The future of email marketing: Customer experience and personalization

Zoho Campaigns’ Expert Diaries connect avid email marketers with the experts in their space to learn about best practices and tips. Our aim is to form a community where members learn about email marketing from one another.

Expert Diaries
Customer experience and personalization in email marketing for 2023

In our recent session, we were joined by Ralitsa Minkova, a well-known email strategist and copywriter who works with customer-centric brands to improve their email marketing journeys and focuses on empathy-based relationship marketing. She’s been in the email marketing industry for quite some time. In this session, Ralitsa walks us through a few best practices and tips that we can try as we strategize and plan for email marketing in 2023 with respect to customer experience and personalization.

Video Transcript:

Annet: We will start with a basic introduction question. When I was taking a look at your profile I saw that you had studied design graphics and art. So how was the journey? How did it start from designing and how did you realize that email marketing is your forte?

Ralitsa: That’s a pretty big question and we could chat about that for a long time, but I’m just going to keep it very brief. I basically got introduced to copywriting through the graphic design degree I pursued. So that was my first engagement/interaction with the world of copywriting in the sense that it was more focused on, you know, creative copywriting, what brands/agencies usually do. It’s very different from what I’m doing today. And my path hasn’t been like a straight line. I transitioned or I was thinking about architecture, but after a while, for health reasons, I had to really focus, re-shift my whole thinking process—but architecture didn’t work out. I ended up in linguistics, pursuing a bachelor’s in linguistics, and then I started freelancing. While I was doing that at the very beginning of the first semester, I started with freelance writing. I explored the world of blogging, but that didn’t really ring very true or interesting to me because I was passionate about, you know, psychology and how people use language, how they make decisions—which is integral in the world of conversion copywriting. And then I just stumbled across Joanna Wiebe and Copyhackers, and like I say, the rest was history, and one thing led to another, and I eventually decided to focus on email because it naturally occurred through the projects I was doing for clients. I’ve done a little bit of everything in that sense but the common thread across everything was strategy and thinking about the client, the end client—not just my client, but their client as well. And that’s just how it all came neatly together like a package, because the design knowledge I gained helps me today to expand and unpack things like user experience, design, things that I noticed with my clients, and email, and generally the client experience and the customer experience that is so, so important today, especially with email.


Annet: Thank you for sharing your journey with us! So without much delay, let’s get into the topic for the day which is the future of email marketing, customer experience, and personalization. When it comes to any topic, we should definitely get the basics right so the first question is:

Q: Why do customer experience and data personalization mean so much in email marketing?

Ralitsa: It’s a very good question and I will instantly say it’s because when you personalize your messaging and how you speak to your audience, this is the best way to provide them with better customer experience, which in turn leads to building trust with your audience and building brand loyalty, which means that you go outside of the realm of just making one sale. You’re focusing on repeat clients and customers who are just investing in your brand and will stick with you in the long term. Because we all know that it’s a lot more expensive to gain new clients, new customers. I use those terms interchangeably, but the essence is that it’s a lot more expensive to get to gain a new person to trust you than to keep building a relationship with the person who’s already trusted you once. So one big mindset shift that I think is necessary here is that we just go outside of the jargon of marketing where we treat people as, you know, MQLs, SQLs, and all that—even though it’s helpful internally. I think it’s sort of dehumanizing the person that is actually a living and breathing organism standing across from messaging. So when you dimensionalize it in that way, you’re just building that sort of connection that customer experience is all about. When you boost brand engagement, it just becomes a lot easier to connect with those people that you’re targeting, that you’re engaging with. And it all leads to better ROI for your email marketing efforts as well, which is basically what all email marketers and businesses are interested in. So deeper human connection is very important and that’s why customer experience is super crucial and personalization is just one layer deeper. And I’ve also heard something recently that made an impression on me: It’s not just about personalization, but it’s about humanization. So going back to that whole topic of how you engage with your people, your customers, it’s bringing back that element, making it personal, making it connection-based. And that affects lifetime customer value, that affects everything, basically; it sets the whole tone for the interaction with your pre-customers, your customers, and your brand ambassadors, which is that higher level that’s usually all companies want to aim for. Those are the reasons why these two things are so, so crucial.


