Personalization. In a world of abundant data. Why can't we do any better than “Hi {firstname}” ?!

With all our analytics tools, advanced CRMs, customer profiling, and feedback systems - our messaging is still in the stone age.

“Hi firstname” (and then your generic, send-to-all message) is a huge missed opportunity.

What if every message you ever sent through any channel could have personalized, dynamic content? What would that mean for your engagement, your conversions, and your performance?

In this guide, you’ll learn how to implement dynamic content at your company beyond firstname replacement into something much richer.

Static Content vs. Dynamic Content

In a world of abundant data, can we do better than “Hi {firstname}” ?

With all our analytics tools, advanced CRMs, customer profiling, and feedback systems - our messaging is still in the stone age.

“Hi firstname” (and then your generic, send-to-all message) is a huge missed opportunity.

What if every message you ever sent through any channel could have personalized, dynamic content? What would that mean for your engagement, your conversions, and your performance?

In this guide, you’ll learn how to implement dynamic content at your company beyond firstname replacement into something much richer.

What is dynamic content?

Dynamic content is where you swap out particular words or phrases to tailor your message to each person. This allows you to be more relevant and personal, and therefore more engaging. Your messaging works better!

https://d2mxuefqeaa7sj.cloudfront.net/s_B35A1FF5F9EF46131EBAE9DEFB1D9C519A2FB104AD70B01D25C1C0682CE8F2E5_1501671014100_Static+Content+vs.+Dynamic+Content.png

Personalization is NOT “Hi {firstName}!”

If I YELLED your name across a room, sure, I might get your attention, but I haven’t engaged you. I haven’t said anything truly meaningful.

Some call this “content personalization”. Personalization isn’t just WHAT you say, but WHO, WHERE, WHEN, and WHY you’re messaging someone.

Personalization starts with your ideal customer profile, and then a process of customer profiling to understand each lead and customer, whether they’re a fit, and how best to talk to them.

With a deep customer profile with everything I could possible know about you from any tools, teams, and data I can get my hands on - suggesting “Hi {firstName}” is the extent of content personalization is incredibly weak and unimaginative.

Personalization is so. Much. More.

Personalization = Segmentation + Dynamic Content

You really need to start by separating WHO you’re sending a message to from WHAT message you send. These are the two key elements (of six) of your personalization strategy.

Segmentation is dividing up your email lists, ad audiences, leads, and so on by common attributes like job title, life cycle, cohort - or a combination. Segmentation is WHO you’re sending to. You can dive deep into segmentation and creating your segmentation strategy in our separate guide here. The content (and dynamic content) is WHAT message you’re sending.

Personalization psychology 101: Write to people’s identities

Personalized messages help people tackle information overload. Presenting information that is most relevant, yet less overwhelming.

Since personalization = segmentation + dynamic content, WHO you’re talking to comes before WHAT you say. This is the golden rule. Many messages that are sent to a segmented list will be more personal than a message that’s sent to everyone than one sent to everyone with some dynamic content.

By targeting your messages first, you can research and answer the specific concerns of specific groups of people. You can write to their identity. To start with, this is going to drive a more meaningful, more engaging message than swapping out things like names, company names and so on. But then …

Once you know who you’re writing to (for the selected few, not the generic masses) AND you’ve crafted a highly relevant message to their specific pains, pleasures and desires then you can roll out the dynamic content.

To show the difference, take a look at these example openings to messages.

The first example is powered by a segments of job titles only.

Hi Joe,

How many tools are in your marketing stack? How do you sync them together?

In a world of 5000+ marketing tools, it’s time to think how to pull them all together.

Hull is a B2B customer data platform, trusted by comanies like Mention, Segment, Appcues and more to replace their duct-taped data flows.

Do you have 10 minutes for a brief call this week to see if we could help your marketing team too?

Looking forward to hearing from you Joe,

Ed Fry Growth }} Hull

Then let’s look at this version, sent to the same perosn, with both segmentation and dynamic content…

Hi Joe,

I notice you’re using Salesforce, HubSpot, Intercom, and Google Analytics. How do you sync all those four key tools together?

Other marketers in Cambridge were struggling with a mess of spreadsheets, scripts, and not quite “all-in-one” tools to duct-tape their data together.

