Personalization is a must for marketers for one important reason: Customers demand it. Countless studies have found that people prefer personalized marketing, even if they don’t all agree on what that is.

Some people think of 1:1 individualized messages as personalization, while some think any email displaying their first name qualifies. And for others, contextual marketing feels like enough.

“Relevance and personalization are not one and the same. In theory, a message could be relevant based on where people are physically or the time of day, but they may not perceive it as personalized,” explained eMarketer Principal Analyst Lauren Fisher on eMarketer’s recent Meet the Analyst webinar. “I was in the airport recently and five minutes after I got through security, I got an alert from Sephora asking if TSA took my makeup and if so, come in and shop. It’s relevant because of where I am and the context, but is it personal?”

Maybe not, but for many consumers, they’re one and the same. According to a May survey from Infogroup, 90% of consumers say messages from companies that aren’t personally relevant are annoying, while 44% are willing to switch to brands who better personalize marketing communications.

“Great Personalization Isn’t Something Consumers Should Always Be Aware Of”

Like Sephora. Every year, Marigold Engage by Sailthru analyzes 250 retailers, evaluating their personalization capabilities across website, email, mobile and even offline channels. We cross-reference these evaluations with a customer sentiment survey, culminating in our Retail Personalization Index. Sephora is the undisputed champion, placing first all three years.

“I believe great personalization isn’t something consumers should always be aware of. That’s why we don’t ask them, ‘How personalized was that for you?’” explained Jason Grunberg, Marigold Engage by Sailthru’s VP of Marketing.

The Index has nearly 80 attributes, none of which are more indicative of personalization than a unified customer profile. Consumers increasingly expect brands to provide a consistent experience across every channel. Sephora is one of just eight retailers in the Index to tie all its channels together: website, mobile, email and even offline.

Email: Where Personalization Is Most Common, If Not Used to Its Full Potential

Surveying U.S. digital marketers, Evergage found that 78% of U.S. companies use personalization in email. That makes email the channel by far most likely to be personalized, even if it’s not always personalized as well as it could be. While 86% of the 250 retailers we evaluated send a welcome email after someone signs up, just 18% of them include personalized content in those messages. “Personalized content” could mean anything from someone’s first name to the products they viewed, and it’s a major indicator of a brand’s overall personalization prowess. Among the top 25 brands, 96% personalize welcome emails.

“When we run the research next year, we expect to see a greater divide between top performers; only 36% have personalized recommendations in welcome emails,” said Jason. “While many emails view triggering messages as personalization itself, there are so many layers to personalization you can add onto that experience. Using weather data to personalize experiences is really starting to come to the forefront with the number of integrations that are possible. You can personalize email experiences based on the weather in a very specific geography in real time given their connectivity and specific data sets.”

Weather is a great example of where personalized and contextual relevance meet. Look at this email from fifth-place finisher DSW. The footwear retailer deduced the customer would like these booties based on her behavior. But DSW also thought she would like them now, based on the changing climate.

What’s driving personalization strategies and how are they executed? Which data sets are most important? How does artificial intelligence factor in? For these answers and more, click here to access the full webinar, “Personalization—Using Data for a Better Customer Experience.”