Q: What in your opinion will be the biggest trends in email marketing in the coming year with respect to customer experience and personalization?

Ralitsa: One thing that is very obvious to all of us in the email marketing space is that with all the changes around privacy, focusing on metrics that actually matter and are meaningful to each business is something that I think a lot of people are already working on. So it’s just going to grow a lot more. And the whole point of looking at benchmarks and trends and all of that is just, I think, that we shouldn’t just take it as it is, but always experiment and try to figure out what works for our business, our customers. How we do things as a brand. So with that said, focusing on the email strategy overall, like what you do currently with your emails and leveraging the customer journey, those critical points that a person goes through while engaging with a brand—this is very, very important, and I think that a lot more businesses are focusing on that: not approaching email marketing just because you have to do it. You have to set up flows, you have to set up a campaign, but actually taking a step back and looking at those meaningful metrics and what they tell you and how you should actually think about the overall email marketing journey that you’re creating for your customers and fill those gaps with very specific data that you collect, using the tech stack that you have available to the maximum, making the most out of it. And then, of course, balancing personalization with privacy. Those are things that are important, especially with brand indicators for messaging identification—that is something that is starting to take. Brands are starting to use that, which is signaling to a person receiving an email that this is actually an authentic brand. “This is the same brand that I’m hearing from.” It’s kind of like a trust marker as well. Segmenting smart also helps for personalizing your content, and I think we’ll get into that a little bit later as we talk about these things, but while everybody tells you to segment, it’s true that it’s a lot more difficult to do, to execute. So there are things that will hopefully help in the short future as we were starting to see—which is exciting. Also, besides what we already talked about, customer experience is gaining a lot of attention. Email marketers are talking about that a lot more than ever before, I think, especially with everything that’s happening around us. It’s very important for people to feel like they’re not talking to just a corporation or a business, but actually a person on the other end. And that’s where brands, I think, can leverage that opportunity a lot.

And another exciting part is creating micro-experiences through email. One thing I’m personally very excited about is interactive email and AMP, or accelerated mobile pages. They’re a little bit different in that sense that the AMP type of email is basically being updated live. So there’s a lot of excitement around what that could mean for people engaging with email, because literally you could just do a couple of things—take an action—from inside your email without actually having to go to a website. And since a lot of people are on mobile these days, a big percentage globally—not just in US markets or where most of the data that comes around—SMS, for example, is US-focused at the moment, so there’s a lot of opportunity there. And speaking of SMS, I feel that this is also going to be pretty big. I’m excited to see other regions sharing their research around that because I know that people globally use mobile a lot more—also for their shopping experiences—so it’s a very interesting year to come, I think. One last thing, specifically for ecommerce, I also think that subscription-based models are going to be on the rise, and not just digital products, like Netflix and all that—because that’s already on the rise—but also actual physical products.


Q: You were talking about SMS campaigns and how that will gain prominence, so I’d just like to ask you about chatbots. What do you think about chatbots? How do you think chatbots play a role when compared to email marketing?

