In 1978, Gary Thuerk, a computer company’s marketing manager at the time, sent an unsolicited email to 400 ARPAnet users. At the time, this constituted mass communications at the time; did you have an email address in 1978? Some people, including the network’s administrators, were angry, but others were intrigued. The very first promotional email ever sent resulted in $13 million in sales, long before email personalization was a thing.

Thuerk’s stunt foreshadowed the incredible potential of email, which is still the most lucrative marketing channel. However, more than 40 years later, email personalization is paramount. We send and receive more than 293 billion(!) emails every day and generic messages don’t stand a chance of capturing consumers’ attention.

Using the recipient’s first name in a subject line increases an email’s chances of being opened by 14.68%, according to research from our sister brand Campaign Monitor. And that’s just their name, the lowest-hanging fruit of email personalization that can be achieved by simply pasting
{{first_name}}.

Every year, Sailthru evaluates the personalized marketing capabilities of 250 retailers, which culminates in the Retail Personalization Index. Since 2017, retailers have really evolved their email marketing. We’ve identified six best practices for brands to emulate the email personalization success of top-scoring brands. You can download the full guide here, but for now, here’s a taste: 

Bodybuilding.com: Setting a Foundation for Email Personalization

Compared with other marketing emails, welcome messages have an 86% higher open rate. That’s extraordinarily high, but it makes sense. The customer just signed up for your list or made their first purchase, so of course this is when they’re most engaged. It’s your job to strike while the iron is hot and set a foundation for email personalization.

Bodybuilding.com does that particularly well, which makes sense. Everyone has different fitness goals and needs, so personalization is imperative for a brand like Bodybuilding.com. The brand’s initial welcome email comes from an actual human being, and features a plethora of products and content. We love that it doesn’t end there. Bodybuilding.com continues its welcome series by prompting users to update their accounts, sharing information about their interests and goals, in order to fuel future personalization.

Ulta: Integrating the Loyalty Program Into Email

If there’s any doubt that loyal customers are the best customers, look no further than Prime Day. Amazon invented a whole new holiday for its loyalty program members, one that generated more revenue than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. According to Accenture research, brands’ loyalty program members generate 12 to 18% more revenue per year than non-members. And for beauty giant Ulta, more than 90% of its sales come from Ultamate Rewards members.

Ultamate Rewards is naturally present in all the brand’s emails. Members’ current points balance are displayed along the top of every message, while non-members see, “[Name], earn points with every purchase!” Ulta takes it even further, using the loyalty program as a triggered message with monthly statements updating members about their points and upcoming milestones. Featuring an animated progress bar and real-time elements from our sister brand Liveclicker, this email updated dynamically to reflect Danielle’s most up-to-date loyalty information, reflecting any purchases made after Ulta sent this email before she opened it.

DSW: Diversifying Triggered Messages

Sent in direct response to specific customer behaviors, triggered messages are the cornerstone of email personalization. Common triggered messages include those welcoming new customers and winning back lapsed ones, with post-purchase and abandonment messages in between. Any brand that ranked highly on the Retail Personalization Index, like DSW, demonstrated a mastery of triggered messages, which account for more than three-quarters of email revenue.

DSW sends witty cart abandonment messages and personalized welcome streams promoting the app and loyalty program. Those emails are crucial for any retailer, but they’re also reactive by nature. What sets DSW apart as an email personalization pro is the diversity. The footwear retailer also mixes in proactive triggers, such as birthday discounts, back in stock notifications, and even weather-related recommendations once the seasons start to change.

Looking for more ways to enhance your email personalization? Download the guide here.