Personalised Email Marketing: Turn your list into loyal customers in 6 clear steps

2 April, 2015

Don't Use The Email Marketing Megaphone!If you’re invited round to your friend’s place for the first time, it’s probably a good idea not to ask them for money.

Alas, this is an eCommerce marketing publication, and I’m
not here to give you social etiquette advice.

Here’s what I’m saying – email should not be the internet’s version of that annoying guy clutching a megaphone perched outside his High St two dollar shop, hurling promotional abuse at anyone who dares to so much as pass by.

We need to do a better job of matching the content we deliver in our emails to the wants of our customers instead of accosting our subscribers with mindless interruptive barrages.

We should be treating our regular eCommerce emails like an appointment for coffee with a new friend.

Your subscribers have given you an invitation to pop your head through their internet front door.

You need to turn this invitation into a long-lasting friendship.

Don’t just talk about yourself. Work out what your new friend is interested in. Don’t treat them like an email address with a wallet.

You’ve acquired your subscriber’s email address with a value exchange. You need to keep adding value for your customer if you want to receive some trust, and some orders, in return.

Email just might be an online retailer’s most valuable online marketing channel.

This little snapshot from Litmus tells a strong story:

The Value Of Email Marketing

Don’t abuse it.

Nurture! Entertain, inform, educate, help.

Hold off on the gratuitous selling for at least a couple of emails.

We need to do better at personalising our subscribers’ experiences

Online stores don’t have a helpful customer service employee to personalise each shopper’s experience depending on their specific needs.

We need to work harder to make our visitors feel special.

Email marketing allows us to develop our relationships with potential customers. The more relevant our email content is to our subscribers, the stronger our chance is of developing a long term relationship.

Personalised email marketing equals more loyal repeat customers.

I’m about to show you 6 critical steps that any eCommerce pro can use, regardless of budget or time constraints.

These 6 steps will take your email marketing from one generic promotional scream to a bunch of loyal-customer-generating conversations.

Here’s the cheat’s/skimmer’s/lazy person’s version of the next 5 minutes worth of reading:


On with the detailed explanation of our 6 step email marketing personalisation expedition for you more dedicated learners!

Step #1. Segment your list to help you send more relevant content

Personalising your content doesn’t mean adding Dear First Name to each of your subscriber’s monthly promotional emails.

The way to increase sales (and loyalty) with personalisation is not quite that simple.

You need to create content designed to match your subscriber’s specific information needs. Each email should help, educate, inform or delight your subscriber. That means you need to use your analytics to work out what sort of content subscribers are likely to want at any given time.

If you’re not doing this, you should.

You don’t need top of the line marketing software to pull this off. You just need to understand your audience.

Email Segmentation

Some simple segmentation will help you out.

Even if you can split your subscribers into groups of ‘pre purchase’, ‘post purchase’ and ‘repeat buyers’, you can personalise the email content you send to each group and improve your customers’ experience with your brand.

The folks at Ometria get it. That’s kinda what they do for a day job. The ecommerce marketing solutions provider use data and predictive software to help you understand where each of your customers are in their buyer journey.

This is the magical knowledge you need to send the right content to the right people at the right time (instead of mindlessly bazooka-ing out promo’s).

In what is probably a perfectly timed piece of content marketing for most ecommerce marketing pro’s, Ometria have created a valuable Email Marketing Playbook. You need to do yourself a customer-increasing favour and read it.

Here’s a visual representation of the importance of matching your email marketing to your customer’s buyer journey.

Ecommerce Email Marketing Personalisation

If you want those extra pounds/dollars – read the playbook. It teaches you how to match your email marketing content to a couple of key stages of your customer’s journey.

  1. Welcome Emails
  2. Behaviour Triggered Emails
  3. Post Purchase Emails

Hannah Stacey, Content Marketer at Ometria does a good job of summarising why we need to start getting serious about email personalisation in online retail:

“Every time a customer receives a marketing message they’re not interested in, they lose a bit of respect for that brand, they are a little less unlikely to open their next message and are less likely to click through on the next offer, even if it is more relevant to their needs.”

Step #1. Recap

The How-To: Match your email content to your customer’s journey

The Takeout: The more we can effectively personalise our email marketing, the more likely we are to increase our number of repeat customers.

What next? Before you start personalising your email marketing, you need to make sure your online store is optimised to gather the email addresses of as many potential customers as possible…

Step #2. Don’t just rely on sales to build your subscriber base

You know how important your email list is to your business.

But are you using every opportunity to get more subscribers?

You know that more email subscribers equals more chances to develop repeat customers. Your site can’t just be geared around selling stuff. You need to sign as many visitors as possible up to your list. With that in mind, your online store’s design should reflect this objective.

