Dear FNAME, newsletter personalization isn’t what you think it is

Email easily has more lives than the luckiest cat. It’s been declared dead so many times in the last few years that I’ve lost count of funerals held in its honour. Same goes for personalized email marketing and FNAME Mailchimp advice.

The truth is, from my own business and every business I know that does email well, it’s still (by far) the best way to reach a captive audience. Better than ads, better than social and far better than funeral announcements in the classifieds.

My theory about the “sorry, email died” camp is that they simply aren’t taking advantage of the way email now works, because it’s changed dramatically in the last few years, thanks to personalized email.

In the beginning, email marketing was done in basically the same way that junk mail in your physical mailbox is done: you get a massive list of people with varying interests and just blast the crap out of them with special offers and deals. Email blasts were sent with about as much precision as using a firehose to water a tiny seedling, hoping no other plants or assorted shrubbery would perish in the torrent of water.

These days, emailing a newsletter can be as exact as a surgeon using one of those science-looking droppers to give a seedling the exact amount of water it needs, based on data, at exactly the right time.

So how do you go from out of control fire hose to science-dropper? By personalizing the why, who and when of your mailing. Personalized email centers on three things:

  • Why: sending specific emails to subscribers for the right reason.
  • Who: sending specific emails to the right people.
  • When: sending specific emails to people at the right time.

Good personalized email marketing combines all three of the above – subscribers get emails from you because of something specific they did, bought or showed an interested in at the exact time it makes sense. It’s not just about FNAME Mailchimp merge tags.

Effective email personalization is the result of smartly segmenting your list, so you’re able to send emails based on why, who and when. By segmenting your list into groups of people with similar traits, interests, purchase histories, etc – you can get much better results with your email marketing. Not just higher revenue, but higher engagement, trust and enjoyment when you start sending emails that are specifically relevant to each reader. And it can cut down on time you spend cultivating leads too.

Segmentation logic and reasoning for personalized emails

To start, you can use Mailchimp to split your list into two segments: active and inactive.

You do this by creating a segment – go to your list, then MANAGE SUBSCRIBERS, then SEGMENTS – and setting two basic conditions:

If one of your subscribers received the last 20 campaigns but didn’t open any of them, they’re probably inactive. This means that every month you’re paying to keep these people on your list, but they don’t care to be on it.

But this is just the tip of the personalization iceberg. Where personalization really hits its stride is when you start to segment based on:

  • Purchase history
  • Where/when someone subscribed
  • Geographic location
  • Total purchases (volume or total revenue)
  • Star rating
  • Free sample/funnels signed up for
  • Last time they accessed an online program
  • Similar subscribers

How do you find this information? You push user data from your ecommerce system or website to Mailchimp. This is done through hidden merge fields or integration with your ecommerce system or surveys. (You can learn more about setting up merge fields by taking my Chimp Essentials course.)

When you do this your list goes from “everyone gets everything” to “certain people get relevant things, when they need them”. The latter sounds a lot better, yes?

In Mailchimp’s research, they sampled campaigns sent to 9 million subscribers. Then, they compared the results between segmented campaigns and non-segmented campaigns and found that segmented ones had almost 15% more opens, and almost 60% more clicks per campaign.

Ways to segment your list that make your personalized email marketing work for your list and its subscribers

The following tips are a few things you can do to personalize your campaign a little more and get it into the inboxes of the right segments of your audience. (I cover Mailchimp basics in my tutorial.)


Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. People routinely sign up for lists they aren’t right for or never wanted to engage with in the first place. But you’re paying for those people, every month, to take up space on your list.

Now you’ve got a few options. You can delete all those people from that inactive segment and call it a day—saving money and increasing your open/click rate in the future. Or, you can try a re-engagement campaign, since inactive subscribers can still be about a third as useful as active ones according to a recent study by Mailchimp.

  • Try something totally different (but on brand) like a funny message or a brand new topic or a crazy deal on one of your products.
  • Try a simple check-in to make sure they want to be on your list and ask them to click one link to stay on the list (track this by using Mailchimp’s GOAL tracking) or another link to unsubscribe (using Mailchimp’s |UNSUB| URL).
  • Try a variation in cadence, meaning don’t send anything to the inactive segment for a month or two. Then send a special campaign just to them to see if they want to stay.

If none of the re-engagement campaigns work, remove those people from your list and count the extra money you’ll save each month moving forward without them.

Purchasers and non-purchasers

A great way to reward people who’ve bought something from you is to give them something a little extra or unexpected. Whether it’s a free bonus that relates to what they’ve bought or a great discount on a related product, people like to be treated like their spending matters to you.

Since you can segment purchasers, you can also segment and send personalized emails to people on your list who have not purchased something. This works great when you’re having a sale or deal on a product, since you don’t want to let people who’ve already bought that product (possibly at full price) know that it’s now cheaper than what they paid for it.

Page source

By creating a single hidden merge field on your signup forms, and populating it with the page title or page URL, you can easily segment or even automate campaigns based on where people signed up. (You can do this with my favorite WordPress Mailchimp plugin.)

If subscribers sign up from your “About” page, that’s not that big of a deal or useful for personalized email marketing. But say you have a podcast page, or a page for a specific webinar, then hey now! That’s where page source segments get fun and useful. You can use those segments to create specific welcome emails or even automation sequences (for example: pre and post webinar or drip campaigns).

Star rating

Without having to set up or create anything, Mailchimp rates your subscribers based on activity. They take into account open rates, clicking activity and several other variables to give each person a rating of 1 to 5 stars.

With a segment of 4+ stars, you can offer your best subscribers (since they’re the ones who open, click and engage with your list the most) special deals, exclusive offers or even early access to what you create. Keep in mind that newsletter deliverability impacts star ratings.

Total revenue

If you sell multiple products or even single products with multiple tiers, it can make a lot of sense to send different emails to different groups, based on how much they spend.

For example, you may want to try to upsell people who’ve only bought a small amount from you with bigger and better products. Or, you might want to treat your big spenders to early access or big discounts on future products.

You can either track revenue by using Mailchimp’s eCommerce360 or push data into your list from your ecommerce system using Zapier. eCommerce email tracking is worth setting up if you’re using your website to sell products.

Finished automation

Automation sequences are great, but you don’t want to have subscribers finish one, and then leave them out to dry without any further personalization. Mailchimp lets you add a “post sending list action” which allows you to update a merge field, remove someone from a group or even delete them off your list.

Maybe they loved your automation sequence pitching your paid product but the time wasn’t right for them to buy. Maybe in finishing the automation sequence you want to add them to another sequence (segmented based on a merge field the post-sending action would add them to). The sky’s the limit.

Personalization is everything

While personalizing campaigns with segmentation can be super powerful, they’re also not guaranteed to work for everyone, all of the time. The best way to see what works (or doesn’t) is to start using your segments and testing your results against non-segmented campaigns.

Then you’ll be able to properly see what’s best for your business, your subscribers and your list.

Personalization is more than just adding “Hello FNAME” to the design of your emails. It’s about figuring out the reason why you’re sending something, who should specifically receive it and when those emails should be delivered. You’ve got to take into account where and how they signed up, what they’ve purchased (or not purchased), their geographic location, there activity in your app or on your site and several other factors. Use your data to target specific people, instead of a firehose approach of “let’s just send EVERYTHING to EVERYONE!”

From there you’ll never declare email has died again (unless it gets caught up in a zombie apocalypse, but if that happens, you’ve got more pressing things to worry about).