Perhaps you know the team at Appcues and other startups in the Boston area who also use HubSpot? If you, like them, are tired of duct-taping data together, perhaps Hull could help you?

We’re trusted by other fast-growing teams you might know like Segment, Mention, and Appcues.

If you’ve got 10 minutes tomorrow or Friday, I’d love to see if we can help you?

Looking forward to hearing from you Joe,

Ed Fry Growth }} Hull

This starts to read far more like something a really good SDR would research, craft and send. There’s level of detail that’s more personal to them.

But, SDR teams can only scale linearly - you need to hire, onboard, and ramp up each new SDR who can only manage so many accounts at once.

Using effective segmentation and dynamic content, you can scale and automate personalised messaging like this exponentially. You scale immediately with the number of accounts and contacts you have whilst being able to engage contacts in this way.

Remember the golden rule: segmentation first, dynamic content second.

Split up your contacts into useful segments, so you can send each segment a meaningful message. Only decorate these messages with dynamic content once you’ve done the first step.

Segmentation vs. Dynamic Content

Three methods for effective dynamic content templating

Different tools have different methods for implementing dynamic content. The most common of these is effectively “find and replace” where a variable like {firstName} will become Joe when sent to joe.bloggs@example.com.

Great tools enable you to do this with custom fields too that you’ve grabbed from other data. For instance, “Since you’re in hubspot.city and have been a customer since intercom.signupDate or something similar.

This allows you to put ALL your customer data from your unified customer profile together on one page.

For longer messages, some tools allow you to construct whole messages from blocks of content. For instance, HubSpot emails can be constructed from multiple sets of content which can be sent to different segments.

At inbound.org, I used dynamic content and content blocks in HubSpot to personalize emails to every job seeker based on their location, skills, and profile completion status. Every email that went out was unique (and not just “Hi {firstName}”) - it had a 38% click rate (almost 2 in 5 clicked through to take some action on site).

But the third and final way is totally flexible templating. There are a number of web templating frameworks such as Handlebars, Casper and Liquid. Many modern tools and services are using Liquid for its ease and flexibility. Liquid was developed by Shopify and is used by dozens of tools for controlling how messaging can be templated and personalized with dynamic content.

With a templating language, you can control how your message can be dynamically personalized to every recipient. For instance, I can change copy on a sentence level based on a specific attribute or segment a recipient is in.

    {% if contact.jobtitle contains 'sales' %}
      Hull can help your qualify and close leads easier
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'marketing' %}
      Hull can help you convert and qualify more leads!
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'operations' %}
      Hull can help you control your customer data without code
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'engineer' %}
      Hull can help you spend less time building and managing integrations
      {% else %}
      Hull can help you manage your customer data
    {% endif %}

By personalizing on a word, sentence, and paragraph level with all types of text and media, liquid templating (and other modern web templating frameworks) allow you to leverage all your data. You can send the most precise version of each message to each person.

Don't forget sales as well!

Your sales team’s work off templates too. Whether that’s scripts produced by marketing, sales, or sales enablement, or just a refined version each rep and account executive has produced themselves - sales use dynamic content.

It’s important to be able to get them the data they need to dynamically insert personalized content into their sales emails, chat messages, and so on - as well as have all the clues in their CRM and notes for their next sales call. Your sales efficiency is only as good as your data.

The common thread between all of this - sales calls, content templates, segmentation - is simple.

You need customer data.

Your personalization is only as good as your data

Dynamic content is powered by data.

Segmentation is powered by data too.

Without reliable, up-to-date, accessible data in all your tools, you cannot create segments and you cannot dynamically change content. Personalization is out of reach.

Often, the data you need to add that personal touch and bring in that relevancy comes from another tool (even in another format). For instance, you might want to reference their job title in an ad, which was first captured through a form in your marketing automation tool.

The data has to be available to fill in a template. For email, this may be possible in minutes, but with something fast like live chat or website personalization, you’ve got fractions of a second to sync this data.

Your dynamic content is dependent on three things.

  1. Build a customer profile from all your data - your different tools capture data about your customers (and potential customers) in different ways.
  2. Integrate your customer data between your tools in a format that each tool can use.
  3. Fast data flows to quickly fill in a template - for email, this may be possible in minutes, but with something fast like live chat or website personalization, you’ve got fractions of a second to sync this data.