Don’t just wait for that add-to-cart moment to ask your visitors if they want to hear from you. Like any other business aiming to build and monetise and audience, online retailers need a holistic approach to email marketing.

Among other super wise things, Help Scout’s list building guide gives you a bunch of “Simple Tweaks to Convert One-Time Visitors into Subscribers“. You really need to read this whole thing, but for the corner-cutters, focus on Chapter 2 for your practical list building tips.

Apart from showing you how you can set up your site to gather capture more email addresses, Kissmetrics go a little bit further into the art/science of ecommerce email marketing.

With some simple, sharp tips, Kath Kay, Director of Marketing at cloud.IQ, explains how to match your email marketing to your customer’s needs.

Kath shows you how to personalise your content in three key areas:

  1. Smarter PPC Advertising
  2. Email Marketing Landing Pages
  3. Shopping Cart Processes

One of Kath’s examples tells a powerful story for all you online retailers looking for the ever-coveted ‘quick win’. A company that obtains 83% of user’s cart abandoment email addresses, opposed to the average industry rate of 20%, will sell much much more…

“Let’s now review the data of another brand that captures 83% of email addresses of their abandoners as compared with the average customer journey as noted above. You’ll see that by taking a holistic approach and optimizing the customer’s journey, the brand has gained an additional £114,660 for every 10,000 people who add items to their cart.”

How Personalisation Effects The Purchase Journey

Step #2. Recap

The How-To Start optimising your website to gain more email subscribers

The Takeout: The more email subscribers you have, the more chances you have to nurture potential customers with a personalised experience.

What Next? Now’s the time to develop relevant content personlised for each segment of your list…

Step #3. The easiest, cheapest way to personalise your email marketing

You don’t need a fancy email marketing program or expensive marketing automation software. You just need a process that helps you develop content specific to the needs of your subscribers.

Work out the journey your customer takes before purchasing your product.

Imagine someone who does not know that your brand exists. Is sales based, promotional content all you’ll need to convince them to buy?

You need to start creating content that takes your potential customer from unaware, to interested, to researching, to purchasing, to re-purchasing, then at last to the holy marketing grail – telling their friends about you.

Below is a simple example that we use to illustrate the generic ecommerce customer’s journey to purchase.

Generic Buyer Journey

I could write 20,000 words on how to extend on this buyer journey to develop a strategic content marketing program for your business, but neither you or I have the time for that right now.

But any ecommerce pro can make personalised content marketing possible to implement. You don’t need anything more than a day’s worth of work to knock up a framework that can turn your content creation into a strategic process that generates real business results.

Here’s the cheapest, fastest and simplest process you will find to help you create content personalised to your subscriber’s stage in the decision making journey:

  • Use your website and email subscription data to help you segment your list into journey stages
  • Create a spreadsheet with a column heading for each of these journey stages (don’t forget to tag on an extra one for post purchase)
  • Place all of your existing content into spreadsheet based on the relevant goal it aims to achieve
  • Find out where the gaps are – you need to focus your content creation efforts in this area
  • Develop specific email marketing programs that deliver the right content to the right people at the right time
  • Measure, test, repeat.

Of course, it’s nowhere near that easy.

But this simple process will give you a good head start on your competitors that keep pumping out generic promotional email slop.

Not every buyer’s progression will be the same. The fantasy of a perfectly measurable 5 stage journey is illustrated by Brandscaping author and fist-pumping exuberant speaker Andrew Davis in this sage reminder that marketing is still not an exact science.

Mapping up your buyer’s ideal journey will help you develop a structured content creation process. You’ll be able to start scheduling regular development of content targeted at helping subscribers at each stage. By segmenting your subscribers based on your analytics, you can deliver more relevant, personalised content to each group.

But just remember, there are hundreds of thousands of journeys that your customers can take to get to that add-to-cart moment. Don’t get hunkered down in the detail.

Step #3. Recap

How-To: Develop personalised email marketing to send the right content to the right people at the right time.

The takeout: Work on a process that helps you create content to help subscribers at key stages of your buyer’s decision journey

What Next? Just documenting your buyer journey and matching content goals is not enough. If you really want to personalise your customer’s experience and generate sustainable business results, you need a measurable strategy.

Step #4. How to match your emails and all of your content to your buyer’s journey

A couple of isolated personalised emails will help you improve your customer’s experience.

However, if you want to turn your ecommerce content marketing into sustainable business results you’ll need three key things:

  • A clear strategy to align all of your content
  • A structured content creation process
  • Conversion goals and measurable objectives

To truly personalise your ecommerce visitor’s experience you’ll need to have content aimed at helping potential customers at every stage of their journey. You’ll need to know how to work out where each potential customer is on that journey in order to send them the right messages. Then you’ll need to know how to measure how effectively your content converts these customers towards an online sale.

