How to Make Your Email Marketing More Personal Without Being CreepyPicture yourself plopping down on the couch at the end of a long, hard day.

You sink into the cushions, pull out your phone and open it up to find an unexpected message from a friend of a friend.

“Hey, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past few months and I think it’s time we hang out just the two of us. Would you like to go to the movies with me this Saturday?”

What good timing.

You’ve been dying to see the new Brad Pitt flick that’s coming out this weekend.

You’ve also grown to like this person quite a bit, so you think to yourself, “Why not? I’m in!”

That’s the ideal outcome to your typical secret admirer scenario.

One side drops a line with just the right touch and the other person jumps right on board.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Especially when the initiator doesn’t try to make the other person feel comfortable.

Imagine getting this message instead:

“You look great in that cable knit sweater you bought last Tuesday. It really matches your eyes. You should wear it out to dinner with me. I know you’ve eaten at Skyline Bar + Bistro three times in the past two months. Let’s make a Saturday reservation for us at your usual dining time, 7:00 p.m. EST.”

In this case, we’ve entered into stalker territory.

You bought that sweater online, at home, by yourself.

And you certainly haven’t ever been out to dinner with this person.

How did they get all of that information?

You ponder it for a split second, but you don’t waste any more time than that thinking about it.

You immediately mark the sender as spam and say a little prayer that you never hear from that weirdo again.

It’s All in the Details

When you’re trying to woo someone, it’s critical to show you’re paying attention, but not prying.

Personalized email marketing is much the same.

People want to feel brands understand them and are on the same wavelength.

This is especially true for millennials.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, 50 percent of 18-24 year olds and 38 percent of 25-34 year olds in the U.S. say the brands they buy from must reflect their values and where they fit in.

The most effective way for marketers to accomplish this is to be authentic and serve their audience with relevant content.

Email marketing is perfect for this because it’s highly customizable and targeted.

But, this is also where you need to be careful.

There’s a subtle line between giving your email subscribers exactly what they want and totally creeping them out.

And that divider is different for every business.

Whether or not it makes sense for you to tailor your email marketing content based on demographics, past behavior, etc., depends on what you’re selling, and the sensitivity level of your audience.

Permission-based personalization is the way to circumvent the guessing game.

First You Get the Trust, Then You Get the Data

Overall, people these days are more protective of their personal information than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable.

You just have to ask nicely—and at the right time.

According to Oracle, millennials are seven times more likely to provide you with their personal information when they trust your brand.

Warm up your audience with relevant content to the point where they start to feel connected to your company.

Then you can ask for more details about them, and use that data to drive deeper segmentation and customization.

That’s where brand evangelists are born!

The key is to collect data you know you can use.

Names, locations, and birthdays are a great place to start, but it’s even better to gather information which specifically suits your business.

For example, if you had a restaurant with a variety of dietary options on the menu, it would be helpful to know if your subscribers are vegan, vegetarian, gluten sensitive, etc.

This way you can highlight the items which are most likely to entice them.

More importantly, you can avoid alienating someone who has a severe shellfish allergy by sparing them your lobster boil emails.

Similarly, if you’re selling a multi-tiered SaaS solution, you can make sure you’re serving up relevant email marketing content through data.

Find out the industry and job title of each subscriber, as well as their stake in the decision-making process.

There’s no sense in promoting your enterprise-level package to a greenhorn who has no say in purchase decisions.

Likewise, you’re missing a serious opportunity if you’re sending emails about your basic plan to anyone with “Vice President” in their title.

Just make sure to give your subscribers the ability to update the information they provide, as these details are likely to change over time.

Give a Little, Get a Little

Acquiring personal information is as simple as asking for it.

But sometimes that’s not enough.

Even if your audience has undying trust in your brand, they may be too busy, or stressed, or indifferent, to respond to your request.

If you’re concerned your subscribers won’t take the time to populate a profile, try offering an incentive which encourages them to do so.

This reward can be as extravagant, or economical, as you think is necessary to get good results.

Using the examples from before, you could offer up the recipe to one of the most popular dishes at your restaurant, or a free entrée in return for answering a few easy questions.

On the tech side, insightful industry reports, e-books, and case studies work well as free incentives, while an extended trial or exclusive discount could be even more persuasive.

Also, never underestimate the power of the gift card.

You would be surprised what people are willing to divulge for a $5 gift card to Starbucks!

Wield Your Email Marketing Data Wisely

As soon as that audience-reported information is in your email program, start building segments.

Use the data to fuel automated drip campaigns which are targeted, yet subtle.

Don’t be a creeper that comes on too strong.

Your customization should be seamless enough that your subscribers don’t even realize you’re leveraging their personal information.

If your messaging is authentic and natural, your audience is much more likely to fall in love and make a bigger commitment to your brand.

Data-driven personalization has been shown to increase email opens by 26 percent, click-throughs by 14 percent, and conversions by 10 percent.

Moreover, marketers have noted a 760 percent increase in revenue from segmented email marketing campaigns.

Your business, however, will have an even greater advantage.

Because your audience will have voluntarily supplied you with the data you’ll be using, you can reap benefits beyond what these statistics would indicate.

By incorporating permission-based personalization into your email marketing campaigns, you will have a much easier time wooing your subscribers.

Before you know it, you’ll be the secret admirer that your audience will say “yes” to without hesitation.

Justin Schorah

Justin Schorah is a senior marketing strategist at Zer0 to 5ive , a tech-focused marketing and communications firm, where he leads integrated marketing and website development initiatives. He is also a contributor to the Zer0 to 5ive blog , the author of Stage and a perpetual student of the written word.

View all posts by Justin Schorah