When we try to imagine the future, the idea of widespread personalization often comes to mind. In the future, Siri turns into Her, and the Jetsons' space house has poured George’s morning espresso by the time he gets out of his space bed.

We're drawn to the idea not just because it sounds great but because it’s believable. Even today, personalization is changing the way we communicate, live, and shop. Our smartphones can learn our names, our smart homes can adjust their temperature based on the time of day, and the espresso thing is only a matter of time.

The Disconnect Between Knowing and Applying That Knowledge

Why aren't today’s leading retail companies personalizing their marketing?

SimpleRelevance analyzed more than 300 Internet retailer companies and discovered that almost all fail to personalize their customers' online experience in any capacity. Only 7% of the 329 companies addressed the recipients of their emails by name.

That's a pretty straightforward approach to marketing personalization, but it has a powerful effect on consumers.

According to a 2013 email marketing study conducted by Experian Marketing Services, personalizing a subject line results in increased email open rates of 26%. For example, just by saying something like "Hey, Sarah, We Thought You Might Like These Jumpsuits" that business can see a powerful lift.

Marketers that delve beyond the subject line and personalize the content of their emails are rewarded even further.

Personalizing an email body has been shown to generate transaction rates 6X higher than their impersonal counterparts.

The retail companies we looked at run the gamut from selling apparel to furniture to consumer electronics. Some 86 are listed in the Internet Retailer Top 500. Yet the study found that just 3% of the companies we studied personalized their product recommendations based on customer gender, the simplest expression of personalization there is.

What Personalization Isn't

How many times have you received an email for a service you would simply never, ever use?

A cursory glance at the Promotions tab in your Gmail account may well reveal offers for mani-pedis on top of coupons for laser back-hair removal. In a world that’s begun to embrace personalization, companies that refuse to adapt can sound like they’re shouting into the void.

Another miss: Almost none of the 329 companies used their customers' product preferences in their emails. In the age of Big Data, when 64% of customers say they're willing to provide personal information in exchange for a truly personalized customer experience, businesses should be taking advantage.

The data is out there, and so are the means to analyze it and to put it into practice.

Timing Matters

The study also analyzed what time of day the companies were sending their emails. Everybody checks their email all the time now, as most of us in the business world regrettably know well. In the larger population, men check their email about 8X a day, whereas women check theirs 7X. Crucially, though, 62% of people will only click through an email during one hour of their day.

When exactly that hour occurs is different for everybody, but it means that email sent times are extremely important. Hit the magic hour, and you're in. And yet only 5% of the companies analyzed changed their email send times based on the first time a customer opened an email from that business.

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If you think about it, the art of effective personalization is pretty simple. People want you to know their name and what they like, and they want to talk when it's most convenient for them. Get all that right, and you may be well on your way to increasing sales.

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Why Your Email Marketing Needs to Get Personal

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image of Erik Severinghaus

Erik Severinghaus is the founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance, a provider of personalized marketing communication solutions.

LinkedIn: Erik Severinghaus