Sounds difficult. It kinda is. That’s why everyone is still taking the easy (more expensive) way out and doing this with paid advertising:

But once you set out a strategy and develop a sustainable process, you really don’t need to much extra money or resources to make it happen. Just time, dedication and perseverance.

A visual framework helps oh so much, otherwise this stuff gets awfully complicated (for you and the people you’re trying to explain it to).

We gorillas have been around the block on this one. Our team does this stuff for a living. We specialise in developing content marketing strategies for online retailers, then establishing a process to implement these strategies.

We’ve been trying to work out the most straightforward way to do this for years.

What we have settled on is very similar to this simple one-pager from content marketing strategist Kevin Cain. He dubs it ‘The Content Matrix’. You’ll see it’s just a simple extension on the graphic we used to develop our content goal for each stage of the buyer journey.

The Content Matrix

This makes it a whole lot easier to see how you can measure your content marketing success.

We need to match these specific content conversion goals to each relevant stage of your customer’s journey. By focusing on specific metrics relevant to each stage, you can tell if your content is effective.

You can pinpoint the exact weak points in your content marketing strategy. If you’re having trouble moving potential customers from one stage to the next, chances are your content needs to be more helpful for users to take the next step.

You can also tie revenue and return on investment directly back to your content marketing efforts. This is the elusive goal of marketing measurement that ecommerce professionals are chasing in 2015.

Set a target, monitor results and regularly report on your progress.

Your metric will change according to the nature of the content and the customer’s decision stage.

  • Your awareness stage conversion goals are more likely to be search engine referrals, time on page, email subscriptions and blog post views.
  • Your research stage conversion goals might be conversions on click throughs to relevant product pages.
  • Your purchase stage conversion goals are more likely to be direct sales metrics.

Tying ROI to a bunch of blog posts is next to impossible. Determining ROI on an integrated strategic content marketing program is much more achievable.

Step #4. Recap

The How-To: Use the Content Matrix to develop a measurable content marketing strategy, then set up an editorial calendar to create an implementable process

The Takeout: We need a strategic approach to develop personalised ecommerce content that helps our customers move through the buying process

What Next? We need to be able to measure our conversions from one stage to another to know whether our personalised content is delivering return. We also need to work out where our subscribers are in the decision making process. What stage do they fit into? And how do we know if our content is helping them move further towards a purchase? Here goes…

Step #5. Turning ecommerce data into valuable insights to measure your content marketing success

There’s no use trying to pitch your boss for the time and resources it takes to develop personalised content for your subscribers if you can’t prove return on your investment.

We need to be able to tell if your content is moving potential buyers along to the next stage of the decision making process.

This means:

  • We need specific conversion goals for your content at each buyer journey stage
  • We need to know how to measure these goals
  • We also need to know how to understand how to use these results to improve our content (and conversion rates)

The whole turning-data-into-stuff-your-human-employees-can-use deal is the thing online retailers, and all marketers, are struggling with.

It’s clearly crucial to understand how to find those little pieces of data gold to measure in the first place.

Matching our content to specific stages of our customer’s journey is an effective way for ecommerce marketers to personalise their content and increase their sales.

But how do we know if our content is succeeding?

One of Gorilla’s most trusted ecommerce industry experts is Kunle Campbell, ecommerce educating extroadinaire at 2x Media blog (Kunle also has a cracking new ecommerce podcast that is a must listen for any ecommerce pro with a smartphone and an internet connection).

Kunle has written a super useful article for Practical Ecommerce that shows you how to track 4 important stages of a generic online buyer’s journey.

  1. Attracting prospects or site visitors;
  2. Engaging with the visitors in a bid to drive conversions;
  3. Tracking the engagement and conversion performance;
  4. Retaining customers for repeat sales.

You’ll need to appropriate these stages to your specific audience. There might be other key conversions you want to measure along the way.

Kunle shows you a really simple way to use Google Analytics to track each stage individually. This gives every ecommerce marketer a basic process to help you put your content marketing performance under the microscope. And Google Analytics is free, so all of you have no excuse.

Kunle’s article is pretty well detailed, so there might some more intense analytics jargon than you’re used to. He does a good job of explaining the complicated stuff though.

Keep in mind that most of Kunle’s metrics are heavily geared towards the purchasing phase. You’ll want to put some more time into measuring your marketing efforts at the awareness/discovery/research/consideration or whatever else you want to call the earlier stages of your customer’s journey.

