Personalized Emails 101: How to Get People to Actually Read Your Emails

These days, it takes a lot to get someone to open an email.

Product offers. Event reminders. Old colleagues and clubs and alumni newsletters. Emails flood inboxes and fight for supremacy—and at the end of the day, no one really wins anyway because most emails are either skimmed or barely read.

But if nobody wins, someone has to at least provide some value.

And nothing is more valuable to you than something made specifically for you.

An email subject line could literally be screaming at you about Company X’s awesome, life-changing service. Still, you’d probably sit there thinking, “so what?”

There’s a not-so-secret secret to figuring out what gets people’s attention. You’ve heard that humans are social animals, caring by nature, etc.

I think that above all those nice things, we’re selfish.


Inbound marketing has caught onto this selfishness thing—and has strategies to work with it.

What’s a personalized email?

Definition: An email is personalized when it uses data you’ve collected about your contacts to make the email fit their interests, pain points, and desires.

We use personalized emails all the time. There are lots of ways to approach them—but successful execution of email personalization requires these 3 steps at the baseline:

  • Segmentation
  • Personalization
  • Analysis

Step 1: Segment your contact list

Get ready for a big number: 77% of email marketing ROI comes from segmented campaigns.

Among those campaigns, the most effective ones use behavioural email—that means you’re sending automated, targeted emails based on historical interactions your contacts have had with your company.

Start the foundation for personalized emails by properly segmenting your lists.

Your content might be engaging and memorable, but if you’re boasting the newest features of your product to someone who’s never even heard of it—someone who will delete your email because they don’t care—you’re wasting your time.

To borrow a phrase, the right message, at the right time to the right people, matters more than anything in marketing.

Segment your lists by Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), then drill down further by filing them under the appropriate buyer personas.

Define your ICP with these categories:

  • Budget
  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Geography
  • Product or service limitations

If ICPs and personas are already engrained in your marketing strategy, this shouldn’t be difficult. Still, we recommend you revisit your personas. Ensure you thoroughly research and understand your targeted industries and job roles before you start segmenting.

Additional information you’ve gather from prospects—whether from heatmaps or form submissions—will help you to personalize the emails. So start digging.

Step 2: Use personalization tokens

You don’t start every real-life conversation with, “What’s up, friend and/or colleague and/or family member?” (Or, you might. I don’t know how you live your life.)


The most effective way to personalize your subject line is by adding your contact’s name to it.

With a personalization token in your subject line, emails stand out in people’s inboxes as special, custom-made material that might actually be relevant to them.

When an email is personalized, it should simulate a one-on-one experience for each of your contacts. They make customer experiences more memorable and satisfying.

And they’re 26% more likely to be opened.

Tools like HubSpot allow you to add personalization tokens to subject and preview text, as well as the body of your emails. To personalize even further, you can assign specific subject lines to specific lifecycle stages.

You may be tempted to start adding personalization tokens to all your subject lines now. Slow down, cowboy. Personalization takes more effort than that.

Clickable subject lines are sometimes friendly, sometimes urgent, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes terrifying. What do they all have in common?

They appeal to curiosity.

We advise that you use this tried-and-true method: create open loops with your subject lines. Come back when you figure out what an open loop is. We’ll wait.

Step 3: Study your buyer personas

In inbound marketing, every email is built for one person—rather, one persona. It’s tempting to make your content broader and vaguer to appeal to more people, because you’re not actually sending the email to just one person. 

You’re more likely to strike a chord with more people if you tailor email content to specific job roles, stresses and lifestyles. People are smart and can tell a mass email from a carefully crafted, personal one.

Step 4: Use that big brain to make smart content.

giphy-3-11Lucky for you, there are marketing automation tools with built-in features that make personalization easy.

Smart content helps you target your audience based on information you’ve already collected from contacts. Smart content includes:

  • Smart lists
  • Smart CTAs
  • Smart subject lines

In HubSpot, smart lists allow you to filter contacts. When selecting contacts to send an email to, you can filter your email lists by property. For example: if you only want to send an email blast to contacts in one city for an event happening in that city, you can target that city.

Smart CTAs recognize different lifecycle stages. This is instrumental—it means you can take your contacts from an email to a landing page that’s corresponds with their place in the buyer’s journey.

Smart lists can be created according to your audience’s location, referral source, device, deal stage, preferred language. HubSpot automatically recognizes if a contact is part of a HubSpot contact list already


All in all, email personalization can increase your open rates, convert leads into customers, and help you provide valuable content to your contacts.

Personalizing your campaigns is as easy as personalizing email with the HubSpot marketing tool. Thinking about using HubSpot, but not sure where to start the learning? Let us show you how.

Register for online workshop