Think Outside the Subject Line: 5 Creative Ways to Personalize Email Messages

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Personalization has been one of the biggest trends in content and in email marketing for the last few years. There’s no secret why – it works.

In a recent study of UK email users, personalization was the most likely thing to influence whether or not someone clicked an email.


This was echoed in a different study, from Experian. There, marketers were asked what they thought the best way to improve interaction from their subscribers was. Personalization came in first.



Of course, the first thing most of us think of when we hear “personalized emails” is the subject line. Something like this: “FirstName, have we got a deal for you!” That’s certainly a good start– and it works – but there’s way more than can be done.

These are most common things email marketers personalize in their messages, according to 2016 research from YesMail:



As you can see, personalizing the subject line is definitely the most popular tactic. But there’s far more ways to personalize beyond that. These are a few of my favorite things to personalize in the rest of a message:


1) The greeting.

Not the most creative thing to do, but we had to start somewhere. And the opening greeting is a classic thing to personalize. Like this:



At least in my inbox, the greeting is by far the most likely thing to be personalized. Based on a rough count of about eighty emails I checked for this article, there were almost as many personalized greetings as there were personalized subject lines.


2) In the body copy.

This is far less common, but can be as effective. I see it used mostly in text-based emails, especially emails from copywriters.



Here’s another example of this from a nonprofit:



3) The header image (also known as the “hero shot”).

Using a personalized images in emails is one of the things NiftyImages specializes in. Here’s a personalized image I made just a few minutes ago.



Remember, you could personalize other information in these images. It doesn’t just have to be peoples’ names.


4) By location.

This is especially effective if you can use a map image or weather information. So long as you’ve got someone’s zip code, personalizing this way is possible (though considerably harder than just dropped peoples’ names in).

But wait – don’t have your subscribers’ zip codes? Well, you can ask for them. Or sometimes a data company can do an “overlay”. Then you can buy that information for each person on your list.

Here’s an example of an email that takes a zip code and personalizes the email with a map and directions. It’s how the company Extra Space Storage welcomes people who have just placed a reservation.




Want another example with weather information? You got it: This is an email sent by AutoTrader UK.



The email agency Moveable Ink helped AutoTrader create this.


5) What they’ve viewed on your site.

This trick requires what’s known as “dynamic content”. It’s a sophisticated but very cool way to use almost any kind of personalizable information. Some of the more sophisticated mail service providers like Pinpointe (and many others) can set you up with this.

To generate dynamic content in your emails, you basically just decide what section of an email you want to be dynamic. Then embed a tag into the HTML of the email, and then flow the personalized information into that field.

You’ll need a database for this sort of move, of course. And let’s face it – you’ll want to test it thoroughly before you deploy your first dynamic campaign. But when this works, it’s really cool.

Here’s a simple cart abandonment email. It’s not fancy, but this is a very popular use of dynamic content in emails. The image is from Email On Acid’s blog post, “10 Best Ways to Use Dynamic Content in Email



Bonus idea: Personalized Landing Page

One last piece of advice: Don’t forget your landing pages! Every email campaign deserves a great landing page, and personalizing the information on the landing page could get you almost as much of a lift as what’s in the email. Only way to know is to test, test, test.



Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got absolutely nothin’ against personalized subject lines. They’re a great way to get people to open your emails. But they’re only one way to  customize your messages. And given how subscribers are coming to expect us to deliver personalized messages, all this is becoming less and less of a “gee whiz” technology. It’s more like a requirement.


What do you think?

I’m sure I’ve left out some ways to personalize email messages here. If you can think of any – please, speak up. We love to hear about what other email marketers are up to.



PamNeely.pngAuthor:  Pam Neely has been marketing online for 18 years. She has a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award and a Hermes Creative Award for blog writing. Pam holds a Master’s Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University and is the author of a bestselling Amazon Kindle book “50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List.” Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.

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