Where possible, set specific targets for your metrics so you have a clear goal to aim for. If you have a revenue goal of $100,000 per quarter, work backwards and decipher your target numbers for the conversion goal at each stage. Determine how many product page views you need, how many email click throughs, how many new subscribers and how many blog post views.

This gives you the yardsticks and the motivation for your ecommerce content marketing.

With Kunle’s help and Kevin’s framework, you can spot your marketing weak points and report on meaningful business objectives to your manager.

Step #5. Recap

The How-To: You need specific conversion goals to help you measure the success of your personalised content.

Takeout: The right data, analysed by your smartest humans is a winning ecommerce approach.

What Next? We need to act on our results, improve on our performance and celebrate our successes…

Step #6. Measure, Test, Revise – and share your wins!

This process isn’t revolutionary. It’s kinda just common sense marketing.

  • You want to understand your customers as much as you can
  • You want to help your potential customers with the most relevant information possible
  • You want to create content that converts your email subscribers into customers
  • You want to give your customers the best possible experience with your brand

This personalised email, content marketing caper might just seem like you doing your job…

No sir! If you can nail these objectives, you’ll be revolutionising your marketing – and your business.

If you can develop a structured content creation process to deliver on an integrated strategy, then measure your program’s ROI – you, my friend, will be in the marketing elite.


You’ve gone to the trouble of developing a practical, effective strategy and you know exactly how to measure it. If some of your content isn’t reaching your conversion goals, then test alternatives and revise your approach.

If you are hitting your conversion targets – tell your boss all about it!

Get excited.

Celebrate your success.

Pump up your team for more.


(Okay maybe not like this. Why are stock photos so spine-tinglingly creepy?

Prepare some little internal case studies to prove that personalised content marketing works.

You need to keep improving your performance. The more customers your content marketing helps to meet and keep, the more you can reduce advertising expenses. If you share the story of your wins, you can start developing the business case for more budget, more resources and more time to focus on improving your customer’s experiences.

You’ll need proof that personalised email marketing actually helps you sell more stuff.

Here’s a handy little case study that shows you the power of email personalisation in action. Dollar Shave Club are one of our favourite ecommerce content marketing success stories. If you haven’t seen the work these guys do, you’re missing out (and in the minority). I’m sure we are the millionth marketing blog to embed this video into a post, but here goes:

Still worth a good chuckle.

Anyways, the funny fellas at DSC are doing real work as well. They’ve recently managed to combine the ecommerce buzzword triad of data analytics, SAAS technology and personalisation to generate legitimate business results with email marketing.

It’s clear that ecommerce stores have a stack of extremely valuable data at their disposal to help inform better marketing decisions. But without analysis, that data is next to useless. Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix relayed this in his own poetic style to SXSW this March:

“Dirty secret about big data: it’s a mound of excrement with little pieces of gold in there.”

Internet Retailer explains how DSC hired Looker Data Sciences to improve their organisation and analysis of data. Previously one singular develop (aptly named Juan) performed this role for the 85 employee strong company. Bottlenecks were shattered and genuinely useful insights were mined from DSC’s data. Humans, or marketers, were given these targeted insights.

This combo is powerful. Use your technology to draw out relevant insights. Then use your experience, knowledge and understanding of your audience to turn these insights into better, more targeted, customer friendly marketing.

One example given by Senior VP of Engineering at DSC, Tom Lehr, illustrates the value of data-and-human informed ecommerce marketing:

“We discovered that customers who buy our Shave Butter product are more likely to buy other products as well. It started sending samples only to Shave Butter customers and now achieves a 100% return on investment on its sampling program,” Lehr says.

100% better ROI. That’s a boss-delighter right there.

It’s not just marketing objectives that personalised content marketing allows you to generate. It’s real business results.

This is such a simple example of a personalised content marketing win.

This is also the elusive needle-moving your cliché infested boss is always pestering you for.

Step #6. Recap

The How-To: Keep improving on your losses and celebrating your wins.

The Takeout: Share your personalised content marketing wins with your boss for more budget and your team for more motivation

What next? Make lots of sales, sign up heaps of subscribers, turn them all into lifelong customers and live happily ever after!

Whatever you do, however many of these steps you manage to take, just promise me one thing.

Put down that promotional megaphone and start treating your email subscribers like a real friend.

All this personalised content marketing caper can seem a little intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s really not that difficult to understand, you just need a little helping hand to understand the concepts.

We’d be more than happy to give you that helping hand. Our ecommerce content marketing guide shows you how to develop your content marketing strategy and build an audience of profitable customers.

If you’re serious about making personalisation work for your business, this guide explains how to make it happen in over 30 pages of practical detail. Have a read, and start improving the experience you create with your content.

By James Dillon
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