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  • Writer's pictureHayley Cherrett

A copywriter’s POV on personalisation

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Data is a wonderful thing. Thanks to endless tracking, cookies, contactless payments and so on, businesses know more than ever about their customers: where they live, their age, their spending habits, what brand of toothpaste they prefer, and more.

Given that one of the key principles of persuasion is ‘know your reader’, this creates tremendous opportunities for brands to connect. But only if brands get it right.

From a marketer’s perspective, more personalisation is a no-brainer:

74% of marketers say targeted personalization increases customer engagement – eConsultancy
50% of companies feel they can increase interaction within email by increasing personalization – Experian
Email subject lines that are personalized generate an average of 50% higher open rates – Oberlo

As copywriters, we’re not technically blessed. We like words, not numbers. Feelings, not data. And, while we can see the opportunities created by so much information, we can also see the pitfalls. Badly-written or targeted personalised messages can damage your brand in the same way good ones boost engagement.

It’s pointless segmenting your audience if you don’t nail the message for each type of person. Equally, too much personalisation turns into cyberstalking, which isn't a big relationship builder. The art of copywriting is knowing where to draw the line.

Here are our top tips on personalisation from a copywriter’s perspective:

1. Make it relevant from the start

Crafting a subject line that’s relevant to your reader is probably the most common opportunity to personalise an email. It’s also possible to do even when you don’t have a lot of data.

From fail to focused, look at the different levels of personalisation in my inbox:

Summer loving (Bloom and Wild)

Bloom and Wild barely tried with their awful pun.

Unmissable series this Summer (Disney +)

Disney + sound urgent and newsy, but who are they talking to?

We saw these and thought of you (Cult Beauty)

Clearly Cult Beauty lack data but they’ve given it the personal touch.

Hayley, can we talk? Win £250 for your opinion (Caxton)

By simply adding my name, Caxton have caught my attention.

Make it easy to send money to your friends, Hayley (Paypal)

Paypal have applied what they generally know about their audience – they want less hassle when it comes to transactions. They don’t have specifics about me, but this level of personalisation can still be persuasive.

Hayley & Jordan, we've just added a docuseries you might like (Netflix)

Netflix are the real personalisation winners here. They’ve included my name and considered my interests based on what I’ve watched. It’s relevant to me and it’s the only one I actually opened.

Whereas Disney left it at 'unmissable series' (unmissable to whom, and what kind of series?), Netflix have used my name and specific type of series to make the message more relevant.

2. Strike the right balance between “you” and we”

Personalisation makes it all about the reader, right? It does, but you need to draw the line somewhere. Copywriters have long been masters of this – remember personalisation has been a thing since direct mail was all the rage.

Imagine how weird you’d feel receiving something like this:

You visited our website at 4:05 PM on Friday while drinking your afternoon cuppa. We’d love to tell you more about what we do.”

OK, that’s slightly OTT. But just because you have certain information, it doesn’t mean you need to abuse it. We recommend including plenty of “you” to make your reader feel like you’re talking to them directly.

Old school direct response writers will tell you there's an actual ratio of you's to we's. Three to one in fact. And the results form their sales letters will generally confirm that this works. It’s an old copywriting technique but it’s equally effective in the digital era – and it doesn’t depend on any data.

FirstVet sent me this introduction email:

Hi Hayley - Welcome to the FirstVet family! 🐶🐱 We are excited you and your pet chose to join us! Here are some tips on how to make your veterinarian experience as pleasant as possible: If you haven't already, download the FirstVet app: Apple Store or Google Play Add your pet in the app so that you will be ready if an accident occurs Share your pet's profile with family or friends. This way, everyone that might need it will have access to a vet 24/7 Remember, we are here for you and your pet. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

See how they’ve kept the focus on me with lots of “you”. Where they’ve included “we”, it makes sense. They’ve used it to welcome me and emphasise their support.

3. Show empathy

The more we know about someone’s challenges, the more we can show empathy and create a connection. Getting lost in the data, you run the risk of losing that human touch. Remember, you’re talking to a person, not a number.

Making a connection is just much a part of creating a personal message as endlessly repeating their name.

I received this email from Credit Karma. It’s a nice update personalised to my situation.

Hi Hayley,
We’re pleased to confirm there’s nothing new on your report this month. That’s a good thing, generally.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to keep your score moving in the right direction.
You should check the factors that impact your credit score regularly to make sure you know what you need to do to keep improving.
We’ll keep checking your report to make sure you always know when there’s something new.

Now imagine if they were talking to someone who had a terrible credit score. Their tone would need to be just as reassuring, but they might share steps they can take or address how they might be feeling. It’s all about showing you relate to their problem.

You need to think smart. Being a copywriter is all about putting yourself in another person’s shoes. How would you feel in their position? What information would you need to make a decision?

By acknowledging their audience's challenge, project planning software Basecamp make their copy relatable:

Before Basecamp: You’re wondering how you’ll quickly transition your team to remote work. People are stressed, work feels scattered, projects are slipping, and it’s tough to see + manage everything.
After Basecamp: Soon you’ll be feeling like ”hey, we got this”. Everything will be organized in one place, your team will be working together (even though they’re apart), you’ll be on top of things, and a sense of calm will set in.

Basecamp updated their copy to reflect the current pandemic and many people’s working situations. It highlights the challenges their audience face and explains how they help fix things.

4. Personalise the sender too

Personalisation isn’t just about who is receiving the email but who is sending it too. What name will show up in the recipient’s inbox?

Changing the sender from the name of the company to an employee (or perhaps even CEO) can make emails stand out. The great thing is you don’t even need any data about your audience.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Combine name and brand, eg: Hayley at A Thousand Monkeys

  • Be a bit chummy: Your friends at A Thousand Monkeys

  • Add extra kudos: The Thousand Monkeys insight team

  • Explain what you’re sending along with the sender name: A Thousand Monkeys weekly digest

6. Know their crowd

Behavioural psychology offers some useful persuasive strategies for copywriters. One we think works neatly with personalisation is social proof.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation. (Wikipedia)

So, you’re not actually talking about them, you’re talking about their crowd. The people they value the opinion of. The people that face the same challenges as them. The people whose stories they want to hear.

Take this from the Monzo website:

Help us build the kind of bank you want to use
Download the Monzo app on iOS or Android and join the 4.41M people who've changed the way they bank.

For someone who is considering alternatives to highstreet banks, this has the potential to be very persuasive.

When writing an email, you might use social proof in the subject line to grab attention. Here are some ideas of what they might look like:

Here’s why London’s best CEOs will be attending
98% of customers recommend us. Find out why.
Meet the keynote who once faced the same challenges as you

Final thoughts

You could have all the data in the world but ultimately it comes down to being a good writer. By simply putting yourself in your reader’s shoes, you’ll be more empathetic and find it easier to relate to their challenges.

To optimise personalisation, you need a mix of insightful data and age-old copywriting techniques. But, even when you don’t have lots of data, you can make your writing feel personal with excellent copy.


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