Ralitsa: Chatbots are already being used extensively and I think that with the automations that we are creating on the side of email, chatbots have the opportunity to close the gap using data that we already have so that we can predict, in a way, and be more proactive in terms of our customer support especially. Because usually you engage with a chatbot if you’re trying to solve a problem; usually that’s the first thing that you are going to do; you go to the site and then you engage with a chatbot. Whether or not that is helpful is a different story, but that’s exactly where the opportunity lies, because, at least when I worked with clients, a huge part of my work is collecting voice of customer data, and that is both a monumental task and of high importance, but also very difficult to apply when it comes to your day-to-day marketing. And having qualitative data and knowing, for example, friction points or issues that somebody has experienced with your brand when they ordered, or if you’ve identified a pattern, that is easily one place with chatbots that you can inject that and just create those flows so that you can be proactive in terms of when the customer has a problem and then have solutions. Because I don’t know about you, but in most cases when I have a personal problem with the chatbot, I usually go to customer support one-on-one or a phone call or email. So that means that the problem is very unique, which may very well be the case, but if there is a pattern and there are issues that you have identified, that means you have the opportunity to build a certain flow around that issue, which can increase customer experience, improve it, make it better for the person engaging with your brand, minimize frustration, and just improve the overall experience and close the gaps in terms of what’s missing, in terms of information, or anything else.


Annet: When I take a look at chatbots or when I am on a website, I feel that a computer is talking to me. I do not feel that personal connection when the chatbot is there, but with respect to email, I know there will be a human being sitting on the other side trying and thinking out ways in which they want us to read the email. So I know that there is a human being who is trying to contact us, and I think that is the major difference that we have from chatbot when compared to email marketing.

Ralitsa: That’s absolutely right, you’re absolutely right there, and that uncovers another huge opportunity; because when you have a brand, how you speak or how the whole organization, all the people involved, speak to the customers—that is something that needs to extend also to chatbots. This means the voice of the brand needs to be consistent everywhere. So the idea would be to engage with a chatbot without actually feeling that it’s a chatbot. So going back to that whole humanization point, chatbots are automated; they’re programmed to do specific things based on a set of commands that you’ve given them—or the developers, or whoever sets them up—so injecting that personality and that sort of human approach, even though it’s automated, that’s where you can win points. Because that is something that is definitely going to stand out compared to all the other chatbots that you’ve experienced and I have experienced.


Q: There’s so much content out there, and brands have to definitely stand out from the rest in order to gain customer trust. What are some of the ideas that you think brands can try?

Ralitsa: My answer is going to be a little bit, maybe, underwhelming for those who seek those trends and a disruptive approach. I’ll just take it back to the core and I’ll bring the big word, the heavy word, of “strategy”. Auditing and reviewing, revisiting what you are already doing—your entire email marketing strategy—is the key to identifying points where you can improve things that you’re doing and see where you stack up with everybody else. That’s cross-marketing, not just email marketing. But it’s very easy to just get mesmerized by the next biggest, hottest trend and what everybody else is doing, when in fact a lot of the keys are already in your hands and they have to do with what you already know about your audience. And if you don’t know, then it’s your job to find out what they’re missing so that you can improve your communication, with email specifically, because email is very personal and that’s where the whole human aspect of it is so prevalent.

 So questions you could ask are: Is what we are doing customer-centric? Are we actually delivering an amazing customer experience? Are we delivering a customer experience to people who have not even become a customer yet? Are we treating them as customers before they even become one? Because when you feel like you’re part of a brand—like you’re not just asking me for a sale and just to exchange money for a product—then that means that this is a brand that is worth paying attention to, it’s worth connecting with, it’s worth trusting. What is missing from our email marketing strategy? What could we do better? What should we keep doing based on the data that we already have? What makes sense based on what we know and all these emerging technologies and all these very impressive things that are happening? What makes sense for us and our customers? Do we have the—not the resources to execute—but is it actually going to lead us to our goals more efficiently, and faster? Are we present where our customers are? Are we there for them at the right time, at the right place, where they are? Because there’s no point in improving something or focusing on optimizing something when people are not there. An example of that is social media. A lot of people are on social. It’s a great way to attract people. Is it a way to build connections? I’m not sure about that, because when one brand is showing an ad or is in your inbox telling you about a promo that they have for you, at the same time you have a million other notifications on your phone. You’re distracted by another thing, another ping. This is why email is so, so powerful, and it’s going to stick around, despite what everybody tells us. You get these questions, “Is email marketing still worth it?” Yes, absolutely! Because it’s a channel for creating that relationship with people. We’ll see what happens with SMS, but SMS is quite limited in terms of the interaction; you can get very time-based and relevant information that you might need a customer to know—especially transactional stuff like delivery, exclusive promos—that could be something else that you could look at. But there’s no point in optimizing something when the people you’re trying to reach are not there or if they’re there, they’re distracted.

