The following is a Guest Post by Jimmy Daly, who runs the blog at Vero. You can say hi to him on Twitter or Google+.

The future of email is personalization, but the definition of that term is changing rapidly. Adding a user’s name in the subject line is old school compared to what some of the smartest companies are doing with the huge amounts of data that marketers now have access to.

It can be overwhelming to think about sending one-to-one emails to your leads and customers but it’s actually easier than you think. There are few ways to go about this, and we’ll touch on three of them here.

1. Retargeting Emails

There are actually two types of retargeting emails, and it’s important to make a distinction between them. The first type is more widely used but less effective. A business sends an email to a user. If the user clicks a link in the email, cookies are attached to their browser and they begin seeing ads for the company or product as they browse the web. The result is that user is followed by your ads. This constant, nagging reminder can result in a conversion.

However, there is a more effective way. The second type of retargeting email flips this around. A user browses a site, and based on their behavior, emails are triggered. The behavior is the cause and the email is the result.

There is an important caveat: The user must be logged into the site for this work. While this strategy isn’t for everyone, it’s perfect for e-commerce and SaaS businesses.

Airbnb does this all the time. They encourage everyone who visits the site to log in or sign up, download their app, and explore listings. Then, they take the data to send super-targeted emails. If you view the same listing multiple times, an email is triggered to you containing information about that exact listing.

Normal retargeting emails base ads off a single action. This more personalized type of retargeting bases emails off a behavior pattern, making them more accurate and more effective.

Here is an example email I received from Airbnb recently after viewing a listing:

 

2. Event-Tracking Emails

Event tracking applies to everything from e-commerce to gaming and SaaS to mobile apps. If you can match data to a specific user, you can track events and trigger emails. The use cases are broad, but let’s take a look at event-tracking as a tool for onboarding since it could be used in any of the industries mentioned above.

Every business sends welcome emails, but few are tailored to the users’ behavior. At Vero, we’ve outlined a series of milestones for onboarding new customers. Everything begins with the free trial, and is continually segmented from there. The first intersection is the installation of our JavaScript. Users are sent a series of instructions and outreach emails until the JavaScript is installed. Once installed, regardless of where they were in the first series, they are moved into a new segment and begin receiving messages about uploading contacts and sending the first email.

The process can be complicated so we use a mind mapping tool to help us keep things organized. Here’s a glimpse at what that looks like:

One of the most useful ways to use event tracking is to monitor and act on inactivity. It’s as telling as any other activity, and there are all kinds of ways to re-engage inactive users. Here’s an example of an email we send to users who have signed up, but haven’t installed the JavaScript.

3. Transactional Emails

These are perhaps the most underutilized tools in email marketing. Transactional emails are functional, but they can be boring, unattractive, and contain no marketing value. It’s incredibly easy to change this once you gain some perspective on their inherent value.

As Isaac Newton said, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” When a user takes an action — buying a product, registering for a conference, or downloading a new mobile app — they expect to receive emails as a result. This gives transactional emails a killer advantage: context.

This is why they are opened at up to 8x the rate of promotional email. Users expect to receive receipts, shipping confirmations, webinar reminders, usage notification, etc. While we don’t suggest turning these functional messages into sales tools, it’s a smart idea to make them clean, mobile-friendly, and consistent with your brand. And it’s a brilliant idea to use them as a platform for small growth hacks.

Uber, for example, includes a referral link in the footer of their email receipts:

Redbox, the movie rental service, tells you what movies will be available soon in their receipts:

Amazon advertises their credit card in shipping confirmation emails:

Small hacks on a large scale can result in real revenue. You can even use a tool like external attributes, which allows you to pull customer data from your database, to include data like “related items” based on a users’ past activity. An email that arrives in context, containing contextual data is much more likely to move a user down your conversion funnel than a mass promotional blast.

Email Audit

A good place to start is an email audit. Many businesses use email service providers like SendGrid to send transactional emails like e-commerce receipts, confirmation messages, or security updates. You can start by creating better emails on your own and using a tool like Zapier to trigger them. KISSmetrics famously used this very strategy to increase webinar signups by 1,000%.

Whichever emails you choose to send, these are all examples of personalization. The tools and data needed to make this type marketing happen are accessible and affordable. Hopefully, you learned something new that you can apply to your own email strategy.

Do you have questions or comments? Reach out to me on the web on the Vero Blog or on Twitter @jimmy_daly.