Personalization is Dead: Long Live Individualization! The Marketer’s Cheatsheet from Activate 19


Some of growth marketing’s brightest minds gathered in San Francisco this week to learn, share, and hobnob at Iterable’s 2019 edition of the Activate conference.

This was the Liveclicker team’s first time attending the Activate, and this year’s conference didn’t disappoint. The gathering was packed from beginning to end with incredible presentations, discussions, workshops, and networking opportunities.

There was a lot to learn at Activate this year, and we know not everyone could make it to the conference. And even if you were fortunate enough to attend, you probably weren’t able to see and experience everything the event had to offer.

Regardless of your situation, Liveclicker has you covered. Our boots on the ground reported back on core themes covered throughout the conference with important takeaways for marketers to push email ever forward:

The Evolution of Personalization: What Comes Next

If there was a single common theme across the multitude of sessions beginning the conference, it was that the most creative, innovative brands are moving past personalization to a new goal: individualization.

As keynote speaker Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney explained, brands need to get more creative when thinking about consumer behavior and why customers make decisions. He encouraged marketers to go deeper with their ‘Whys?” and look past surface-level explanations for what’s driving choices. “Consumers made decisions on intuition and emotion,” he explained. “Keep asking why.”

That helps explain the drive to push past personalization and towards individualization. We know that personalization creates more successful marketing efforts; but why?

A superficial explanation is that consumers seem to want to see their name in a subject line, or content related to their favorite interest in a body copy. But if we dig deeper and ask why consumers want those things, we start getting closer to a more meaningful answer; people like immediately relevant, valuable experiences tailored to their individual, contextual needs.

Individualization of the Customer Experience

Today’s most successful brands are those who are going to market with a focus on the customer experience. So it was inevitable that the discussions at Activate would eventually turn to focus on where this evolving trend of individualization would intersect with the world of CX.

Leslie Emmons Burthey, VP of Marketing at FabFitFun, explained in a session the importance of developing 1:1 relationships with customers. Soliciting feedback and having a dialogue is increasingly valuable for retention.

Fabian Seelbach, CMO of Curology, had even more assertive advice for earning lasting loyalty: dramatic improvement of service in the shortest time possible. Curology’s mission is to make sure their customers see results using their products in the shortest amount possible. He explained how the skincare brand, focuses on helping customers getting results ASAP with helpful content that’s not sales-related and encourages engagement with user-generated progress photos and stories.

Some other valuable takeaways and tactics from speakers on improving your customer experience:

  • Teens audiences respond well to SMS + gifs
  • Ages 40+ prefer the email channel, especially longer emails and more in depth content
  • The ‘in between’ age group responds to short emails but longer content to consume at end place – like a blog or video that fully explains what the email hinted at
  • Transparency goes a long way; even if it means sharing bad news. Delivering honest, personal messaging (like notification about a late shipment or changes in service policy) builds trust and long-term relationships
  • Change the way you look at marketing metrics, especially email, to focus more on developing and nurturing the customer journey over time for maximum LTV. What increases participation, drives revenue, retains customers, and delivers the best results per email sent?

Email’s Place in the Individualization Formula

As one of marketer’s best options for direct one-on-one engagement, email was a hot topic any time customer experience and individualization came up.

Eva Wei, Growth Manager at Shift emphasized that email isn’t going anywhere as a core 1:1 marketing channel. She noted that re-engagement of customers and prospects over time is essential for maximizing ROI: 70% of 1st time visitors to a company’s site aren’t there to buy, and 70% of ecommerce carts go abandoned.

Wei explained some of the key differentiators between personalization and individualization in terms of email.

Email personalization is more related to basic customization: first name personalization, dynamic content, treating subscribers a basic mass segment by demographic.

Individualization is evolved personalization: curating content, 1:1 conversations, and automatically adapting to personal behavior, preferences, and engagement history. Data is the driving force that enables advanced email individualization tactics like:

  • Most popular item features
  • Year in review
  • Anniversary messages
  • Interactive elements
  • Countdown timers

Christine O’Brien, Retention Marketing Manager for LovePop, shared a success story highlighting the power of individual marketing email experiences. As she explained, subscribers know you’re probably collecting a ton of data about them and do expect you to use it well. LovePop moved from individualizing 1% of their emails to 10%—and saw huge boosts to click-through and retention rates!

Trendyol also improved their email personalization across the board and earned:

  • 30% lift in click-through rate
  • 62% lift in response rates
  • 130% lift in conversion rates

Want to learn how? Click here to read the case study!

The Power of Connections

One other prevailing theme of the conference was the power of connections.

Good marketers know connecting with and engaging their audience is essential for success. But connections between brands and between the professionals working at those companies can be just as important.

That’s part of what makes events like Activate so valuable for marketers of all kinds. There are plenty of resources to learn how to be a better marketer and improve your campaigns out there. But the opportunities for us to meet, network, share and engage with each other personally are much more limited.

Consultant, author and networking expert Karen Wickre explained in her keynote the importance of always connecting and having a vast network that you nurture and can tap into for thought leadership, brainstorming, and business opportunities.

Connecting like minded people with each other is the catalyst to exponential growth, and at Activate19 we were delighted to engage with current and future partners, clients, and Liveclicker team members. We can’t wait to go again next year!

Header image modified from Kathryn on Twitter


Liveclicker enables personalization at the moment of open. Our platform helps marketers adjust emails at any time—even after they reach the inbox—so your message is always relevant and impactful.


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