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5 Email Personalization Tricks to Increase Engagement (and How to Do It with Liquid)

It feels pretty nice to be recognized when you walk into a shop, doesn’t it?

The barista who remembers your name and your usual order. The cashier who thinks to tell you about a new product he knows you’ll like. The hardware store clerk who asks about your kids.

Many of us are used to shopping anonymously. But when a salesperson offers us a personalized experience based on our interests, it not only feels good, it also makes us more likely to buy, as numerous statistics attest.

As a marketer, you’re probably already soaking up as much information about your audience as possible. And you’d love to be able to act on that information with sophisticated email personalization (and get increased open rates, clickthroughs, and sales).

But how do you actually do that?

It’s easier than many people think. In fact, when I started using Drip, I was surprised at how straightforward email personalization can be—no artificial intelligence or human programming skills needed.

It all starts with one tool that’s built right into Drip: Liquid. You can use this with every Drip plan, even the free-forever option.

Click Here to Start Creating Personalized Emails Free

Not too many email marketing automation tools use Liquid yet, so you’re not out of the loop if you’ve never heard of it. Fortunately, once you understand the basics it’s extremely easy to put into practice.

So let’s look at the basics, then turn that knowledge into world-class email personalization.

What Is Liquid and How Does It Work?

Liquid is a templating language built by the ecommerce platform Shopify.

“Templating language” may sound a bit esoteric, but it really just refers to a set of conventions that can be used to generate dynamic content on the web.

Dynamic content like personalized emails, for instance. While there are a lot of things you can do with Liquid, here I’m going to specifically focus on how you can use it to give each of your email subscribers a custom experience.

There are three different kinds of elements within Liquid:

  1. Objects: These elements directly pull content from a database into your emails. Examples of objects include a subscriber’s name, address, or time zone.
  2. Tags: These supply the logic that lets you display different content based on conditions your subscribers meet or don’t meet—think of them as little if/then rules you embed in your emails. These aren’t the same as Drip tags, but you can use them with Drip tags to send different content to different segments.
  3. Filters: Filters allow you to display information that may change by send time or subscriber. For instance, you can use filters to indicate default text that’ll display if a subscriber’s record doesn’t contain the field you want to use, or to add dates and times to your email.

If those seem hard to keep straight, don’t worry. It’s not super important that you memorize the distinctions between these different kinds of elements—you can mentally refer to the ones you use as “the thing that adds the subscriber’s name” or “the dynamic text snippet” if you want.

And if you’re a Drip user, you can always see a list of popular Liquid shortcodes simply by clicking “View Shortcodes” in the top bar of the email editor.

Click Here to Start Creating Personalized Emails Free

But where Liquid really comes alive is in practical email personalization. So let’s look at some places where personalization can really boost engagement.

1. Use Names Correctly and Powerfully

A good email campaign should do exactly what a good salesperson does.

It should …

  • Listen intently to what a prospect says
  • Pick up on buying signals
  • Direct the conversation toward the prospect’s goals
  • Respond with relevant advice and counsel

It’s just Sales 101 to call your prospects by their names throughout this process. And as common as this tactic is, it’s still getting results: as recently as December 2015, VentureBeat found that 91% of email marketers reported improved open and clickthrough rates from email personalization.

But I bet you’ve also seen this go wrong. Who hasn’t received at least one marketing email starting with just “Dear,” or, worse, “Hello, FIRSTNAME!”?

Never fear—avoiding personalization mishaps is also easy with Drip. Check out this video for a simple example of failure-proof personalization in action:


To recap: to insert custom fields directly into an email, just enter the corresponding Liquid object—in this case, {{ }}—where you’d like that field to appear in your email.

Next step: set a default value in case a subscriber field is blank. For instance, we typically find that opt-in rates are higher when you ask for only an email address, so many of our contacts might not have first names attached. We’ll do that by adding a default filter.

For example, if you enter:

Hello, {{ | default: “friend” }}!

… a subscriber with a “name” field set to “John” will see this:

Hello, John!

… and a subscriber whose name you don’t know will receive this:

Hello, friend!

Things are looking good.

But what if some of your subscribers weren’t particularly careful when they entered their name? What if they typed in “john” or “JOHN” or “jOHN”?

Drip can fix that, too. In this case, you’ll use a Liquid filter inside an automation rule to correct the case of any name (or any other field) entered into one of your forms. Just set up an automation rule like this:

This way, when you pull the subscriber’s name into an email using Liquid later, you won’t show your hand by carrying forward their rushed typing.

