Humanization is the New Personalization

Humanization is the New Personalization

Relevance is the key to engagement, but brands that really stand out are taking their personalization game to an entirely new level. The hot new trend in marketing strategy? Good, old-fashioned respect and kindness.

Marketing from the heart has become a central tenant of digital marketing strategies. Does your email marketing pass muster? In this session, Jen Capstraw will:

Explain how dignity and morality have become central to driving customer engagement
Showcase exceptional examples of empathy in action
Identify common tactics and tricks that are past their prime and ready for retirement

About: Jen Capstraw

Jen Capstraw is a strategist, speaker, writer and #emailgeek. She serves as President and Co-Founder of Women of Email, an association of 4,000+ aimed at promoting leadership and cultivating professional growth among women in the email space.


Okay, folks, while the live chat is already going, welcome to humanization is the new personalization. I’m Jen Capstraw. I’m the president and co founder of Women of Email, you can follow me on twitter at at Jen Capstraw. If you’re unfamiliar with Women of Email, let me tell you a little bit about it very quickly. It’s a 501 c three nonprofit association with 4000 members in 47 countries at last count on six continents. We’ve got more than 5500 women who participate in our Facebook group community and more than 1500 women in our speaker’s bureau. So if you are looking for female speakers to achieve gender parity at your event, reach out to us. And if you’d like to join our community, you can do that on Facebook, just look for the Women of Email group. All right, so humanization is the new personalization. I got this really cool campaign last year I want to share it with you it was one of the campaign’s I got most excited about. And this is it. I made a purchase of food, a dinner on grubhub, which is one of those apps for lazy people like myself who don’t do a whole lot of cooking. They brought me my dinner. And I also received this fun sized pack of Skittles, and a hastily applied mailing label with a handwritten note applied to it. So why did I get so excited about this? First of all, it’s a behavioural trigger. Right? I took an action I made a purchase, and it triggered this campaign. It’s personalised now it doesn’t say your Gen. But that handwritten note, it really made me feel a little bit special. And that actually is a big trend in marketing right now. I gave a presentation at etail East last summer. And I was like, yeah, I’m really gonna Well, these people talking about handwritten notes in a digital marketing conference. Oh, no, half of the presenters talked about the power of how a human touch that handwritten note can really connect with people. I love that there’s a really clear call to action here. Right? I know exactly what they want me to do. They want me to submit a rating on the grubhub app. And also, the thing that struck me the most is that it employees gratitude and respect, they recognised that I’m a human person, they didn’t ask for something for nothing. There’s an offering value here. And even though it’s small, it’s really delightful. And that’s what I mean when I say that humanization is our goal. Now as email marketers, we’ve been hearing personalization for a long time. And that is still remains very important. But humanization is going to be what puts your campaigns over the edge now, employing empathy to build connections and demonstrating respect for our subscribers. We want to fulfil their needs as human individuals. Those days of hammering folks with messages that offer minimal value are fading fast. And if you want to compete, you need to make people feel good, or at the very least, never make them feel bad. So what’s driving this shift toward empathy in marketing? Well, Millennials have been accused of mowing down everything in their path with a bazooka full of avocado toast, right? I’m Gen X. And I love the cultural shifts that millennials are bringing to us. Now, my points here are purely observational, but I’ve gone from coaching and mentoring millennials, to looking to them to help me understand our future. And I worked at a company that was millennial founded, and it aimed to embody millennial ideals. And my takeaway is that millennials have a very vivid moral compass. And this idea of empathy comes naturally to many of them. And it’s something that millennial thought leaders in our space have been saying for a long time now. It’s finally becoming mainstream compliance and privacy. In some ways, we don’t have a choice but to embrace this trend. More and more laws are literally forcing us to treat subscribers with greater respect. Now, it is a shifting culture driving compliance or is compliance driving shift, driving that cultural change? Something we can certainly debate I think it’s a little bit of both simultaneously. We talk a lot in the email space about looking beyond opens and clicks, vanity metrics, and more and more companies are looking to customer lifetime value is the KPI of ultimate truth, it’s going to take some time for this to be widely embraced because it’s difficult to calculate. attribution is tough, no one has a perfect attribution model. I do predict that over the next decade, we’re going to see a lot of folks looking to this metric, more and more, and AI is going