Resources Hub » Blog » 3 Common Personalization Fails (and How to Fix Them)

Article first published January 2018, updated May 2019

In today’s world, email marketing and personalization go hand-in-hand, just like peanut butter and jelly, Burt and Ernie, and bacon and eggs. You’ll be hard-pressed to find ideas about the future of email marketing without a focus on personalization.

Personalization is a vital part of email marketing as well as one of the top ways to help your emails convert. In fact, personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates, increase open rates by 26%, and revenue is 5.7 times higher.

It’s no secret that personalization is key to creating a winning marketing strategy, and 77% of marketers agree. However, 70% of brands fail to personalize their messages.

In this post, let’s take a look at the top 3 email marketing personalization fails and what you can do to correct them.

1. The “Hey {First_Name}” fail

Has the “first name fail” ever happened to you in real life? You recognize someone. They come up to you and warmly greet you using your first name, and you either can’t remember their name or call them by the wrong name. It’s the worst.

When this happens in real life, it’s awkward. When it happens with an email, it creates a distance between your brand and its subscribers. You never want to use the wrong name, forget to add fallback text or use the wrong information.

Email Personalization First Name Fail

Why does this error even happen in email marketing? When you collect email subscriber data from multiple sources, it’s possible for data to get mixed up, be completely missing, forget to add default text, or for {First_Name} to import instead of an empty space.

How to fix the problem

Thankfully, there is a way to avoid the tragic “first name” fail. With the help of an email service provider (ESP), you can set a fallback personalization tag such as “friend,” “traveler,” “fashionista,” or anything else that matches your brand more accurately.

Personalized Email Fallback Personalization Tag

If the subscriber’s name is missing, they will see the fallback name you listed in your fallback tag such as “Hey Fashionista,” instead of “Hey {First_Name}.”

Email Personalization Fallback name

If the subscriber’s name is in the proper field, your subscriber will see their first name.

Email Personalization Email Subscriber Name

2. The incorrect congratulatory email snafu

Remember that time Pinterest accidentally sent single women an email congratulating them on getting married? It caused quite a stir on social media with comments from customers who felt it poured salt on an open wound.

Pinterest Personalization Congratulatory Email

What about the time Shutterfly congratulated women on babies they didn’t have, which had an even more intense reaction across social media?

Shutterfly Personalization Congratulatory Email

Getting personalization right can help you gain lifelong customers, but when you fail to use it correctly, you risk alienating subscribers.

How to fix the problem

Integrating and cross-referencing information from all data-sources (company profile, Facebook, Pinterest, purchasing history, etc.) is the best bet for verifying current subscriber information. This is especially important when dealing with huge and emotional life-changing events like marriage, pregnancy, and birth. It also you well with less emotionally impactful information like a location change, graduation, or purchasing habits.

In the event you accidentally send out an incorrect email to the wrong subscriber group, take the time to own up to your mistake, apologize, and do what you can to make things right. Everyone makes mistakes, even top brands like Pinterest and Shutterfly. If you acknowledge your mistake, it shows your sincerity and gives you an opportunity to re-engage with subscribers.

3. The sin of missed opportunity

The next personalization fail is not a sin of commission, but a sin of omission. With all the data you gather from customers, you’re sitting on a landmine of information you can leverage to send timely, relevant, and valuable messages to subscribers.

If you don’t use this information to target your customers in relevant ways, you’re not only a part of the 70% of people who are failing to personalize messages, but you’re also depriving customers of what they want.

Customers are asking for personalized information and are more than willing to give up data in return. In fact, Salesforce found 63% of Millennial consumers and 58% of GenX consumers were willing to give up data in return for personalized offers and discounts.

How to fix the problem

The best way to use customer data is to first use a variety of big data tools to collect information on your subscribers. When it comes to email marketing, there are a few strategic ways you can then use this data to connect with your subscribers in more meaningful ways.

How to use data for smarter personalization

But never fear! You have all the information you need to personalize your email marketing like a pro.

Just use the data you already have at your fingertips and follow these tips:

1. Customer profiles and personas

Use the data you gather from social media, CRMs, purchasing history, and past behaviors to build out different customer profiles and personas.

These customer profiles can be complex and exclusive or simple and broad, depending on how much data you have, and how much you need to accomplish your personalization goals.

The important thing is to create different, relevant personas you can use to create list segments.

2. List segmentation

Adidas is an example of a brand who uses data to create simple, yet useful customer personas. Then, they use those customer personas to segment their email lists.

Rather than sending out a mass email to all their customers with all their new shoe collections, they use gender data to create two different email segments based on the personas “male” and “female.”

