Email Personalization vs Automation - It’s a Balance

Published: 23-Feb-2022
Last Updated: 09-Jan-2022
Email Personalization vs Automation - It’s a Balance

Every marketer knows that the more personalized marketing is, the better it is. Unfortunately, most marketers don't have enough time to personalize every customer interaction. Automation tools have made it possible for marketers to be more efficient, but it has also made us comfortable cutting corners.

According to a study by the Lenskold Group, 63% of companies using marketing automation outperformed competitors. Personalization can also drive growth! According to Experian, email personalization produces 6x higher revenue and transaction rates. So should your business focus on personalization or automation?

Automated email marketing campaigns, automated message replies, etc. are great if they provide a customer experience that is comparable to human interaction. If your marketing automation reminds people of yelling "REPRESENTATIVE" into a phone, you should go back to the drawing board. 

Marketers must balance automation with personalization. Striking this balance is especially difficult when your organization has a small marketing/sales team. If you're in this situation, you will need to strike two balances: automation and personalization, as well as the number of marketing channels used and your marketing budget. Remember, it's better to use fewer marketing tools well than try to use more than you can effectively manage. 

To meet customer expectations, you need to personalize at minimum who the email is addressed to and when the email is sent based on location/time zone. 

Marketing Tactics that Combine Personalization with Automation

email icon

We recommend using these personalized marketing automation tactics that combine the best of both worlds in your email campaigns. These tactics use marketing automation tools to provide personalization at scale. 

Merge Tags

Merge tags are expected in quality email marketing. At the very least you want to kick off your email with a merge tag that addresses the recipient of the email. Marketing teams are using merge tags in increasingly creative ways. You can use merge tags to include the recipient's company name, pet's name, related product, etc. in the body of the email or subject line.

Personalized Product Recommendations

Sending product recommendations based on web visitor behavior is another way to strike a balance between automation and personalization. Managing this process manually would be inefficient, to say the least. But with marketing automation tools this process becomes as efficient as it is powerful! 

Cart Abandonment

Cart abandonment emails are another excellent example of personalized marketing automation. According to Statista in March of 2020, nearly 90% of online shopping orders were not converted into a purchase. Barilliance found that shopping cart abandonment emails have an 18.64% conversation rate. The numbers make this type of email campaign a no-brainer for businesses with statistically significant cart abandonment rates.

When to Use Email Automation

Email automation software

Automation can make a wide range of email marketing efforts more efficient. Email automation can provide personalization to a certain extent, but when corners are cut it's a horrible experience for email recipients. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when thinking about email automation.

  • What is the opportunity cost of not personalizing this email or email sequence?
  • What would happen if I didn't send an automated email or follow up after sending an initial email? 
  • Does this email become less valuable without human touch?
  • Is this making the customer experience better?

This may seem difficult at first, but it's actually quite simple. Once you understand what emails and processes can be automated, then you can identify and dedicate time to the messages that demand a human touch. 

Here are a few email campaigns that we believe can be automated with limited personalization:

Confirmation Emails & Shipping Notifications

These transactional emails can be automated with minimal effect on customer experience. Automating these simple notifications will save your customer service team time so they can focus their attention on the customers who require human interaction. 

Automating these notifications will also preempt some of the inquiries your team receives, reducing costs and time associated with WISMO (Where is my order?) requests. 

Event Confirmation & Reminders

Set and forget event confirmation and reminder emails. The content of these emails is straightforward, set in stone, and relevant to all event registrants. Consumers expect automated messaging related to events, so what are you waiting for? This is one of those cases where everyone gets what they want. Just keep an eye out for customer questions about the event. If these questions will be fielded by your customer service team, make sure they have the information they need to answer them.

When Not to Use Email Automation 

A person composes a new email.

Do not use email automation when it negatively affects customer experience. Email automation can delight customers or annoy customers. 

Here are some email tasks that we believe negatively affect customer experience when automated.

Initial Cold Sales Email 

It's very tempting to automate your initial cold sales email. Sales is a high-volume game, but the initial cold sales email is NOT the time to sacrifice personalization. You're already the enemy when sending a cold email, don't make it worse by sending a cookie-cutter email to a complete stranger.

Your initial sales email must be personalized based on research. Use this initial email to prove that you know about them, know about their company, and explain how you can help them. Putting in this initial time and effort builds trust with your lead. Sending a mass email to a collection of cold leads is going to convert some leads, but it's going to be ignored or worse (reported as spam) by most people. This initial effort also buys you credit to automate follow-up until you get a reply. 

Customer Service Interactions

Email support messages, when done well, help create a positive impression, increase sales, and boost customer retention. Customer service is a crucial part of any business' operations. They allow customers to quickly resolve issues and problems with products and services. 

Unfortunately, many companies fail to provide relevant, timely responses to customer inquiries through email. We recommend automated transactional email notifications (shipping updates, confirmation, etc.) and NEVER automating email responses to customer inquiries. If you automate this task, customers will see through it and it will reflect poorly on your business. 

Automation vs. Personalization

Customer-centered automation and personalization go hand in hand. Use your customer data to create automated personalized experiences. These personalized experiences can be Happy Birthday emails, product recommendations, etc. With the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), you can create personalized messaging at a scale not feasible for most marketing teams. 

You should use personalization whenever it's efficiently possible. Your team must decide when personalization becomes inefficient. The amount of time you spend on personalization will vary dramatically depending on industry, market, and lifetime customer value. 

If you're selling a few luxury products to millionaires, personalization should be used at each stage of the customer journey. On the other hand, marketers who are selling low-margin products must sacrifice personalization in the interest of making the sale without cutting too heavily into profit margins. We recommend ONLY using marketing and sales automation tools when it provides a positive customer experience. If it doesn't, then it's not right for your customers or your company.


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