Another thing I mentioned earlier is that what you already know, you should leverage and use in a proactive way, and use that as a way to build trust through your emails. And that’s where copy and design and the overall experience comes in to boost that brand engagement, and your brand loyalty, and to inspire trust in your audience. And just generally if I could sum that up it would be, to focus on what matters to your brand rather than comparing yourself to some of those big giants like Amazon and Netflix. Because it really depends on the company, where you are, and what stage of growth you are, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s very hard to look for personalization examples online. You’ll just see post after post citing the same giants. And, yes, it’s ideal; everybody could do magical things if they have the budget and the teams to work on those things. But what does the smaller business have in place to leverage and do meaningful things for their audience?


Annet: Since you talked about strategy, I think it is always better to consider how people receive the email. As in, we should definitely have different plans in hand. Plan A: What would the customer do if they received an email like this, and if they do that, what should we do from our side? So we should have different plans listed out and that will definitely help the brand.

Ralitsa: I absolutely agree with you. Understanding those points of engagement and interaction with the brand is important. It’s very different when somebody signs up to take a quiz on your site and then something needs to follow. And you’ll be amazed by how many opportunities are missed because you don’t follow through. Just ask questions like, “What would be the next best thing for my customers receiving this? What will be the next best step for them? What would be the next logical thing?” Because imagine signing up for something, and getting very excited—you’ve received your quiz results and you’re expecting some product recommendations or something very personalized to you. Something that could maybe nudge you gently to buy if you’re a little bit anxious about taking the next steps of buying something—you’re not really sure if it’s going to work out for you—and then you don’t get anything, and then suddenly you get a promo. It’s just that missing link, and you can do so much just by thinking one step ahead. You don’t really need to do much—just be one step ahead of your customers and listen to the feedback you get from them. Because people tell you what they need. You just need to be there and listen, and then just try and implement that in the most efficient and effective way possible for your brand, and using the tech stack you have, the resources you have available, and prioritize what’s most important.


Q: Customers nowadays are concerned about brands using their data for personalization. How can email marketers navigate through this and better personalize emails?

Ralitsa: The fear is definitely there, for sure, and mostly because it doesn’t help when big giants are breaking trust and using data without consent. So that’s exactly where all these policies—the GDPR here in Europe, the CAN-SPAM Act in the US, and I think a lot of other initiatives—have started to emerge to protect consumers from all those things.

I suppose one thing we should probably get clear on is that personalization goes beyond just using the first name. So people get concerned about how much you know about them and whether you’re being creepy or tracking them online, which is a valid concern. So being transparent with how you use data, having consent in place—these are the things that you can do to just minimize that sort of risk—and just being open about how you use people’s data. Anybody can check—that is just required by law or at least those legal regulations that we need to consider. But the best way to avoid all of that is just to focus on using what’s called “customer first data,” which is basically zero-party data and first-party data. Zero-party data is any information that somebody has given you willingly/voluntarily. For example, signing up on a pop-up form, and adding your email—that is information you deliberately share with a brand. Then first-party data is the data you collect on your own websites, the tools that you use that you actually own, which you then use to customize specific aspects of your email marketing or general marketing. That’s usually behavior-triggered events, like visiting a product category, for example, and triggering an email sequence based on that, or leaving something in your cart. All these things are interconnected. Where things get difficult is with third-party data which is recommended not to use because that’s where the whole fear of consumers comes in—of brands misusing data that they have not given their consent to.

