We toss the word "personalization" around a fair amount in email marketing, and most people associate it with "Dear Bob" personalization — that technological parlor trick of dropping a first name placeholder into the greeting of an email. But the people getting the best results are the ones going beyond first name personalization and customizing emails based on geography, loyalty, purchase history and more.
How do I know this? I've read the Aberdeen's report on email marketing, which Emma helped to sponsor. They identified the companies with high open, click and conversion rates in their campaigns, and they found the patterns of how those companies have set up their member databases, copywriting strategy and internal processes to create truly personalized emails.
My favorite part: They acknowledged that the best campaigns don't stop at personalizing the *content* of emails — they also personalize the *delivery,* using trigger emails to send campaigns based on recipients' schedules and actions. I was thrilled to read that 33% of those top-performing companies were putting triggers to work in their overall email strategy, basing the timing of their campaigns on a customer's behavior (buying a product, clicking a link, subscribing to the newsletter). By comparison, only 10% of the lowest-rated companies used trigger emails, which indicates that a triggers play some role in overall email marketing success. Of course they do. A feature that lets you send emails even while napping *has* to be great.
Even if you lack/can't afford/fear the technology behind personalizing emails, it's still easy to make sure your emails are written and designed with people in mind — friendly, conversational, human. Nobody wants to read an email that sounds like it was written for robots. With the possible exception of actual robots. For more inspiration on relating to your subscribers as *people,* read Mark Brownlow's excellent post on the matter here.