to help us achieve that it’s ultimately going to solve those attribution problems. And finally, this is a brand new bullet for this slide. I’ve been giving this presentation for a while now. And I’ve had to make a lot of changes to it. Uh, given our current state, we’re all really sensitive to what’s happening in our world right now. Our inboxes are jam packed with all sorts of messages, email pros are fighting with their exact so what’s appropriate, and what’s necessary right now, while company leaders are trying to do everything they can to keep revenue coming in. And it’s kind of a big mess right now. And we’re figuring it out one day at a time. But one thing is incredibly clear, and that is that we need empathy and marketing more than ever before. So why is that because empathy drives human connections. Those human connections lead to relationships, and relationships generate loyalty, that’s the end game here loyalty, long term relationships that maximise customer lifetime value, that KPI of ultimate truth. And if we make a misstep, it can have a real long term effect. Your deliverability can suffer your lists can shrink, confidence in our brands can take a hit, that affects brand loyalty. And this particular moment in time, we really need some extra sensitivity. There are enough negative emotions right now, we can’t afford to add to that. Because when our lives get back to normal, where are our customers going to spend their money are they going to remember the way they felt when they received a tone deaf message from you? Possibly. And that’s a real risk. So bad behaviour in email marketing has been cancelled. Here are the things that we no longer do in email marketing, we don’t mislead or confuse our subscribers. We don’t aim to leverage anxiety, or fear or any other negative emotions to drive engagement. We’re not going to disrespect our audiences, we’re not putting our objectives before our subscribers needs. Any more and more. These are the hard nopes of email strategy today, not just in the thick of this pandemic, but every single day. And I’ve got some examples of Nope, in action for you. This was received by a member of Women of Email, the subject line was action required your job interview. Now this was a woman who had recently been downsized from her job. She was looking for a new position. And when she saw this in her inbox, she panicked. I have a job interview. I have no idea. Then she opened it up. Carolyn, we wanted to check in since we haven’t seen you lately. If you found a job, congratulations. But if you’re still in the market, you can update your alerts. Ooh, Carolyn didn’t feel good about that. That is definitely a Nope, here’s another one your orders been shipped and it’s on its way. I’ve seen more than one brand. Try this strategy. What’s going on? I didn’t make an order. Has my credit card been compromised? You know, you hurry to open up a message like this. And then when you scroll down, just kidding. But leathers 15% off. We’re not doing this anymore. These tactics can boost vanity metrics. But that’s not the end goal. So here are some other examples of things. We’re not doing an email marketing anymore. We’re not going to use our re or forward in the subject line to give the impression of a one to one conversation with an individual using random friendly from names individuals names. Lots of folks are like, Hey, I heard that if I put Bob Smith in the front field, then I’m going to see higher open rates because people are going to think they’re getting a personal message. And sometimes it does make sense to use a name in that friendly from, but more often it doesn’t. If your goal is simply to boost opens, then it’s not a good idea. Fake apology emails. This is becoming a real problem. We see big spikes and opens and clicks when apology emails go out for our campaign mistakes. But now companies are sending unnecessary apology emails when there wasn’t a big mistake that warranted a message or there wasn’t a mistake at all. Also exaggerated sense of urgency. FOMO is dead like we’ve killed it, we murdered it dead with our countdown clocks and our last chance to buy. It’s risky to do these things to artificially inflate short term engagement, because it’s going to compromise long term loyalty and that lifetime customer value metric. And then more recently, as we’re seeing this influx of COVID-19 emails, we need to stop sending emails for the sake of sending email, every company feels like they need to send a response when maybe they really don’t. And then some brands we’re seeing some insensitivity to subscribers, fears and stress, different people are feeling different emotions right now and dealing with the coronavirus crisis in different ways. Um, some people are going to be put off by your business as usual emails, others, maybe it makes them feel a little more normal. It’s hard to know what the right thing is to do right now. But I assure you, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. If you follow Matt Byrd on Twitter, you probably saw this tweet a couple of weeks ago. This is a sale at a yoga studio. They offer discounts on yoga packages, discounts that you probably can’t use now. And surely this is in very, very bad taste. So I’m going to quickly share some of my favourite resources right now for COVID-19 advice. And I’m going to post all of these links in the delegate forum. So you can easily access them whether