So the general rule is if something feels creepy, avoid doing it. Because you’ve probably seen some of those abandoned cart emails where you try to be funny or somehow light-hearted with what you say, but it very much feels like being creepy, as if somebody’s watching you put something in the cart and then leave. So it comes back to adjusting your messaging and again asking the question: Is this on brand? Is this how we want to be perceived? Is this how we want to be leading our communications and our messaging online? So basically, respect the data that people have shared with you and stick to the rules and use the data that you already have in a meaningful way. So that’s the thing I can say about personalization and the whole fear of being too personal or not.

There’s also something called hyper-personalization, which sounds super, super personalized with the “hyper” added in front. But what that basically means is you make an experience for one of your subscribers or customers very relevant to them—hyper-relevant to them. So if they’ve bought in the past something in a specific product category, you could use the data that you already have for them to create a more personalized journey instead of recommending they buy a product that they maybe are not interested in at all. So that’s just another example of what is ethical or what is more mindful in terms of your audience and your customers.


Annet: I think adding what we do with the customers’ data itself will turn down the fear that they have. Whenever we are sending out emails to them and if we are collecting some data from them, it’s really good if we add a point telling them why this data is collected and for what purpose we’ll be using it. That’s something that every email marketer has to be careful about.


Ralitsa: Just one thing about that, because it’s also another opportunity. All those forms where you are obliged by GDPR to just state what you’re going to do with the data—while you need to be explicit about what you’re going to do and be very specific, you can also be on-brand without going overboard, but still make it personable in terms of communicating it to a person, but not just sticking to the legalize; I mean, you can still be specific and on-brand without going overboard.


Q: What are the basic points that marketers need to take care of when looking at customer experience and data personalization?

Ralitsa: So I’ll go back to what I said. Personalizing the content—the emails that you send out—means that you are becoming more relevant to the person getting your emails. And when you’re more relevant, people pay more attention, because it’s something that speaks to them. But to become more relevant, you also need to learn to listen; you need to understand your audience; you need to know exactly who you’re speaking to, what they’re most concerned about, what they’re worried about, what they desire, what they need—and use that to optimize your messaging, to improve how you speak to them by email or any other shape or form. Being open to feedback is another thing—I think I already touched on a little bit earlier—but when you engage and respond to people and you actually pay attention to what they tell you, people feel heard. And it’s a great way also to segment your audience and use that as a strategy for segmentation. And you can get very intricate with your segmentation. You don’t always have to. So that’s why I mentioned that you should be mindful of what is meaningful to your brand. What will make the most impact? And then based on the feedback that you collect, you just try to do better. And we know that when a brand breaks a promise, it’s very hard to gain trust back. It only takes one negative experience to just have the whole thing that you’ve been trying to build with a person crumble down. It’s not a good feeling for the person to experience it and it’s not profitable in anyway for the brand either. So that’s very important to keep in mind.

A lot of brands ask for feedback from their customers, but then it doesn’t really seem to affect anything. It’s like you’re collecting information; you’re collecting insights that you can actually use to improve something. But then for the customer, many times, it feels like the brand is not really listening. So that’s a major opportunity there. Another thing is that brands and email marketers should remember that the brand is not for everyone. So having unsubscribes is actually a good way to clean your list of people who are not a good fit. When you have, obviously, massive unsubscribes, that’s a red flag—it means something bad—but in most cases we’re not talking about that, because you should just embrace people letting go, because you need space for people who are the right fit. And those are the people you really want to focus on and communicate with more extensively. And then living your values as a brand—because we also know that many brands lead with their values, but do you actually live them? Do you breathe life into them as you communicate with people, as you send emails? Do you feel that same value that you say is so important to you as a brand? Which brings us again to the element of consistency. Being consistent in how you communicate with people across all of your marketing channels.

