your favourite brand of cheesecake or the cat food you always choose is on discount. Nor has the shop manager been on the phone for hours securing the best deals for you. it’s just that some clever tech has used your buying history to print out only those coupons that are likely to be of interest to you – sorry if I burst your bubble there!

Why Personalisation Works

By catering your offers based on the customer’s previous browsing behaviour and purchases you help to make their future shopping experiences more efficient and rewarding. It is almost like walking into a clothes shop and finding that the staff have helpfully rearranged all of the shelves so that your favourite styles in your size are all at the front.

Even though much personalisation is managed automatically, it nevertheless gives the impression of care and attention – just like the child with their personalised version of ‘Snow White’ made ‘just for them.’

The power of personalisation is not to be sniffed at. In fact, it has been revealed that customers are on average five times more likely to buy from a company which personalises its products and services.

Is Personalisation Right for my Business?

Personalisation strategies can bring benefits to most if not all businesses but some are particularly suited to this kind of approach.

Your business is likely to see better results if you:

Carry a large selection of stock (Amazon uses its ‘People who bought x also bought y’ feature to good effect here).
Service multiple target audiences with diverse demographic profiles (in plain English, you have people from all walks of life buying from you or using your service)
Satisfy several different buying motives (e.g. some people buy because of your low prices, others because of your wide product range, etc.

In all of the above cases it should be clear that a one-size-fits-all approach would see many people slip through the net. Personalisation is the ideal way to stop this happening.

Getting Going With Personalisation

So what is the best way to start personalising your business offering? There are many different strategies and technologies available but here are three that are definitely worth exploring:

Remarketing. This strategy focuses on turning website visitors into customers by personalising their online advertising experience. Remarketing can be activated on Google Adwords as part of an advertising campaign and works by storing cookies from visitors’ browsers and using the information to serve further adverts to the same customer at various points across the Google advertising network.

Personalisation software. There are many different types of personalisation software (e.g. Barillance, Pureclarity, Adobe Target, etc.). Some are packaged in with analytics software while others come as part of a content management system. These use various algorithms to detect patterns and draw conclusions from customer behaviour.

Email marketing tools. Companies like Aweber, Mailchimp and GetResponse help business owners to build and segment a database in order to run email campaigns. By making full use of the segmenting and automation tools included in these services, it is possible to direct subscribers to personalised content and products.

The above examples only scratch the surface of the vast field of e-commerce personalisation. Hopefully they have given you a starting point for researching the best personalisation tools and strategies for your business.

Fields of opportunity

We have probably all had an email with our name on it, so what is a custom field and how do we go about setting it up?

When composing a single email, we simply type what we want to say into the subject line and body of the message and hit send. Job done! But clearly this is impractical when sending out mass emails as part of a marketing campaign.

For this, we might use an email marketing service such as Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Aweber or Campaign Monitor.

Custom fields enable us to automatically inject the information we know about subscribers (as held in our subscriber database) into our emails. However, as this article will reveal, custom fields can be much more than simple time savers.

By the way, you may recognise much of what follows from the ‘mail merge’ function in your Outlook or MS Word program. In this context, custom fields are usually known as ‘merge fields’.

This function is still available with today’s email services although you may have to source a third party add-on (e.g. a Gmail Extension) if it’s not built in.

Where do custom fields come from?

Whatever email marketing provider you use, custom fields broadly work in the same way. They are formed by mapping information in your email subscriber list to specially formatted ‘personalisation tags’. 

The tags will be recognisable as they will either be within brackets of some kind or perhaps between a set of symbols. These symbols act as instructions, to your message composer, to replace the tag with its corresponding value in your subscriber database. So instead of ‘Hey {firstname}’, your subscriber sees ‘Hey Jo’ or ‘Hey Sally’, etc.

While the most common data fields (such as email, first name and last name) will almost always be set up by default, you may need to set up extra custom fields to suit your marketing needs.

Most providers will allow you to set up more than enough custom fields for marketing purposes. For example, Mailchimp’s basic package permits up to 30 custom fields while Campaign Monitor give you a whopping 50!

Adding custom fields to your emails

Once your custom fields have been set up, it is usually simple to add them into your email messages where needed.

Although the process will vary by provider, you should find an option to insert a custom field wherever you want to in the email subject line and body.

Some providers will even enable you to add custom fields to images, buttons, blocks and widgets.

Personalised email marketing, beyond ‘Hey, Firstname’

One of the most common places you will come across custom fields is in the first part of your email subject line and in the introduction to the email. Here is where the {firstname} tag or its equivalent is often found.

This creates a basic level of personalisation but you can do better! 

For example, if you run an insurance company, consider adding a ‘Car Make and Model’ custom field. When a subscriber receives an email with the subject, ‘Have you insured your Honda Civic yet’, you can be sure they will be more likely to notice it in their inbox!

Combining custom fields with rules creates dynamic fields that change depending on the context.

One of the simplest forms of dynamic custom fields includes fallback terms within the tag. For example, one such tag might read {firstname fallback=Subscriber}.

If the matching field data is missing from your database, your email composer will switch the tag for the fallback term instead. Your subscriber gets a generic, ‘Hey Subscriber’ introduction.

It is often possible to set up more complex dynamic custom fields using expressions such as IfThenElse (which will be familiar to coders).  Providing you take care in setting them up, these can add even more subtle levels of personalisation in your emails.

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