you’re watching this live, or you are watching it in real time. Also, when I have a moment, I’m going to pop it here into the chat as well out more Hello, hello friends. All right. So should I send a COVID-19 email Schuyler hollow box from Salesforce says? Probably not, you can harm your sender reputation, it’s going to make it tougher for you to get back on your feet to send quality email that’s actually going to drive engagement. When we get past this crisis. It’s a risky time to send those emails. And so the deliverability point of view is explained in that article. Josh bernoff from without he’s got a book by the same name. This gentleman is absolute gold. He says there are only three things we’re saying right now. Are you open? What are you doing to stay clean? How are you helping? How are you helping your customers? How are you helping your employees? How are you helping the world? And what are you offering that’s useful to that recipient right now. And if you’re a Dave Grohl Foo Fighters fan, you’re gonna especially love this article when you read it in its entirety. Also, littmus had an amazing webinar this week that is now on demand. My Women of Email co founder Kristin Bond was their Litmus evangelists, Jason Rodriguez was the moderator. They both made amazing points. They cited great examples of COVID-19 emails, but was really cool about this was Matthew Smith, from really good emails dives into the physiology, and the psychology of our subscribers. It’s really fascinating. He explains our biological response, and how to apply that knowledge to our marketing messages. So I definitely recommend you check that out. It’s information I have not seen anywhere else. And as I mentioned, I’m going to post all of these links in the delegate forum. And in the chat, when I get to the end of this session. By the way, we’re making so many mistakes in this moment that it’s making national news, even cnn says we’re doing it wrong. So Let’s all try to do better moving forward. All right, so back to the trend of humanization and empathy and email, generally speaking, I’ve got some great examples in action for you. Now, when folks in my network who are not connected to digital marketing or email marketing in any way, say on social media that they have seen an email that really resonates with them, I definitely take note. And that’s what happened when a friend of mine from high school who’s now a school teacher in Virginia, posted about an email she got from the American Red Cross after she donated platelets. At first glance, it just seems like a typical confirmation confirmation. Right? She made a donation, it’s on its way to save lives. But if we zoom in here, here’s the language that really touched her. After ensuring local needs were met. Your donation was sent to the University of Virginia Medical Centre in Charlottesville, and sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk to help patients in needs you saved lives and that made dawn feel really good and she’s going to continue to make donations. Now when we talk about personalization and email, one to one messages like this come to mind. This is actually my boyfriend’s Fitbit stats from the week after New Year’s. We were pretty slovenly during the second half of December and he was really proud of his post holiday fitness progress so proud that he forwarded this to me Never expecting that I’d put it in a presentation. But he’s not in the industry Don’t let him know. But clearly it made him feel something. And that’s terrific. He felt something so strongly that he wanted to tell me about it. I love this example from Thrive Market. This is another email sent to me by someone outside of the email space. I’ve got a friend named Jason, his girlfriend received this and they were both so excited about this email that he went out of his way to get it from her to forward it to me because everyone knows what a nerd I am. So his girlfriend is a customer of Thrive Market, she pays a subscription to shop there, she had a problem with an order. She had an interaction with customer service via email, and then she received this follow up message. And it indicates that she spoke to someone named Stephanie. So we’re seeing a lot of detail here about the person she interacted with. And I love the detail that we’ve got here, Stephanie tells us that her favourite product is Thrive Market collagen peptides in her cup of coffee. I have no idea what that means. But I love that I know that about Stephanie. And then we’ve got an interactive form here. So you can tell us how the interaction went with Stephanie. But here’s the part that got me most excited. It’s down below. We’re gonna zoom in here. If you think we should reward Stephanie for great service, let us know should we send her some wine? Should we send her to the movies? Should we send her out for a spa day. Now Stephanie’s probably not going to be doing that in the near future. But our lives are going to get back to normal at some point. And this is great, Stephanie did something nice for you. And now you can do something nice. For Stephanie. She’s a human person. This was achieved with a solution called Stella Connect, which is a customer experience management tool. It captures customer feedback, and it can integrate with virtually any ESP. Now all of those examples employed clever personalization strategies. And as I mentioned, personalization is often central