 You mentioned earlier about the chatbot and how it feels a little bit robotic compared to emails. That is one example of being consistent and leveraging this consistency and having a unified brand voice across any kind of communication channel. Because there’s no point in being very personal in your emails when you go to the chatbot or support or any other channel and it’s very impersonal. It’s not the same. You just experience some kind of dissonance there—like something is not as you were set out to believe it is. And all of this is just to say: Step up to the challenge. We are living in very challenging times these days. There’s a recession looming—if it’s not even here already—for a lot of places around the world, and stepping up to the challenge is very important. To just use what you already have, improve on what you’ve been doing, and just focus on that customer experience overall—and user experience and everything you can do to just deliver an experience that is based on the customer and less on the brand and the brand itself. Because the customer needs to feel and connect with anything you present to them. Whether it’s an offer, a promotion for something, or any kind of email messaging that you send them—even if it’s a newsletter. Something that they can connect to.


Q: How do you think automation can help in achieving better customer experience? What’s the role of automation in data personalization.

Ralitsa: When you send personalized content to your subscribers, that leads to greater brand engagement. It improves the overall perception that you have of the brand. You are becoming more relevant. And email automation specifically has a great opportunity to connect at those specific strategic points of the customer journey. This is why a well-planned email strategy should include all those critical touchpoints and every touchpoint should have a goal. You should be proactive and expect any kind of points of friction. And those are things that you can collect from feedback—like we said, from audience research, the voice of customer data, research that you do. And one critical point there is knowing what kind of questions to ask as well. Because—you mentioned surveys specifically, about using the data and how it’s a good thing, sure—but if you only collect percentages of how satisfied you are with our customer service, you end up with a number that you can’t really use. So it’s quantitative data. Prioritizing qualitative data is a huge workload for the people analyzing it—that’s true—but it also gives you a lot more to work with and it feeds back into your email marketing, your whole marketing ecosystem, insights that you can use, and leverage for your email strategy, for every kind of aspect of those touchpoints that we talked about earlier—like if somebody just bought a new product for the first time, or if somebody has bought multiple times in the past year. Those are different segments of your audience with different points. Like a person who has just started engaging with the brand will go through a slightly different journey than somebody who is already aware of your products and what you have to offer and what you can do for them.

So designing the digital experience for email specifically and making it immersive and as much as possible and interactive is a great way just to lead to that higher personalization and stand out, like how we talked about earlier. People notice these things because often it’s hard to do things; nobody, no brand, is executing or implementing things perfectly. It’s a constant process just like it’s always a constant process to collect customer data and feed it back into your marketing efforts and just understanding your audience. Things change, things evolve, so it never really stops—just like with testing, optimizing, and all of that. It’s just an ongoing process.

Another thing about automation specifically is that, again, with that data, we can focus on filling those gaps and creating many experiences based on specific behaviors that somebody has, maybe, taken. One example was again the signing up. Ideally, you would want to trigger a welcome email sequence, and then perhaps nudge that person at the right point to buy one of the products that you have, a specific category that they’re interested in, being proactive and helpful with educational content as well—that can be something you feed into your email automation. And then what happens when they buy? What kind of automation should follow? You have the transactional emails, of course, which are often neglected and they often seem very short, snappy, and just to the point, but that’s another opportunity to expand and weave in your brand voice and make it fun—depending on the brand, of course—make it more personable and just make it an experience. Continue building that experience.

The whole email experience is not something that you start and end at a specific point. It’s something that is ongoing and it weaves through the whole customer journey. So those are really important things to consider. Again, remove friction from any point you can; transactional emails is again another good example if you have delays in delivery for whatever reason. Going back to transparency, be open about it, and let people know because it’s always better to let them know in advance and be proactive instead of just having the person enter a frustration-fueled mindset and then engage with you, and then that eats up resources on your end as well. And it’s just by thinking one step in advance you can close the gaps and you can open up a lot of opportunities for your brand in terms of how you do things.

