Are your personalisation efforts CRISP?


Just this week I saw yet another of those consumer surveys about email marketing commissioned by a tech vendor.

Inside there were lots of obvious things that come from leading questions (like ‘Would you like less or more marketing emails in 2024?’. Phrased like that how do you think they’d respond?

The wider purpose of this survey was to talk about personalisation & relevancy in marketing campaigns.

54% cited relevance as the primary reason for opening an email.

Yet then this piece goes on to talk about personalisation separately to relevancy and leads to conclusions & recommendations that invariably seem closely aligned to the feature set of the vendor (Who would have thought that when they started reading it?).

In this list at number 2 was ‘Implement Real-Time Personalization’.

As someone who has spent 20+ years mastering personalisation this annoys me. This has promoted personalisation as a checkbox exercise or something that can be boiled down into simple pieces of tech that solve the problem.

I cringe when I see ‘best practice’ articles that equate personalisation to a series of features such as ‘Dynamic Content Rules’ or ‘Behavioural Triggers’.

Sure, technology is vital here but it’s not where we should start. And we shouldn’t be constrained in our thinking and goals for personalisation by what tech we have in front of us.

And most of all I’m annoyed because there seems to be this confusion between relevancy and personalisation.

Personalisation does not automatically mean relevancy.

And to achieve relevancy doesn’t necessarily require personalisation.

Let’s use 2 examples.

First, I’m a customer of a fashion retailer I tend to shop with. They send me an offer for 20% over the next 3 days. It’s the same message to everyone on the database. But it’s still relevant even though it wasn’t personalised.

Example 2 might be a footwear retailer that I’ve just bought a pair of work shoes for. They’ve sent me a personalised email with more work shoes in. But I don’t want any more work shoes, I’ve just bought some you idiots! So, you can see how that isn’t relevant.

Instead, if they’d worked with the data properly, and analysed what types of shoes I’m most likely to buy next, they could have sent me some actual relevant suggestions of other styles, perhaps based upon similar attributes like brand, price point, style or colours. That would have more chance of being relevant.

Doing personalisation for the sake of personalisation means it will fall short of creating the impact you need. And that will waste resources, but also damage confidence in personalisation as a strategy to pursue and invest in.

That is why we created a little mnemonic of C.R.I.S.P. to help marketers think about the standard of relevancy they need to achieve in advance to avoid this and other pitfalls. (We also created it as I’m slightly addicted to mnemonics.)

We use C.R.I.S.P. to give our clients a framework for critically thinking about their personalisation ideas. It gets them thinking about what these pitfalls are and provokes discussion within the teams about the direction they should take, and where not to cut corners just to ‘keep it simple’.

There is no point implementing personalisation if you won’t see the big rewards.

Here is a breakdown of each point:


Does the personalisation make your email more persuasive? If we think about why the personalisation is in the email, then it should fit into at least one of Cialdini’s ‘Principles of Persuasion’.

2 quick examples from the top of my head:

TV shopping channel that sends the email from the customers favourite presenter fits under the liking and expert principles.

Thinking about ‘commitment and consistency’ those ‘if you liked this, you’ll love this’ product recommendation sections.


Personalisation projects are hard. So you shouldn’t focus on creating things that will only get used once. Often marketers break down personalisation into smaller easy to achieve goals – but that often leads to finding you’ve built something that can’t be used across all types of emails.

Instead think about how you could leverage all of that data setup to utilise it across other areas at the very start to avoid hitting a dead end later on.


Personalisation isn’t a checkbox exercise so just dropping a block of product recommendations 2/3 down your email isn’t going to do anything.

If you are going to do it, make it front and centre of your campaign.


Like the idea that you want your personalisation to be recyclable across many campaigns, you also want to leverage it against the biggest audience.

Some of the most popular and obvious personalisation tactics fall foul of this – little triggers that reach a handful of people every week such as cart abandonment or next purchase emails. While they might get good results (we will leave the argument about incrementality to another day) imagine what you’d get if you manage to develop personalisation in those 3x full database sends every week, rather than the few thousand trigger messages that get sent?


Is your personalisation that much different from the generic version you’d use?

I’m having this debate now with a client who is changing subtle elements in the imagery and a few phrases based upon industry sector. You have to look hard to notice the difference, and as most emails are scanned, I doubt the customers will notice.

Final points

In conclusion, the landscape of personalization in marketing is often muddled with misconceptions and misinterpretations. While surveys and studies emphasize the importance of relevance, the practical application of personalization sometimes misses the mark. Too often, personalization is reduced to a mere checklist of technological features, disregarding its true essence and potential impact.

The confusion between personalization and relevancy is evident. Personalization does not automatically guarantee relevancy, and achieving relevancy does not always require personalization. The key lies in understanding your audience and delivering content that truly resonates with them.

mustafa bashari S4PC4SeKwKg unsplash 600Photo by Mustafa Bashari on Unsplash