Then, Adidas uses dynamic content to send out the men’s shoe collection to customers that fit in the “male” segment, and the women’s shoe collection to individuals that fit in the “female” segment.

Adidas Dynamic Content by Email List Segmentation

It’s simple to segment lists based on customer profile, gender, location, age, status, and more, and it’s the perfect way to send more relevant content.

3. Email automation

Just think how awesome it would be to send perfectly relevant emails to customers right when they want them. That’s the power of automation.

Using the automation tools in your email service provider, you can set up emails to send out automatically after a subscriber has completed an action. This action acts as a “trigger” and sends an appropriate email automatically.

Let’s take a look at some of the types of email automation you can employ in your email marketing campaigns.

Welcome emails

When someone subscribes to your list, the first contact you have with them after that is a welcome email. This should be triggered immediately upon signup. While the humble welcome email is taken for granted by many marketers, it’s one of the most opened emails. Leverage it by making a lasting impression.

Thank you emails

Another type of email you definitely need to automate is the thank you email. Like the welcome email, the thank you email is not glamorous, but, when it’s used well, it can work wonders.

personalization fails and how to fix them. this personalized email has no mistakes whatsoever.

Source: Really Good Emails

Bombas’ is a great example of a thank you email skillfully used. While the main purpose of the email is to thank customers for their loyal patronage, the email also offers the customer a gift in the form of a discount. This is a great way to drive not only revenue, but customer loyalty as well.

Promotional emails

Promotional emails are every marketer’s favorite campaign. This is because they’re the heart of every email marketing strategy. After all, driving sales is the core purpose of every business, isn’t it?

You can set up your promotional emails to trigger based on your customer’s browsing history, recent purchases, or even an interaction with your emails. These are called behavioral triggers and are usually your best bet when it comes to automating personalized email offers.

Don’t forget to also automate promotional reminders that are set to trigger a couple of days after the initial promotional email. This is one email marketing tip that boosts the success of promotional emails.

Birthday and holiday emails

Everyone loves to be spoiled on their birthday, which makes emails super effective. In fact, birthday emails convert so well that they generate 342% higher revenue than general promotional emails.

Besides birthday emails, you can also automate holiday and anniversary emails. These provide the perfect excuse to send a promo code or unique offer that takes advantage of the excitement of the season.

Peloton's email is personalized with no failures

Source: Really Good Emails

Email automation has made celebrating the special moments in your customers’ lives easy. By setting your triggers in advance, you don’t have to worry about forgetting a birthday, anniversary, or any other special day.  

There are so many different ways to automate based on real-time customer actions and it keeps your email marketing game sharp.

4. Predictive analysis

If you have strong enough data collection tools and a solid marketing team, you can use predictive analysis to search for trends in previous behaviors and purchasing history. Then email marketers can use this information to fine-tune their email marketing strategy.

For example, you can use past purchasing history around the holidays to help you gear up for next year. Find data that answers the questions like:

  • How successful were your previous offers?
  • What offers did customers respond to most?
  • Which offers had the highest conversion rates in previous years?
  • How much did customers spend on certain holidays vs. other holidays in the market and at your company?

Data can help you answer these types of questions and lead to a more successful email marketing campaign.

Let’s look at a few examples of how you can use predictive analysis to personalize your email campaigns.


Amazon is, by far, the best example of predictive analysis at work. Using powerful algorithms and data they collect when you sign up, the emails are tailored to make you feel like your best friend is recommending the products.

The result is more conversions. Keeping tabs on your customers’ preferences will help you become the friend they look to for recommendations of what to buy next.


Another great example of predictive analysis at work is sending customers a reminder email concerning a product they showed interest in.

Predictive analysis can help you personalize your email marketing without failure every time.

Source: Really Good Emails

Not only does the email encourage the reader to continue with the purchase, but it also offers similar alternatives and accessories. By making sure to let the customer know that the listed products are bestsellers, it bolsters the confidence to make the purchase. After all, if lots of people are buying, then this must be the current fashion trend that no one wants to miss out on.

Wrap up

Personalization is a huge player in the marketing game. Without it, you’ll be sending mass messages that may not reach the hearts of your subscribers. Even so, brands make personalization mistakes all the time. Use the tools provided by your email provider to avoid personalization snafus and create marketing content that customers crave.


As much as personalization emails fails are part of a marketer’s life, there are some steps you can take to avoid them in your campaigns. And avoid them, you must—at all costs. Check out our guide to effective email personalization to help you avoid email marketing mistakes associated with personalization.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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