And one final thing I want to mention—because when it comes to automations, I’ve experienced, at least with clients, that there’s always this confusion around what is automation, what is an email sequence, and how that differs from an email drip. And people use a lot of these terms interchangeably—email sequences, email workflows, email flows, email drips, autoresponders: This is all just the automated part that you set up based on the goals that you want to achieve with a specific sequence. So don’t get bogged down on terminology because it’s all the same. When you think about each of these little, tiny, tiny things that you add—I say tiny, but they can expand, they can grow like every automation; it can be like two emails or it can be a bigger aspect of your overall email marketing strategy. It doesn’t really matter, but it’s just the same. As long as you center that around a specific goal that you have and a specific need for your customers, then you’re set. It’s just a matter of executing and having the right copy, design, and everything in place so that it feels authentic and genuine.


Annet: So everything comes down to strategy, right?

Ralitsa: Yes, it always comes down to strategy. You can’t really do anything without a strategy, and when I talk about strategy, it’s not about the tactics that you use. It’s just what is the guiding principle, what is the core, the goal, what are you trying to achieve? All these big questions that you then break down. And then you decide which tactics to use to best meet those goals and implement your strategy. Strategy is not going to change, because you’re still dealing with humans and humans are based on psychology. You have specific things that you need to be mindful of. Tactics change, trends change, tools change, but the strategy is always going to be core, and when you keep your customers centered, that’s all you need to guide your efforts.


Q: What changes do you think we can expect with regard to AI in email marketing?

Ralitsa: To be honest with you, I’m actually very excited because of the potential. It is very easy to think about AI—for some people, not everybody. Email marketing users are probably very open to all these disruptive technologies and all the trends and the tech stuff that are popping up, but other people might be a little bit more skeptical—especially copywriters, for example, or even designers, because a lot of people are talking about, “Oh, are we going to be replaced or will AI take over?” But I think another mindset shift perhaps that is necessary here is just to consider how AI can actually help those efforts that you’re putting forward for your email marketing.

We talked about collecting data. That is a very time-consuming thing. It’s not easy to do it’s not fast. But for a lot of brands, time is of the essence. It’s not easy to just wait for weeks for your team to collect things and then adjust your strategy or create email copy that would address a specific aspect of a problem that you’re trying to solve. So where AI comes in is using that technology to just analyze the data faster, make predictions based on those parameters that have been set for the tool that you’re using. It helps minimize the execution obstacles that are very real for a lot of brands that don’t have the budget or the capacity to do this work. And that way your brand’s efforts, your team’s efforts, can be allocated somewhere else where they are actually a lot more needed and can make a much bigger difference. So giving better estimates with AI in less time and more efficiently, in terms of specific segments that you can identify based on your email list, going over the health of your email list, analyzing data faster, having better insights—all of these things are just helpful also in personalization, because then, when you already have your AI analyzing the way customers in a specific segment, for example, have engaged with your emails, then they can perhaps give you better recommendations that you can then either automatically send out campaigns that are a lot more targeted, or you can review that or just combine it and have a more specific and more easy-to-execute strategy overall in terms of personalizing the content. So I see a huge opportunity here that we can leverage, being more relevant, getting results faster, being more effective in everything we do, and just helping us also in optimizing what we do and not just doing it manually.


Q: Can you mention a few of your favorite brands, for our audience, that you think do well in customer experience and data personalization? What do you like the most about them?

Ralitsa: That’s a very big question because there are a ton of brands and I do sign up for a lot of different brands. I’m still waiting to see some great examples in terms of personalization, but that is usually tied to specific triggers and specific behaviors that are involved. So it’s a little bit harder to meet out in the wild and this is why I mentioned when people talk about those huge brands like Sephora, Amazon, Netflix, and others, it’s a little bit hard to dimensionalize in terms of what it actually means on a smaller scale. But as far as things I’ve noticed—I will give you a couple of examples that are fresh and top of mind.

