Bullock: What it Takes to do Meaningful Personalization


I’ve been in email marketing for 9 years now, the latest iteration of a digital marketing career that I have had going for over 20 years. During this time, I have seen interesting new technologies emerge—from Send Time Optimization, to Machine Learning, to AI being leveraged for content and subject line suggestions. And yet, I look in my own inbox and am forced to ask, “What the hell is going on?”

Why do I ask this? Take a look at your own inbox. As VP Solutions Consulting at Trendline Interactive, I travel a fair bit and regularly receive emails from hotel chains, car rental companies, and airlines. All of these company subscriptions include regular monthly newsletters, along with periodic special offers or upsell opportunities. For the most part, I have satisfactory experiences when looking at them. But there are a few that leave me astounded, given the capabilities I know their platforms have.

More specifically, as a frequent traveler, I want to know how many points I have in your program and would also enjoy other helpful info such as how far I am to the next tier or reward. Not all companies provide this info, though. Instead, they force you to log in to your account to see this information. It is frustrating to me because it isn’t PII; it’s just a status indicator. Going through the hassle of logging into my account on a website (or maybe having to log into an app on my phone) to see my balance just isn’t worth it when there are competitors who readily offer this info. It may seem trivial to you, but it is one of the many things that can affect a customer’s true loyalty.

Why might a company not offer this information? It could be some arcane decision, based on a need to drive more traffic to a website, made with the hope that someone might make an impulse booking. More likely, though, it’s that loyalty programs might house all of their data in different systems than those to which the marketing team has access. That is a valid challenge but not insurmountable, especially if a company is focused on creating a great  customer experience.

Take a look at your own inbox, at the brands that you either use the most or respect the most, and identify what they are doing right or where they could improve your experience. Take that list, and compare it to your own emails. How do you measure up? What do you need to do better? My guess is that you need access to data.

Having been in the technical side of marketing for over 20 years (part of that as a true IT team member), I’ve seen some crazy ideas come from IT departments about how much data should be available and how accessible it should be. But a well-reasoned conversation with them should get the kind of data you need to do effective personalization. Types of data you likely need:

  • Zip code

This can be used to deliver a map of nearest physical location, or weather info, etc.

  • Loyalty Points

This can be used to show a customer’s progress towards some goal (free night, next tier, etc.), and reduce their time to get an idea of where they stand.

  • Recent purchase date or product purchased

This does not have to be exposed in the email but can be used to show the upsell opportunities of which your customer could take advantage. Conversely, it can be used to determine if you want to extend a special offer to a customer to have them make a new purchase.

These are just some examples of data that you might use to deliver more meaningful personalization to your customers. Just remember, it is really easy to get into a “tunnel vision” mode and lose sight of what your customers are experiencing or expecting. If you are worried about this, take a trip through your own inbox for a refresher on what works for you—odds are it will work for your customers, too.