Email tracking · Email Marketing

How to manage personalized emails sent to users?

Valerie Lanard Senior Software Engineering Manager at Salesforce

May 7th, 2014

I plan to send tailored emails to my users based on their usage of my video service (e.g. video recommendations personalized for them, requests to rate videos they've watched, etc). Does anyone have experience with this in terms of best practices they've determined, or do you know of any tools/products out there to support this?  Essentially, I want to track what's sent while preventing duplicates (e.g. recommending the same thing twice) and metering email frequency to not spam users.

I've checked out MailChimp, Mandrill, and SendGrid. They handle the sending, aspects of administration, and in Mailchimp's case, help with the layout. What they don't do, from what I see, is manage uniqueness on a user-personalized level, to prevent duplicates for instance. 

So many sites have this type of functionality, include FounderDating, I assumed it would be commoditized by now. :-) Background- I'm an engineer. If I build this from scratch I will presumably have to make a tracking mechanism for each type of email, storing frequency and key fields per email per sender, to use in preventing dupes. Seems like a lot of work if someone has already invented this wheel and it's a product. Or maybe duplicates are ok based on your experience?

I would appreciate any insights. Please do not send me offline bids for consulting work (as seems to be an increasing use of this forum).
 
Thanks!

Manny Acevedo Business Systems Analyst & Entrepreneur

May 8th, 2014

Hi Valerie I would highly suggest you look at GetResponse & Aweber. You can do what you want with them. They come right out and say they are all about email marketing . GR & Aweber allow you to fold spindle and mutilate your email marketing in many ways, especially split testing open rates & conversions. Aweber's blog used to have great info on getting started with email marketing. It's been a while since I've been there Mailchimp while good for building an initial list for no money ,was good for just sending out email. At one point they would ban you if you actually used their service for ....marketing! Go figure. I learned my lesson with them. Besides support issues, why would you ever email your customers other than marketing? Mailchimp just didn't get it then and I've never looked back. I've never used Sendgrid or Mandrill so I can't speak to them As an FYI: Any email service that does not have the words marketing & email, together, in big bold letters on their home page, is definite a pass. YMMV Manny

EM

May 7th, 2014

Solutions for what you want begin to get pricey quickly. There will of course be some integration into your own backend as only you can really know who has viewed what and what "personalized" means in the context of your business. Some solutions to check out:
a) intercom.io and customer.io (both fill a void between a full-on marketing automation suite and a bog-standard esp)
b) marketo & act-on (among others, these are the go-to marketing automation suites -- gets really expensive if you are using them for high-volume consumer messaging though)

These solutions are not priced for direct-to-consumer messaging at volume so caveat emptor.

The deeper the personalization goes, the more you likely it is that you will need to dynamically code the emails and manage deduplication within your app, and then use a standard ESP to deliver the emails for you. Email deliverability, list management and reporting is a pain so use Amazon SES or Sendgrid or Mailchimp or MadMimi (etc.....) to actually get them delivered and track everything.

 

Valerie Lanard Senior Software Engineering Manager at Salesforce

June 28th, 2014

Just looping back. I looked at a lot of these. None of them seem to do exactly what I was looking for, at least not explicitly or simply. I've ended up playing with Mailchimp & Mandrill, both great for different things.  As a developer, I like Mandrill for the very clear API to send transactional emails of the sort I mentioned. You can tag and set user metadata properties per email, so in theory you can look them up later by that metadata. While that is cool, it doesn't provide built-in threshold management (e.g how often to send emails to particular users), nor prevention of duplicate emails per user, etc. The onus is still on the sender for that...

For now, I'm using the Mandrill freemium services because they provide a bunch of sophisticated email benefits (using templates I have uploaded with user-specific sections that get customized per recipient), and I am tracking all the custom threshold & unique content combinations on my end. Still wish it were all in one...

Valerie Lanard Senior Software Engineering Manager at Salesforce

June 28th, 2014

Manny - to your point, 
There seem to be the 2 major camps of email services:
1. Marketing   (newsletter, promotion, whatever)
2. Transactions (customized per user, e.g. thank you for your order #12345, we recommend product xyz based on your last purchase)

Many businesses need both (I certainly do), some may get everything they need with #1.  :-)

Rob G

May 7th, 2014

Valerie, seems like this would fall more under CRM-type functionality.  have you researched CRM apps? this is something we will have to tackle eventually too so i'd be interested in the results of your analysis.  

Eugene Gekhter CEO, Memorable. Founder, SharePay.

May 7th, 2014

Not sure you will find an automated email solution with that specificity of customization (correct me if I'm wrong). If I were doing it I would create the schema for the application in a relational database, creating a flag (recommendation_sent) for videos that have already been recommended, and querying for videos with recommendation_sent = 0, and loading in the recommended video dynamically. 

Ashish Agarwal Mobile Lead + iOS Developer

May 7th, 2014

The last thing you would want to do is re-invent the wheel (i.e. make your own service). My personal favourite is Aweber which is similar to the services you mentioned but has better features to track the clicks that originate from the email. The main complaint for MailChimp (I've heard this from others) is a significant volume of emails tend to get filtered out as spam. Best of luck,Ashish

Elaine Russell Internet and E-commerce Entrepreneur; Founder at Heirlume; Product Enthusiast

May 7th, 2014

Simple Relevance does personalized emails and integrates with almost any backend you use. We have used them for a while and they have been great. Happy to make an intro to their team if it would be helpful (laura@simplerelevance.com is head of sales). 
Elaine
www.heirlume.co

Melissa Luther Freelance/Contract User Experience and Usability Consultant

May 7th, 2014

Have you looked into sales force? I'm fairly certain that it has the email functionality you are looking for. Sent from my iPhone

Dennis Loebs Founder at upStart Systems Corp.

May 7th, 2014

You might want to check out Contactually which is a relatively inexpensive CRM solution. Some aspects of it would probably frustrate your engineer side (it's not terribly polished), but with not too much work its pipeline, drip campaign, and "Program" features might be able to be configured accomplish your goal.

Best luck!
DL