2. Create Urgency by Adding Dates and Times to Emails

There are a number of Liquid shortcodes that will allow you to personalize your emails when it comes to timing.

This especially comes in handy when you want to drive up engagement with urgency. You can use dates and times in a number of ways, but here are a few favorites.

Get subscribers excited for the next installment of your mini course. If you have an an automated email course subscribers can opt into at any time, you constantly have people joining and completing your course. With Liquid, you can still drive urgency with dates that are specific to each subscriber.

Simply use the shortcode below to insert the date and time at which a subscriber will receive the next email in the campaign:

{{ campaign.next_email_send_at }}

This could translate into email content that looks something like:

Personally, I think the next lesson is the most valuable one in this course. Watch for it this Thursday, December 1, at 9 a.m.

Set different deadlines for subscribers depending on when they opt in. You can use this tactic to build on the previous one.

If you have a free mini course, you’re probably using it to build toward a paid offer—which can be extremely effective.

However, there are two little bits of human nature that may prevent you from closing as many sales as you could: indecision and forgetfulness.

As a customer, it’s all too easy to let an appealing offer sit in your email until you feel ready to pull out your credit card and buy. And it’s just as easy to let it sink to the bottom of your inbox over time.

So, even if there’s no concrete deadline for your offer, you can create one. Try giving course subscribers only two days, a week, or whatever timeframe you think best to get in on your offer, and force a decision.

Just add a date filter that looks like this:

{{ now | timestamp | plus: 604800 }}

That big number at the end is simply the number of seconds in seven days—so adjust this by choosing the number of days till your “deadline” and multiplying to find the correct number of seconds.

Sync your emails with evergreen countdowns. If you use an evergreen countdown timer tool (like the one that comes with Leadpages), you can keep a highly urgent offer going indefinitely as new people discover the page. Add in Drip, and you can drive people to your evergreen offer indefinitely, too.

Using Liquid dynamic date filters, you can send not just one but a series of emails that remind people how long they have before their own personal offer expires. Click here for a step by step guide to setting up an evergreen-countdown email workflow.

3. Use Subscriber Tags to Serve Personal CTAs (Even in Broadcast Emails)

Subscriber tags offer a more granular way to personalize your email content. You can tag subscribers based on their actions (such as visiting a page on your website, clicking a link in an email, making a purchase, or any other custom event), and then write emails with variable content that will only appear to recipients with the right tags.

This will save you a lot of time because in many situations, instead of segmenting your list and creating unique workflows and emails for all of your subscribers with different tags, you only have to write one email (or a series) using Liquid shortcodes and dynamic copy.

We use this tactic at Drip all the time. For instance, our blog subscription list contains both customers and non-customers. To make sure the latter group has an opportunity to give Drip a try, we can simply add the following P.S. to blog update emails:

{% unless subscriber.tags contains “Started a trial” %}P.S. If you haven’t yet tried marketing automation with Drip, you should get started with 100 free subscribers by following this link. {% endunless %}

This way, people who have already started a trial won’t be distracted by calls to action that don’t apply to them.

4. Change Your Positioning Based on Customers’ Interests

Once you’ve started dabbling in email personalization with first names, timeframes, and other dynamic content insertion, there are many ways to get more advanced.

Consider personalizing email content based on the information you have about what a user recently purchased or did on your website.

Let’s say you collect leads by offering several free ebooks on different topics that relate to different customer goals. Rather than devise different angles to reach these different customers with your next big promotion, you could simply use Liquid to tweak one email. Like this:

While people who downloaded your Beach Fitness book see the content outlined in orange, the marathoners see the content outlined in blue.

You could create a similarly structured email for any business. In an ecommerce business, for example, you might use Liquid tags to suggest related products for purchase or offer discounts to a certain customer segment.

5. Test Personalized Subject Lines

There are few universal truths in email personalization.

Take subject line personalization. Check out the studies on this topic, and you’ll come away more confused than ever about whether you should add first names to your emails.

In cases like these, where so much depends on your industry and your audience, there’s just one solution: run a test of your own.

You can split test the subject line in any Drip campaign to see which style—personalized or one-size-fits-all—works best for your audience. Just set it up like this:

It’s time to start modifying your email content based on everything you know about your subscribers’ history, wants, and needs—and watch your open rates and conversion rates climb.

These five tactics should give you a good start. When you’re ready to dream up your own personalized campaigns, just log into Drip and start exploring.

Click Here to Start Creating Personalized Emails Free

What kind of personalization opportunities can you see in your business? Share or ask for suggestions in the comments.