With our guides above, you can get the data you need into the tools you want to use to deliver dynamic content and personalize your messaging.

Together with creating effective segments (which can also reduce the complexity and number of dynamic content templates), you can deliver highly personalized messages (remember, WHO first. Then WHAT).

But, there’s a danger to having an arsenal of data at your fingertips.

Just because you have all this data, doesn’t mean you need to make it obvious!

Too many teams - once they have all this data - (ab)use the data they have to send overly-personalized messages. Don’t do this.

Don't be creepy.

In 2011, a screenwriter and director near San Francisco released an interactive horror film called Take This Lollipop.

By connecting your Facebook account, a thin creepy man is shown stalking through your photos, getting more and more agitated, eventually Googling your address, then shown driving with a picture of you taped to his car door.

If you’re wary of trying it yourself (or you’re a Mac snob like me and can’t view Flash #2011baby), check out these reaction videos on YouTube.

take-this-lollipop

Why share this with you? Because data is as f*cking scary as it is enabling.

Yes, you can be more helpful. But you can also drive customers and potential customers to the hills with overly invasive, “big brother”, scary messages. This can destroy any brand goodwill in a flash.

Just because you’ve got the data, doesn’t mean you have to make it obvious (like we don’t need to tell you how we’re able to retarget every stakeholder from your company thanks to your visit here today - even though you’re anonymous. Oh, suddenly uncool? I see…)

As marketers and sales people, you’ve got to be wide-eyed and aware of what you’re doing - especially as you valiantly graduate from just personalizing firstnames.

You need to know where the line is drawn -

Best practices for not being a f&cking creepy company

  1. Write to someone you know and respect, then turn your message into a template (adding your dynamic content etc.) and send to a segment of people like them. If you know someone is receiving this message and you know they’re the sort of person tell you ALL about it if you send a crazily creepy email, it’ll give you the right level of restraint (whilst also giving you clues and ideas how to add valuable, meaningful personalization).
  2. Test your creepy, dynamic content! Most tools allow you to view messages with your dynamic content. This is primarily to check for irregularities with missing or misfit data, but it’s also an opportunity to see just how creepy you really are. Give it to someone else to read aloud. Do you feel uncomfortable?
  3. Use segmentation before you use dynamic content. Remember the golden rule. This can often be enough! The mere fact that you’re getting this specific message can drive the message home without using {{ dynamic content }}.
  4. Companies before people. Use data about a company account before you use data about an individual person. For instance, an SDR email saying “I noticed several people from Tesla on our pricing page” instead of “I noticed you were on our pricing page”. This gives some distance between you and them, making your message less imposing.
  5. Would it work in a bar? Could you say this message to each person in-person, in real life. Humans have a tendency to behave more recklessly when interacting through a screen and keyboard. When face-to-face, it’s harder to say something weird or too bold since you suffer the reaction right away. You need this reflex in action for scaling personalization.

With that all in mind, here’s an example of dynamic content that isn’t creepy to follow.

Dynamic content examples to follow

When implementing dynamic content yourself, remember the golden rule - WHO before WHAT. Segmentation before dynamic content. So first, check out our extensive, internal swipe file of 120 segmentation ideas. This should guide not only your segmentation strategy, but also how you might add dynamic content to your pages.

With a segment in mind, you can now start writing a message to send.

So to get an example of how this might work, let’s say we want to send a product marketing email to all contacts to announce a feature called Hull Accounts. This could be a simple segment of anyone who has never touched any feature relating to accounts yet.

The specific message we might want to send will vary according to who each recipient is, how active they are, and what they’re likely to want to achieve in the product. To do this, we need to tie it to our data.

In this dynamic content example, we’ll use three data points:

  1. Are they recently active? We’ll use our analytics tools and backend database to segment the company by whether they’re a good fit or not. We’ll look at last_seen to see their last visit to the Hull app.
  2. What is their job title? We’ll use our CRM and enrichment data from Clearbit to populate the employment role (like “Sales”) and title (“VP Sales”) job_title.
  3. Do they use technologies which are of particular interest? Using our datanyze_technologies array, we’ll have a complete list of their companies technologies to personalize our examples and focus our value proposition for them.

