how to personalize your marketing

Personalization is no longer the future of marketing. Now it’s more of a “today” kind of thing.

Need proof? Maybe take a look at your phone’s lock screen. Just as I was typing this last paragraph I received a popup ad from Amazon offering me a special deal on “chewy dog treats.” Have I ever bought dog treats from Amazon? No, but I do have a dog and she is currently out of treats. Creepiness factor aside, this is a good example of personalized marketing in action. Without me having to really do anything at all, I received a notification for something that I actually need — organic dog treats, because my dog only eats organic.

Today, let’s take a look at how small businesses can employ similar tactics to up their personalization game.

What Personalization Isn’t

To begin with, it’s important to note what doesn’t qualify as successful personalization. We’ve previously touched on this, but simply beginning the subject line or body copy of an email with a first-name personalization token doesn’t exactly cut it. While this is generally a good basic step to do for any email, throwing these in and calling it a day could come off as… insulting.

Real personalization involves tailoring crucial aspects of your message or offer to your audience, providing the information that’s crucial for them to make a purchase while also making it easier to do so. I may not exactly be a fan of Amazon tracking my dog’s treat consumption (somehow), but they really made it easy for me to quickly replenish my treat stock without needing to do much at all.

Here’s how you can employ real personalization techniques to make things easy for your audience. 


The first step to personalizing marketing is segmentation. After all, to make a specific offer or promote a piece of content to a targeted audience, you have to know who you’re talking to. An essential step in the process of segmentation is building out lists based on different qualifications.

I highly recommend you take a look at this past blog post breaking down email segmentation in great detail, but some easy ways to think about where to begin with list segmentation include: 

  • Where the lead is in the buyer’s journey
  • Geographic location of the contact
  • How recently a contact clicked on a link in an email
  • Contact job title
  • Contact job industry
  • Lead score

While these qualifications explicitly refer back to email segmentation, as we’ll discuss later, this information also comes into play when putting together targeted social ads. Segmentation is an essential first step to begin smartly personalizing basically all forms of marketing.

These different qualifications allow you to target your messaging to better communicate with your audience. Let’s say your product has applications that extend to multiple industries. Rather than sending one general email promoting your product to all contacts, you can personalize it for different industries by swapping out descriptive body copy, images and subject lines. Each different email would then be sent to these segmented lists.

This is the type of personalization your audience expects. Helpful, pertinent information that matches their needs and interests. 

Where does this information come from?

An obvious question then is how do you go about obtaining all this information? The simplest ways include: 

  • Newsletter or email sign up forms
  • Download forms on content downloads
  • Smart forms which ask repeat visitors to fill in new information each time they download new content

You can easily put forms like these in place using marketing automation software like HubSpot, which allows you to create and add forms throughout your digital assets.

It’s also worth noting, in the case of the content downloads, that the piece of accessed content will also be an important indicator for your marketing efforts. If the download is built around addressing a specific need, like “How to decide which razor is best for you,” you can surmise that those who accessed this are likely in the market for a new razor. You can use this type of content to build lists, then send targeted messages to these individuals, providing them with more information on your product along with offers to help complete the sale.

Always test. Always.

This leads us to the importance of trial and error. Once you’ve segmented your audience, you still need to fine-tune what kind of messaging works best with each group. Generally getting to know your audience by conducting research, scoping out what some of your most successful competitors do and settling on an engaging way to explain what makes your brand and organization different is essential, but you should also test out key aspects of your marketing to see what resonates the best.

A/B testing is a great way to do this with your email campaigns. This function allows you to create two slightly different versions of the same email which is then sent to a small test group. After a set period of time passes (usually an hour or two), a winner is determined based on your pre-determined guidelines (opens, clicks on links) and is then sent to the rest of your segmented list. The key here is to test only one variable between email versions (A or B) so you can directly compare the effect of each change.

Common test items include:

  • Subject line
  • Imagery
  • Offers
  • CTAs

By testing your content, you can further personalize your messaging and offers to hit on exactly what your audience is looking for. 

Dynamic Facebook Ads

Now we enter the Amazon dog treat world. Facebook is by far the most used social media network in the world, and their dynamic ad options allow you to match your products directly with your target audience.

You’ve undoubtedly come across these ads in your newsfeed (unless you have ad blocker on everywhere) and maybe it’s even led you to make a purchase or two. Essentially, companies create ads that appear similar to standard social media posts — only with grey “sponsored” text in the corner of the post — that are specifically targeted to their audience.

This can be accomplished a few ways, either by manually setting your target information like location, age, industry and so on, or by uploading one of your segmented lists. Facebook will then match up your list members with Facebook profiles. This ensures that your ad will get in front of who you want to reach. These ads can even be tied in with ecommerce sites so specific product ads can be shown to prospects who previously viewed said product or added it to their cart but didn’t make a purchase.

When combined with other marketing campaigns like email or direct mail, dynamic ads enhance the odds that your message is seen.

A Balancing Act

One final note worth mentioning is personalization can be a bit tricky. What someone might find helpful — being reminded of a product almost purchased — others might find invasive. I bring up the Amazon dog treat example again because this is something I see a lot of — people complaining on social media about ads popping up on Facebook, their phones or in the ad spaces of websites promoting products they recently searched for or talked about in a social post.t

But first, let’s eliminate simply adding someone’s first name to the top of an email entirely. It’s lazy, not very engaging and, oddly enough, pretty impersonal. Your audience expects more. Use these tips to connect with your audience and help your organization grow.