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Get out of your email marketing rut.

How to take your email marketing from basic to brilliantly personalized.

While email marketing has grown up in recent years, the age-old question of how to get your emails noticed remains. The answer gets tougher as inboxes continue to bloat. Yet a few brands have set themselves apart. Their success isn’t from simply writing a clever subject line or having a compelling call to action — it’s from sending personalized and relevant emails that understand the context of when, where, and how a customer will be consuming the message. 

Virgin Holidays, for example, launched a winter email campaign by sending emails that compared their customers’ rainy and cold local weather forecasts with bright, sunny weather in vacation spots such as Cancun or Barbados. Capitalizing on their customers’ desire to escape, this campaign achieved a 67 percent increase in click-through rates, 50 percent increase in appointments, and 22 percent increase in margins. Their emails were also widely shared on social media. Another campaign called “Back to Work,” which ran in early January and suggested that people use their first day back to work after the holidays to dream of their next vacation, saw an uplift in click-through rates of 300 percent. 

Similarly, Nissan revved up their email marketing by creating customized content blocks for color variations, fuel economy, and other car specifications. They also created content blocks for related car shopping information such as user comments, comparisons to other manufacturers, price estimates, and loan financing. Then, by combining these content blocks into customized configurations for specific customer segments, Nissan was then able to create personalized, one-to-one email newsletters that boosted open rates by 1.3 times, click rates by 2.6 times, and open and click-through rates by 2 times.

Shantanu Narayen headshot

“We’ve found that contextual messages dramatically outperform traditional marketing, achieving 37% increase in website traffic and 33% higher revenue.”

Saul Lopes
Customer Lifecycle Lead, Virgin Holidays

Invest in innovation.

Visualization of mobile phone delivering an experience

Email marketing continues to be the digital darling for return on investment (ROI) according to 73 percent of businesses and 76 percent of agencies surveyed by Econsultancy. Yet many marketers and executives take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to email. According to Econsultancy, there is a continued underinvestment in email marketing relative to the value and sales it generates — and the gap appears to be widening. 

Stretched thin on time and budget, marketers lack the ability to modernize their email marketing campaigns. According to a report by The Relevancy Group, 52 percent of email marketers are stuck in this basic mode — using the same tired tactics as they always have, such as emailing lapsed customers, including basic personalization fields, or cross-selling. Underinvesting in time, resources, access to data, and organizational visibility and support for the email marketing department can have consequences. In fact, the report notes that of the email marketers still stuck back on basic tactics, only 42 percent say their tactics are highly effective compared with 58 percent of contextual email marketers that are using adaptive content and real-time data to increase personalization of their emails.   

But the consequences are more than just a lack of effectiveness — underinvesting also impacts the bottom line. The Relevancy Group report found that there was a clear relationship between results and the type of tactics marketers used. Those engaging in more advanced tactics, such as contextualized email marketing, drove a higher monthly revenue than those utilizing basic tactics. In fact, over a three-month period, the revenue generated more than covered the costs of implementing more advanced tactics. Contextual email tactics generated a monthly revenue of $4,623 versus $3,237 by classic email tactics.

Companies like Nissan and Virgin Holidays understand that investing more resources and attention, not less, on email marketing allows them to reap greater rewards. As Mr. Moyuru Kudo, head of Japan digital customer experience at Nissan, notes, “Through digital marketing we can gain a greater understanding of our customers’ needs and create a custom approach to reach them effectively.”

The power of email personalization.
Marketers stating their email marketing is “highly effective”:


58% of contextual email marketers


53% of dynamic email marketers


42% of classic email marketers

Source: The Relevancy Group

Perfect your email marketing mojo.

Blue headphones

1. Secure your strategy.

Not having an email marketing strategy is like taking off for a road trip with no map to your destination. If you don’t know how to get somewhere or why you’re going there in the first place, chances are you’ll never arrive.

Yet many email marketers still struggle to develop strategies that will help them meet their goals. According to Ascend2, only four in ten describe their success as best-in-class when it comes to developing strategies that allow them the achieve important objectives. And The Relevancy Group found that 60 percent of all email marketers ranked coordinating campaign strategy across channels as one of their three greatest challenges. 

To develop effective strategic campaigns, here are two best practices:

Know your value proposition. As an email marketer, you need to know why your program is important to your brand and to your customers. Once you’ve honed in on your value proposition across different customer segements, you can then think about creative ways to communicate this message to your various audiences.

Involve executives in the email marketing strategy discussion. To start, make sure executives are educated enough to ask the right questions — such as how you will use email to generate user insights, test new hypotheses, or drive behavior across the website or other digital properties — as well as what metrics are important to measure. This will be helpful not only for building out strategies that will deliver the highest value to the business, but in helping you to build a case for greater investment and innovation in your email marketing program.

With executives and marketers in the same car, a road map to where you’re going and what you want to achieve, and a clear understanding of the value you bring to your customers, you’ll be much more likely to create email marketing campaigns that engage and excite your customers. 


60% of all email marketers ranked coordinating campaign strategy across channels as one of their three greatest challenges.

Source: The Relevancy Group

2. Dive into the data.

Data is the engine behind any email campaign because it’s essential for delivering personalization. And personalization is what makes customers sit up, take notice, and act on your emails. In fact, in the 2017 Adobe Consumer Email Survey Report, 79 percent of customers said customization of emails from brands was of medium to high importance.

At Hostelworld, data and analytics is the foundation of their digital marketing strategy. “It helps us learn more about our customers so that we can build more personalization to encourage greater community interaction,” says Otto Rosenberger, CMO of Hostelworld Group. 

The company gathers data from both their websites and apps to learn where customers are coming from and where they’re traveling to, what types of information they’re looking at, and how they’re moving through the marketing funnel. Using customer behavior data helps Hostelworld build out detailed audience segments, which they then use to tailor their email communications with the right message at the right time. 