I’ve noticed that Kickstarter, for example, after you’ve backed a project, they start sending you personalized recommendations based on the project that you backed, which is quite interesting to see, because, in the past, they didn’t do that. So things are picking up there. One of my favorite emails, I think, that is both customer experience-related and personalization-wise is from Grammarly. One of the most interesting emails they send you is a weekly update about how you’ve done—like how many words you’ve written (for those who don’t know, it’s just a grammar checker for typos and all of that). But what is particularly interesting is seeing that element of gamification being applied. A lot of brands are talking about gamification, or at least a lot of people in the email marketing space are talking about gamification, as in adding game-like features to your emails, which is one way to look at it. But you also have, just like Grammarly does, where it gives a reward or something that keeps you very excited, just like in RPG games, for those who are familiar with gaming in general. It just uses elements from games that are increasing that sort of level of engagement and make making the content a lot more personalized and it’s very fun. You also have interactive elements there with tiny little GIF-like illustrations. And another brand—both of them are in the SaaS realm; they’re not ecommerce—but another one is Duolingo, a mobile app for learning languages. Based on milestones that you hit, you get an email. For example, when you have an anniversary and you’ve been with them for nine years, for example, you get a very cute and very on-brand email. It makes you feel special. It’s going back to that personalization aspect of email; it makes you feel good about engaging with them. And the best part is that if you’ve lost progress—and let’s say it’s an email triggered by lack of activity, because if you have engaged with the app and if you’ve taken lessons, for example, the whole week, you just get a summary of what you did well—but the best part is they send you emails if you’ve lost track. They don’t really shame you; you just feel encouraged to get back to the app, back into it. So that’s a fantastic way to build that connection with your audience and not alienate them, because it’s very easy to shame people, and you’re never going to come back because it reflects on the experience that you have with the brand. 

Another example is Paperlike. This is a screen protector for an iPad. Usually, it’s for creative types of people who want to predict. It’s very popular among creatives. One thing that I was starting to pick a fight with an email that they sent me is that—well, now there is this whole back-to-school situation. You could argue that you could personalize your email; if you have that data and if people are students, if they have opted in and self-segmented, you could send them that email, and it would be very relevant. But for somebody who’s been out of school for years now, you could easily say, “This is not really relevant to me, so why are you sending me this email?” And it kind of breaks that experience. But then, where they won me over—and I think it was a very interesting touch—was that even if you’re not a student, we still have a lot of resources that can help you be more productive with your iPad, and be more creative with it. So it was just a really nice touch that just shows that even if you don’t have enough data about a specific customer that you’re engaging with, you can still be relevant in other ways. So you just need to be creative about how you approach it.

And lastly, Meetgeek is a very interesting app. Say that you recently experienced some kind of problem with their integrations. I noticed that when you reach out to them and they help you solve it one-on-one—no chatbots or anything like that—I noticed that they send out an email to their whole customer base later on with that same problem. So this instantly made me think of how you use feedback that you get, a customer reaches out to customer support, and then they use that for your whole audience to send an email and help them solve an issue that maybe other people are experiencing. So that was an instant five-star experience for me. And it’s just these small little touches that you can do. It takes maybe a little bit of effort to just set up, but it can instantly improve your experience with the brand.

And just because those are SaaS examples doesn’t really mean that you can’t apply this to ecommerce, or even B2B enterprise-level, or B2B SaaS, or consulting or service providers. The key to everything is noticing something and trying it out and seeing how it can. Whether it will work for your audience, you may have to try, but consider how it can affect the overall experience that they have with your brand. And that’s how you can answer those hard questions, as in, “Should we even try that?” You won’t know until you try, but always consider the person; how are they going to feel and what do they need to do next?


Annet: I think we can go on speaking about email marketing, but it’s almost time. Thank you so much for joining us and I’m sure a lot of them would definitely benefit from watching this video. You’ve given valid, really valid points that will help a lot of them. Thank you so much!


Ralitsa: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure!


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