There’s no denying that people would rather see a personalized marketing email than a generic one. It’s one of those things that seems so obvious and straightforward that you don’t even think about it until someone points it out.

But more and more marketers are increasing their investment into personalization technology without ever stopping to question the root of the issue: Why do people like personalized emails? Why do people enjoy seeing their name in the header of an email, even though they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was put there by at best a stranger and at worst a piece of code?

There are a few prevailing theories that we plan to unpack in an attempt to unravel the mystery behind humankind’s apparent penchant for personalized marketing.

Turn Down the Noise

The ease, simplicity, and necessity of digital marketing has caused a deluge of advertorial and promotional content constantly beaming out in all directions. The volume of promotional content you encounter on the internet every day is so extreme that a person unfamiliar with the internet would likely become overwhelmed within minutes of opening a browser.

Noise

In such an oversaturated and loud environment, the seemingly simple act of using what little information you have on your recipient (name, general location, how they browsed your site, etc.) to customize your communications is all it takes to appeal to the part of your brain that wants to block out extraneous stimuli.

People have naturally evolved to block out superfluous information, which is why personalization is so important. By addressing your communications to each specific recipient, your information suddenly doesn’t appear superfluous at all. It’s now a refreshing break from the constant barrage of generic information.

Power of Choice

In addition to information overload, a study done by the University of Texas posits that control is the other factor that contributes to our preference towards personalized experience. Research shows that people who think they’re in control of the things they get in life are psychologically healthier than those who believe their fate is in the hands of some external force. This phenomenon is also known as “internal locus of control vs. external locus of control”.

Choice

The study out of UT also elaborates on the fact that technology has shifted control from companies to consumers, as shown by the shift of media from publisher-centric to consumer-centric. The result of this shift is the expectation of relevant, timely content so clients can receive the information they want to see when they want to see it.

Often the way to meet this ever-increasing expectation is by giving your target a choice. At our most basic instinct, being given choices gives us a sense of control. Having control of a situation could mean the difference between life and death so, therefore, your instincts dictate you prefer to be given a choice. Both animal and human testing shows that we will consistently choose the path that yields the most options. Giving your target some options – like in a preference center – will make them feel more in control and therefore more comfortable engaging with your communications.

Overt vs. Subtle Personalization

People find comfort in knowing that you are catering your message towards them, but there are two ways to do so: overtly and subtly. When your recipients are keenly aware that you are targeting them, like if you send them a message on their birthday, you are using a more overt approach to personalization.

Balance

More subtle approaches to personalization would be targeting based on their preferences according to their past behavior. Offering educational material based on funds your client has shown interest in or inviting them to events based on their browsing behavior are great ways to demonstrate your enthusiasm about their interests.

Finding a balance between these two approaches is key to fully engage your target audience while not coming off as overbearing or robotic. Focusing your efforts on both them as a person, as well as their expressed interests is the perfect way to demonstrate that you see them as more than a cell on a spreadsheet.


Regardless of the reason people prefer personalized email, it’s an undeniable fact that they do. Regardless of your knowledge of how personal it really is, email personalization techniques give your audience the feeling that you care about their interests, that they have some kind of control over the situation, and that your communications are separate from the deluge of meaningless information they encounter every day.

For more information on email personalization, check out these helpful articles:

Email Personalization: The Basics

Email Personalization: Advanced Techniques