What's in a Name? 2020 Guide to Email Personalization

Samuel Cook
August 6, 2020

Real Connections Make Real Relationships

If there’s one thing that remains true across countries, cultures, and generations, it’s the deep-seated human need for personal connection. That need extends to everything we do, from mundane activities like shopping for groceries, to more complicated endeavors like buying a house. Most small business owners widely understand this, yet marketing in the 21st century has not always followed suit.

The digital transformation of business in the past few decades has eroded the personal approach to marketing. Some may chalk that up to the decline of mom-and-pops, but we can undoubtedly lay some blame at the feet of digital marketing. With each passing year, marketers have continued to push ever more volume over substance.  As a result, digital marketing methods are decreasing in effectiveness year-over-year, as people become increasingly overloaded and overwhelmed with impersonal marketing attempts.  The result?  A lot of noise for consumers, and decreasing ROI for business owners trying to connect with their target audiences.

Simply put, small and medium-sized businesses have a unique opportunity in 2020: Stand out from the competition by bucking the “more is more” approach to digital marketing, and focus on a truly personalized approach to growing your business.

Where Did Digital Marketing Efforts Go Wrong? 

Modern digital marketing efforts have largely been marked by generic ads and marketing messages intended for a faceless audience. That approach has never had a particularly high rate of return, but the latest numbers are even less encouraging.

  • Aggregate email marketing Open Rates dropped from 18% to 14.5% between 2018-2019 (Source: Twilio)
  • Aggregate email marketing Click Rates dropped from 2% to 1.6% between 2018 and 2019 (Source: Twilio)
  • Facebook ad Clickthrough Rates (CTR) were down 0.37% between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020 (Source: Adstage)
  • Median CTR for Google Search ads fell 44% between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020 (Source: Adstage)
  • Median CTR for Google Display ads for 41% between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020 Source: Adstage)

And on, and on. 

What we often like to call “consumers” in the business world are real people. And these people—across all walks of life—are being bombarded with advertisements almost everywhere they click online. In fact, the 5 most visited websites on the web (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) drive most or all of their revenue through digital ads. 

Many businesses are experiencing ever-decreasing returns on their marketing attempts due to user apathy. Americans are exposed to up to 10,000 ads each day across the web, in their emails, on the radio, and just driving down the road. Most of those ads are either irrelevant or relevant insofar as they’re feeding targeted content from businesses that acquired their user data through invasive tracking cookies. 

It’s no wonder so many digital marketing channels are experiencing declines in their return rates. The ad volume is large enough to create a desensitization effect, and many ads aren’t relevant to people’s interests.  In the case of targeted ads, or automated attempt to personalize the display ad process, the information gathering method makes people immensely uncomfortable

Personalization Matters in Digital Marketing

What we do know, however, is that consumers value personalization when it’s done right.  According to research from Accenture Interactive, 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product or service from a business when that business:

  • Recognizes them and remembers them by name
  • Offers relevant recommendations (versus pushing products or services that better suit the interest of the company)
  • Knows their purchase history

Unfortunately, one of the primary ways businesses attempt to personalize marketing is through the use of tracking ads.  For the consumer, targeted advertising can largely feel invasive and ingenuine. Your business may be able to deliver ads that feed into someone’s online activities, but it makes your marketing appear more like a stalker than a friendly recommendation.

Real personalization involves direct communication. Information you’ve gathered is acquired organically, from the individuals you’re marketing to. And when you use that information to market, you’re doing so with that individual’s best interests in mind, and only when the marketing material is hyper-relevant.

This is the kind of personalization consumers don’t just want right now; they expect it.

The Small Business Advantage in Personalized Marketing

Mass marketers aren’t completely blind to the shifting attitudes about real personalization. One Evergage study found that 92% of marketers reported using personalization techniques, yet just over half feel they fail at it because they lack relevant user data. 

This is where small businesses have a critical advantage over their enterprise counterparts. While you may serve a more limited number of customers, that’s a boon when it comes to the ability to gather more relevant and useful personalization data.

Small businesses can more authentically interact with customers in person, on a more regular basis, and without having to do so behind the many layers of corporate bureaucracy. It’s just you and your customers, making it easy to ask the type of questions that you can add to your data for the purpose of personalized marketing.

An oft-overlooked problem large companies have that small businesses do not is in scaling. As a business grows, it also needs to scale every aspect of its operation. It’s incredibly difficult to scale personalization. The most effective personalization efforts are not built on algorithms, but human interactions.

Unsurprisingly, in its 2018 State of Personalization Report, Gartner found that “staffing challenges are a major impediment to personalization efforts”, and that “74 percent of marketing leaders report they struggle to scale their personalization efforts”.

A talent for personalization doesn’t grow on trees. These critical soft skills must be honed over time and quite often come down to differences in personality. A small operation may have a business owner and a handful of employees who know the ins-and-outs of the business and are familiar with the patrons. But scaling that to hundreds or even thousands of employees can be an incredibly difficult task, as Gartner’s data indicates.

Where Personalized Marketing Works Best

Keeping in mind that your small business has that indispensable advantage of having an up-close-and-personal relationship with your customers, the next question is perhaps an obvious one: How do I use this?

Most digital marketing methods are incompatible with real personalization. Display ads, search engine marketing, content marketing—these are built around driving new traffic and conversions, not fostering on-going relationships. Your best option for marketing to patrons is through direct communication via personal email marketing.

That said, email marketing can be a faulty approach if done incorrectly. As with all other types of digital marketing, many marketers have pushed strategies focused on volume over substance.  This approach led email service providers to now treat most email marketing as spam. Most email service providers now filter email marketing communications out of the primary inbox. Google, which commands a 40+% market share for its Gmail service, pushes marketing emails from Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Sendinblue, and most other email marketing service providers directly to the “Forums” or “Promotions” tabs.  

A Return Path analysis discovered that the read rate for emails getting filtered to Google’s “Forums” and “Promotions” tabs is under 22%. And that’s hoping your emails don’t end up in the spam folder.

Effective Personalized Email Marketing with Levitate

Email marketing performs best when it does two things:

  • Gets past email service providers’ spam filters
  • Connects with your core audience in a personalized way

Major email marketing platforms are ill-equipped to offer both of those services. That’s where Levitate comes in.

Levitate’s email marketing software and service ensures your marketing emails zoom right into your clients’ inbox and not into spam or junk folders. That’s because they actually come from you, through your existing email provider. Our clients’ emails are not tagged as irrelevant marketing spam, because they aren’t. Levitate focuses on less-frequent, heavily-personalized, and completely relevant emails. 

From birthday wishes to reminders about upcoming sporting events your contacts might be interested in attending, Levitate allows you to record critical details about everyone on your contact list, as you gather it from them. This keeps the email engagement interactive and at a human level—just the way business was meant to be.

The results are transformative. While the average email marketing open rate is under 18%, Levitate’s customers average open rates of 60%. Our approach means more of your customers will not only read your emails but respond positively and interact in meaningful ways. 

Personalized, keep-in-touch marketing is the most effective way to maintain relationships with your customers. With 97% of people identifying email as essential to their lives, it’s a critical marketing channel for every small business. Leverage the personal connections you have with your customers to build the best email marketing strategy for your business.

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