For example, if a traveler decides to book a hostel in Barcelona, Hostelworld can deliver banners on their website or through the mobile app that feature recommendations for exciting activities in the area. When the traveler reaches Barcelona, the mobile app uses push notifications to highlight points of interest, such as nearby restaurants or hikes, helping the traveler enjoy a richer vacation. From these types of personalization tactics, Hostelworld has seen a 500 percent increase in engagement across their digital channels.

“Even though we’re sending out so many more emails, we’re seeing lower unsubscribe rates and higher click-through rates. The difference is we’re using segmentation to target customers with only the deals and information that they’ll find interesting,” says Rosenberger.

For those racing to catch up with data and analytics, investing in the right tools to help streamline and automate data collection and analytics is important. Equally important is to not be afraid of learning new skills that will allow you to access and manipulate data so you can achieve greater personalization and relevancy with your messages. 

One-third of respondents

Over one-third of respondents say receiving recommendations that don’t match their interest is the most frustrating way emails lack personalization.

Source: Adobe

 3. Create compelling content.

Email may be easy and inexpensive as a marketing tool, but if it’s not impactful, you’re wasting your time and your customers’ time. In one survey by Adobe, 69 percent of respondents said they would like to be contacted by brands through email — however, they preferred marketing emails that were less about promotions and more about providing information.

One way to create more compelling emails is to go beyond your products to marketing your brand. Sell customers your brand personality, promote what is different about it, and tell them why they should do business with you.

Another way to spark interest in your content is make sure that it displays beautifully everywhere — both on mobile devices and desktops. According to an article in Email Marketing Daily, 55 percent of all email opens are mobile. Having the right experience and tools that let you preview emails across different devices and use inbox rendering for testing is important. Otherwise, there’s a strong possibility that the emails you create won’t render appropriately for the different types of browsers, devices, apps, and clients that your customers will be using to access their inbox.

In a survey by Email on Acid, coding for email was identified as a top pain point of the creation process. Almost 40 percent of marketers stated that having that tools that could fix code would most help the email creation process, followed by a more streamlined testing system (24.6 percent). Closely aligning your email creation and delivery tools so that changes automatically sync, especially if you’re working with a creative agency, can also accelerate the creation process and eliminate a lot of time-consuming back-and-forth on minor edits.

Another key to creating compelling content is simply having the time to invest in being creative. A lack of time to innovate may be one of the biggest driving factors as to why marketers remain in an email rut. But much of the time crunch often comes down to missing the right tools to allow for collaboration and efficiency gains during the creative process. 

At Virgin Holidays, marketers used to spend an entire day working with technical specialists to create one email campaign. Now, by consolidating their tools and workflows, they can develop a campaign on their own in just one hour. This has freed up more time for them to develop long-term strategies, explore creative campaigns, and reach out to travelers with more engaging and relevant communications. 

4. Deliver deliberately.

The final step in a successful email campaign is not only about getting the email into your customers inbox, it’s also about your ability to coordinate efforts across other digital channels and offline channels like direct mail. To do this successfully and easily, it’s critical to find an email solution that integrates into a larger campaign management solution and can pull in data on customers’ interactions and behaviors from multiple channels. The brands that can do this well are seeing strong results.

“Through campaign orchestration we can now have conversations with our customers across channels, which increases engagement, experiences, and revenue for Virgin Holidays,” says Morgan Bell, CRM trading executive at Virgin Holidays.

Delivering a seamless end-to-end customer journey as Virgin Holidays and other email marketing leaders are doing requires having all the other pillars of your email marketing in place. Start with a strategy about what you want to do at each step in the journey — from sending welcome emails when customers first engage with your brand to remarketing emails when they abandon their online shopping cart. Next, you must have access to the data that lets you segment and target customers according to where they are in the journey, when they want to be reached, and on what devices you can reach them. You need to be able to create content that renders beautifully on any device, contains personalized messages, and can deliver one-to-one personalization. And when all these pieces are in place, you can contextualize your emails to ensure you deliver the right message at the right time. 

Overcome the status quo.

Blue airplane

Email Marketing Daily notes that almost half of customers feel indifference when checking their email — a sign that the emails they are receiving lack personalization or relevancy. To reenergize your emails and put the wow back in means going beyond the old-school email tactics of inundating customers with messages or A/B testing subject lines. It means investing in deeper one-on-one personalization, where millions of customers can all feel understood.

Bring some joy back to the inbox. With the right set of tools, you can automate many of your email processes and gain the time you need to develop strategic campaigns. You can also seamlessly use customer data to create and deliver emails that are personalized and contextualized — switching their indifference off and their excitement on.

“2016 Email Marketing Insights Study,” Email on Acid, 2016. 

“2017 State of Email Marketing,” Ascend2, 2017,

“Adobe Consumer Email Survey Report 2017,” Adobe, 2017,

David Daniels and Nicholas Einstein,“The Return on Email Marketing Maturity: A Framework to Improve Results,” The Relevancy Group, sponsored by Adobe, October 2017.

“Delivering on customer expectations,” Adobe customer story for Nissan, Adobe, August 2017,

“Engaging Journeys for Adventurers,” Adobe customer story for Virgin Holidays, Adobe, September 2017,

“Experiences for passionate travelers,” Adobe customer story for Hostelworld, Adobe, August 2017,

Jess Nelson, “Majority of Emails Read on Mobile Devices,” Email Marketing Daily, July 21, 2017,

Natasha D. Smith, “Mobile Continues to Drive Email Clicks,” DMN, Dec. 4, 2015,

“Sample: Email Marketing Industry Consensus 2017,” Econsultancy, 2017.