By connecting and combining all this data in Hull, we can then sync this “master profile” to Customer.io where we can use Liquid templates to add the dynamic content.

Together, you’ll see how this moves far beyond “Hi {firstname}!”, although that’s how we’ll start.

    Hi {% if user.first_name != blank %}
      {{ user.first_name | capitalize }}
    {% else %}
      there
    {% endif %},

    {% if user.last_seen < 15 %}
      I wanted power users like you to know first - we’ve a brand new feature you’re going to *love*: Accounts!
    {% else %}
      I noticed you hadn’t logged into Hull recently - I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss our new Accounts feature we just launched!
    {% endif %}

    Hull Accounts brings a company-level profile to your Hull organization. Now, you can boil up account-level data from {{ company.datanyze_technologies | join: ', ' }}, and many more.

    Other {{ user.clearbit.employment_role }} teams are using Hull Accounts to 
    {% if contact.jobtitle contains 'sales' %}
      orchestrate all their sales activities and align with marketing and CS.
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'marketing' %}
      engage multiple stakeholders across multiple channels, accelerating the pipeline for sales.
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'operations' %}
      optimize the entire sales, marketing, and customer success teams together.
    {% elsif contact.jobtitle contains 'engineer' %}
      replace a ton of custom code and scripts they'd build and had to maintain - just to handle their unique business-specific logic.
      {% else %}
      sync all their customer-facing teams together around the same accounts.
    {% endif %}

    If you're curious to learn a how Hull can work for you, just hit reply to this email and I can give you a walkthrough!

    Looking forward to growing {{ company.name }}'s team together!


    {{ user.assigned_csm_name }}
    {{ user.assigned_csm_signature }}

This may all look a bit daunting, but we’ve been able to consolidate a lot of useful data into one email to send, instead of managing multiple emails to get the same result - or just sending a generic send-to-all spam message.

Here’s how they might look to a recently active marketer.

Hi Jon,

I wanted power users like you to know first - we’ve a brand new feature you’re going to love: Accounts!

Hull Accounts brings a company-level profile to your Hull organization. Now, you can boil up account-level data from Salesforce, Google Analytics, HubSpot, and many more.

Other Marketing teams are using Hull Accounts to engage multiple stakeholders across multiple channels, accelerating the pipeline for sales.

If you're curious to learn a how Hull can work for you, just hit reply to this email and I can give you a walkthrough!

Looking forward to growing Grow's team together!

Thomas Bass Customer Success Lead }} Hull

Similarly, here’s the same email being sent but to an inactive user who works in sales.

Hi Jennifer,

I noticed you hadn’t logged into Hull recently - I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss our new Accounts feature we just launched!

Hull Accounts brings a company-level profile to your Hull organization. Now, you can boil up account-level data from Salesforce, Intercom, Google Analytics, and many more.

Other Sales teams are using Hull Accounts to orchestrate all their sales activities and align with marketing and CS.

If you're curious to learn a how Hull can work for you, just hit reply to this email and I can give you a walkthrough!

Looking forward to growing Startups team together!

Thomas Bass Customer Success Lead }} Hull

Once you understand the templating, it’s relatively quick to start to build highly dynamic content. The constraint really becomes your imagination (and time), so long as you have the customer data in your messaging tool of choice.

This goes far beyond “Hi {firstname}!”. Personalization is far more than dynamically inserting firstnames. Once you’ve gathered a customer’s profile data AND you have a first grasp over what each segment and persona values, then you can create richly personalized, dynamic content like this.

How to implement dynamic content at your business

Remember the golden rule of personalization. WHO you’re messaging comes before WHAT message you send. Start by nailing down your segmentation strategy.

Personalization is far more than “Hi {firstname}”. Use it as an opportunity to write less. Save your recipients from information overload, and maximize engagement with the most relevant message.

Using what tools you have, come up with a templating strategy. Try and test different tools with more flexible templating (like Liquid templating) to maximize the effectiveness of your messaging. With your templating strategy set, make sure you integrate your customer profile data between all your tools so you have all the data you need to fill in your templates and power your dynamic content.

But, don’t be creepy. Just because you have all this data, doesn’t mean you should make it obvious with your content. Be aware and check our best practices.

With that, you can move beyond “Hi {firstname}” and implement dynamic content at every touchpoint.

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