to humanization. But it’s not exclusive. Sometimes, just knowing you care is enough to make subscribers to feel connected to your brand. Not every campaign requires sophisticated personalization. And here’s an example, I would say this is the most talked about email of 2019. This was all over the email geek slack group. This was all over Twitter. This was in the Women of Email, Facebook group, everyone was just really touched by the innovation in this email that was sent out by a florist, a floral company in the UK around Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a sensitive time for a lot of people for a number of reasons. Maybe you Your mother has passed on or your child has passed on. Maybe you have a bad relationship with your mother or your child. Whatever the reason, if Mother’s Day is sensitive to you bloomin wild gave you an opportunity to opt out of that messaging. Now by opting out of Mother’s Day messaging from bloomin wild, it’s not going to put you in a protective bubble from every other Mother’s Day campaign that’s out there. But when the day comes that you do want to send flowers to someone. If this email touched you, you might remember that and you might choose bloomin wild to send that bouquet to someone special. And I was waiting for it waiting for it for someone to do that in today’s climate. And this was sent out this week and shared in the email geek slack group. It’s from a company called hard graft exactly that same strategy to given our pandemic climate. Do you want to pause our product notifications right now. Otherwise, we’ll keep you up to date. So this is really brilliant way to have sensitivity toward how people are feeling. And as I mentioned, some people are going to find day to day emails, businesses, usual emails, make them feel normal, other people, it feels weird, it feels off, it feels insensitive. And it’d be cool to put something like this at the top of all of your campaigns for a finite period of time, give people an opportunity to press pause and take a break while they deal with their lives and their families. This is my favourite COVID-19 email that I’ve received personally to date Lily lines is a newsletter for women from the Washington Post. If you have a newsletter, I definitely suggest that you subscribe to this one for inspiration because it embodies a lot of the great trends that we’re seeing in newsletters today. I loved their sensitivity to what their subscribers are feeling right now. It is jam packed with value to the subscriber and lots and lots of useful links and resources that you can refer to how to stay calm. Right How to stay healthy right now. How to stay connected and continue to feel human how to entertain yourself right take your mind off your troubles, how to be a helper, how to help your neighbours how to help people in need. This is terrific marketing. So as I’ve mentioned, humanization, and empathy, make us feel something. And that helps us connect to those brands. But some brands are taking stands on social and political issues, that makes some folks feel good. And that’s the goal. But some folks potentially could feel badly, they might feel angry. And that can actually be a good thing. It can also be a risky thing. And here’s an example here from Lyft. Lyft is, if you are outside of the US, it’s one of those ride sharing services. Uber being their number one competitor, and they sent me an email that gave me an opportunity to choose my pronoun in the app. So we scroll down, it shows me exactly how to do that. Right, here are the instructions, step by step, what you can do, and they also explain what they’re doing for the LGBTQ plus community. Now, this is so interesting to me, because there’s going to be a certain number of people in their audience who are gender non conforming, and this makes them feel like they’re being treated with dignity, they’re going to be addressed by lift in the way they want to be addressed. And that’s going to be important to them, it’s going to mean a lot. And then to folks who are advocates and allies to those people, it could be very meaningful to them as well. So when it comes time for them to choose, I need a ride, do I want to call Lyft? Or do I want to call Uber, maybe they’re going to call Lyft. Now, they’re going to be some people who are just indifferent, this doesn’t matter to them. But there are definitely going to be people who are deeply, deeply offended by this, they think it is inappropriate, and it is not in line with their values and their beliefs. And that’s a risk that Lyft is willing to take. Because it’s all about doing what they think the right thing is. And that’s something that Bill pendsey of penzeys spices has been doing for years, he actually founded his spice company back in the 1980s. It was a catalogue service. And he always dropped in a page to talk about social issues that were important to him. And he discussed things that maybe weren’t on your radar or work, he felt a moral obligation to explain his point of view on pressing issues in this world. And then as time went on, he started applying that to his email campaigns, his social campaigns. And I mean, at first glance, you can see this does not embody all of our best practices when it comes to email marketing. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment. But bill made headlines in 2016, the day after the presidential election, when he sent an email to his entire mailing list, saying, I don’t like Donald Trump, I think he’s bad. I think he’s wrong for this company, or this country. And I don’t like anyone who lines up behind him. And there was an unbelievable response to that. On one hand, a number of people were like, I’m with you, Bill. I don’t like Bill. I don’t like President Trump either. I don’t agree with people who line up behind him, and I’m a customer for life, I’m going to buy your spices. And then there were people who are deeply offended, they think this is inappropriate. They think this is insulting, and they’re telling bill, we’re never gonna buy your spices again. But it doesn’t stop bill. He is putting out campaigns all the time, that are highlighting social issues. This particular one was from last summer. It was during it was approximately a year after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. And His goal was to raise awareness that there are still issues in Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico rather, and that you can help and he’s trying to help. So he had an offer for a box of spices, you could buy a box for yourself for $30, you could buy a box for a friend or family member for $30. Or you could donate one to a family in need that’s rebuilding their lives, and rebuilding their kitchen in Puerto Rico. And as I mentioned, this does not align at all with best practices. In terms of email, we’ve got text embedded in images. We don’t have a real clear call to action button here. And as we scroll down, there’s loads and loads and loads of text. We’ve got text links, and it’s a scathing scathing indictment of the current presidential administration in the United States. And at the end, he’s got some photographs of individuals on his team, making some of the early deliveries of his product in Puerto Rico and this struggle adeje despite it not being aligned with our design, best practices and development, best practices, and even some of our strategy, best practices, it works for Bill it resonates with people. And completely by chance, a friend of mine in my own network made a purchase of one of these spice packs. She was so excited about it, that she staged a photo shoot in her kitchen when it arrived, and posted it to social media. She wanted people to know I’m with Bill pansy. I believe in what he’s doing. I want to heal the world by cooking dinner tonight. And again, a lot of people continue to be very offended by this. It wasn’t inflammatory campaign, he uses the word racist in that email copy. But we know that this is working for Bill pendsey. Because he told us back in 2018, he sent out a newsletter with the subject line. This is what democracy looks like. And this was around the Fourth of July in 2018. And he revealed that every time he puts out one of these campaigns, he sees a huge spike in sales. He’s had tremendous growth, by utilising this strategy. That’s not why he’s doing it. He’s doing it because he believes that he has a platform and he believes it’s the right thing to do. Now, most campaigns that take positions on social and political issues tend to be liberal leaning, progressive leaning, but they are not exclusive to the left. We do see some select conservative companies espousing their beliefs in their marketing campaigns as well, Hobby Lobby comes to mind, if you’re not familiar with Hobby Lobby, it’s a company in the United States for crafting supplies. Very, very strictly conservative leadership at that company, they put out religious marketing a few times a year. And they’re best known for fighting some legislation for making birth control accessible to more people in the United States. It was something that they took all the way to the Supreme Court. And even though there are a lot of people who disagree with Hobby Lobby, who are very vocal, who say, I will never shop there, again, Hobby Lobby is doing better than ever. So it doesn’t really matter. If you lean left you lean right, conservative or liberal, if you’re getting behind ideas that you truly be believe in, it can really go far. So how do you make strategies like this successful in a word? authenticity, right? And I’ll be honest, I hate that word just as much as you do. But there isn’t a better way to describe it. You cannot lean on empty virtue signalling, it’s not going to be successful. People see through it, people are smart, they’re informed. What my personal observation is, is that these campaigns seem to be most successful when they represent the closely held ideals of company founders and company leadership, they have to originate from the heart, and not from a PR team. And if you don’t believe me, you can just ask Pepsi. If you’re familiar with this campaign, from about a year and a half ago, they were attempting to address the NFL, conflict over Black Lives Matter. We had NFL players taking a knee to say police brutality is a problem. And Pepsi is trying to mend fences here, right and saying, you know, we can solve this problem with a Pepsi, we can work with our our policeman. It doesn’t have to be an either or. And it was a real flop right? There were memes that originated with this campaign, just poking fun at it like this did not solve the issues of race in the United States, it fell flat. And similarly, we see a lot of campaigns around Pride Month, right? A lot of companies are slapping rainbows on everything. And I asked friends in my network, my LGBTQ friends, well, how do you feel about that when it happens? And they say, yeah, we see through it. We know what rainbow washing is. But because it’s bringing attention to an issue we care about. You know, some of us are okay with us. Some of us aren’t, but it is going to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. If there isn’t a true sense of authenticity behind campaigns like this. Now, a lot of brands are not going to go in this direction. They’re not going to take a stand on these issues and say anything that’s polarising. And for those brands that are looking for ways to connect with folks in a very human and personal way. I’m observing a trend. And it may surprise you what it is because it is it’s dogs. It’s dogs folks who weren’t better right? puppies abound in our email marketing Today Show us your double ganger. There’s no personalization here. But there’s one thing we can all agree on. Puppies are cute. And lots of people feel something when they see them. And I can’t count the number of times that someone is posted an example, on the women of email Facebook group just to say, Oh my God, this email is just so cute. There’s always a dog, always a dog humanization achieved here through an emotional shared connection to adorableness. I’ve got more examples for you, because obviously, I love the puppy emails, too. I love this one subject line, open this email for free puppies, and we have a little dog emoji in the subject line. It’s ebags. Right, we’ve got a dog, we’ve got some fun animation. If we scroll down, right, we don’t have to just look at photographs of luggage, we can look at photographs of luggage with adorable poppers as well. This is a great example of in the COVID-19 era. And granted, this is a pet supply company Tomlinson’s in the US. But it embodies all of those tips from the COVID-19 resources that I mentioned earlier. Again, I’m going to paste that into the chat. I’m going to paste that into the delegate forum discussion as well. But they’re letting the you know what they’re doing right now, while we deal with this crisis. So if you scroll down, they’re letting you know, they’re going to bring you your pet essentials and deliver for free, right. grocery store shelves are empty right now, maybe your local pet store is even closed. But your pet essentials are on their way. And we’re going to do you a solid, and we’re going to send them to you for free. And by the way, here are all of the FAQs that you might be asking. This one is my favourite subject line, click for dog. Here it is. It’s from glossier preheader is just wolf. And when I scroll down, I can see that call to action. What did he buy? Well, what did he buy? Right? I want to know, what did he buy? So my curiosity is piqued, I feel good when I receive something like this. It makes me feel human. Right. So humanization is the new personalization. What are our takeaways today? Well, short term wins are great. But we’re in it for the long game, right? loyalty, customer lifetime value, those short term, vanity metrics and immediate conversions. Right, they might look good on paper, they might impress your boss right now. But ultimately, they could compromise the bottom line and company objectives. And sometimes these things are at odds, even with our branding standards, and how brands are handled in the other channels. So why are we playing these games and employing these cheap tricks in our email channel? Secondly, employ the golden rule. It’s so simple. Treat your subscribers the way you want to be treated, put yourself in their shoes, think about what do they need? What do they want? How can I be helpful right now? personalization is terrific. It’s important, it is essential to successful email marketing. But humanization is just as important if not more important. So think about how you can implement that in the context of personalization and beyond. And even think about things like that, that creep factor that can creep into our email marketing and other channels. People feel like they’re being followed around the internet, it can be uncomfortable. How do we overcome that through empathy? What can we do to not skeeve out our subscribers, and finally, when in doubt, maybe add dogs. So that’s all I’ve got for you today, folks, thank you for being awesome. Stay safe, stay connected. This is a really difficult time for all of us. And what’s really special about the email community is that it is an incredibly supportive place. So I would encourage you to join the email geek slack group. If you just go to email dot geeks dot chat you can find the application for that. People are having conversations not just about email marketing, but all things including COVID-19. They’re bonding they’re connecting. You can also join the Women of Email Facebook group, we are hosting our very First virtual happy hour at four o’clock eastern today. And it’s just an opportunity to relate and release in a special thanks to Salesforce Marketing Cloud for making their zoom technology available to our members so that we can do that. We’re not going to just do that today. We’re hoping to do more in the future. We’re going to see how it goes, how large the audience is, and how the interactions go depending on the size of that group. But no, your community is here for you through this. We love you. You’re our email, fam. So take care of yourselves.

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