Relevancy vs. Personalisation – Why they are not the same

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Relevancy is a huge buzzword in the world of email, often interchanged with personalisation. Yet they are not the same thing, and this is really important for us email marketers to understand.

So what is the difference? Let’s look at some definitions.


To change or design (something) for a particular person.

So in an email context this could be as simple as using the persons name, or maybe including products from the category they previously purchased from.


Being applicable to the matter at hand.

If we again put this in relation to email there is a subtle difference that goes beyond personalisation – rather than including products from the category they previously purchased, we need to be thinking about including products they will be interested in buying next. It also doesn’t have to be personalised – it could simply be something the recipient finds valuable and important like a 20% discount off their next purchase, or a notification of your latest new products.

It really is a subtle difference, and quite pedantic to point this out but let’s explain why it is important.

If you focus purely on personalisation you can fall down in 2 areas.

Firstly, the good news is that to be relevant you don’t always need to have the ultimate personalised email – your customers, who like shopping with you will find valuable content such as your offers or top content naturally relevant. Focussing on making sure you provide value is the easiest place to start thinking about improving the relevance of your emails.

The second area where you can fall down is when implementing some basic personalisation such as showing 2 different hero images in your email based upon the customers gender. You might think that is enough and you are being relevant, however if none of the gender specific products you feature are of interest you are still not being relevant and will suffer the same long term issues that plague ‘batch and blast’ email strategies.

Relevancy goes beyond personalisation and includes a range of data points to make sure you home in on the right content. Here are some of the things to think about to make your emails relevant:


If you have captured the interests of a customer, either by their stated preferences or from observing what they view and buy you can use this to ensure everything matches these.



Let’s say on a clothing retailer website the customer is researching different winter jackets to buy. Reminding them about these via email and showing similar products is worthwhile while they make their purchase decision. But this strategy will only be relevant for a short period of time, while the intent to buy a winter jacket exists – after that sending more Winter Jackets is probably the last thing they want to see, especially if they have been reduced in a sale. Instead, focussing on further recommendations that are relevant for that season for that age and gender of the customer is more appropriate.


If the customer bought from you last week, should you be sending them an email to buy again? For some retailers this might be OK but for a holiday provider it clearly isn’t relevant. For retailers though it might be an opportunity to build upon that last purchase and ask for a review, or start making recommendations for their next purchase based upon what people who bought the same bought next.


A new buzzword out there in the email world is context targeting. What is around the customer at this moment in time? At the moment the 2 key factors marketers have realised they can leverage are the weather, and device. Is it raining in some customers areas? Choose the appropriate product for this, while others lucky enough to be opening the email somewhere sunny would get something to suit this. For device it usually is as simple as promoting your iPhone app on that device, and Android on these smartphones.


Knowing where a customer is enables you to think about their local stores, restaurants, airports or other important factors.

So from this you can see there is far more to being relevant than just personalisation.

And at Emailcenter we like to think we know a thing or two about making email campaigns relevant with our range of multi-award winning campaigns all based around improving relevancy. Talk to us to see how we can help you tackle the relevancy challenge.

About James Lucas

Former Senior Marketing Executive at Emailcenter UK Ltd, a leading provider of email marketing software and solutions.