Affectionate Segmentation

Building Community With Personalization

Matthew Vernhout believes a brand must exercise a sense of balance when building and sustaining a relationship with its community. One of the driving tenets in community building is creating a positive bond within the marketplace. That positiveness can be achieved through having the right mix of personalization. Too much personalization can seem like an invasion of privacy and border on creepiness, while not enough and the community is left feeling like the message is too generic and not relevant. Vernhout, VP of Deliverability for industry-leading multichannel marketing technology company Netcore Cloud, spends his days driving the company’s industry-defining standards of email deliverability, privacy, compliance, and consulting practices. With nearly two decades of experience, he understands the importance of delivering messages that are relevant to the community you are trying to build. He knows that building that affectionate segmentation matters.

“Personalized messages can be extremely simple or complex—each has advantages and drawbacks,” Vernhout says. “Simple examples could be reformatting a message’s layout to showcase it better or creative ways to grab consumer eyeballs. For a publisher, it could be as simple as placing it as the first story in your messages as part of the most read section by that user (e.g., sports, business). An airline could collect the top five locations a recipient plans to travel to and send weekly pricing and deals focused on that individual’s destination wish list or tailor a message to promote an upcoming destination.”

In the end, the goal is simple: to become a reliable source for relevant information to the recipient and prove that your messaging provides the best experience to the end-user and builds a relationship over time that makes your brand part of an individual’s daily routine. As a marketer, Vernhout says some of the best feedback is when your customer notices your messages are missing from their inbox. “Whether it has been delayed, you skipped a day or it failed to deliver, hearing your consumer ask, ‘Where’s my message?’ is a ringing endorsement of the trust you’ve built with your consumers.”



In the highly competitive higher education landscape, building a community of prospective and existing students means striking a balance between offering a curriculum that can help meet personal goals while showing how a school cares about the students personally.

Shelly Heinrich, Associate Dean, MBA and MS-ESM Admissions, and Director of Marketing at the Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business, says crafting that kind of personalization is critical. “There are many choices for graduate degrees from well-established institutions. There is also so much information out there that we receive from customers telling us their desired outcomes of a graduate management degree. So, if we can tailor our communication to people, we show that we care about them individually—that they aren’t just another student—that builds trust with them.”

Similar to the way any brand approaches the process, Georgetown University sets out to learn a student’s interests and affiliations (post-MBA, affinity and social). Next, it sends an email tailored to this interest showcasing the various opportunities the school has (clubs, events, scholarships). The move helps facilitate a connection with a student, alumni or McDonough staff member working with that curricular/ co-curricular area of interest. The final step is to extend an invitation to relevant events.

“There are so many different opportunities that one can participate in within an MBA degree program,” Heinrich says. “There are multiple electives, career paths, and co-curricular opportunities. If we know someone is interested in a certain career path, we can tailor our marketing efforts to them by segmented emails about opportunities within their career path. We can have students or alumni from their intended degree or area connect with them and we can also create and tailor events just for their interests.”



After a number of trial and error campaigns for a specific services client, Rhythm Communications decided to hire a data analyst to help refine its market pitch to a much more narrow segment. But CMO and Managing Partner Amy Woodward Parrish had some reservations. She was concerned it would limit their opportunity.

After 12 months of focused efforts, what Parrish and her team discovered was electrifying. The program not only delivered personalized service features to a narrowed segment, but also demonstrated that the brand (and Rhythm Communications) had a better understanding of the consumer’s needs. Even better, the client’s revenues grew by 75%.

Today, as part of its planning efforts with each client, the Rhythm The communications’ team begins each conversation with data analytics and partners with data analysts to dive even deeper—information like where they live, what they read, what they watch and what they purchase. When you are able to acquire that kind of data, Parrish says you can develop relevant visual, verbal and written messaging—campaigns that can help leverage two or more traditional marketing channels that deliver the personalized campaign elements that bring it home for the individual consumer.

“We believe in the power of personalization, especially employing an integrated traditional marketing strategy through public relations, direct marketing and digital advertising, overlaid by a one-to-one marketing strategy,” Parrish says.

And it is no wonder. Today’s consumers are becoming more attached to products or experiences that are created specifically for them. According to Twilio Segment’s “The State of Personalization” report, brands can choose between two options: personalize or perish. In the wake of the pandemic, digital technology has set new expectations and realities. Businesses must adapt, or customers will walk away and support their competition.

The report says that while offering personalized digital experiences used to be a nice-to-have, they now are essential. Both brands and consumers agree, with 75% of brands emphasizing personalization as table stakes, while more than half of consumers say personalization improves the customer experience.

“Personalization matters more today than ever,” Parrish says. “It allows for big picture messaging to be communicated and reinforced in the market at large, then tailored per consumer to make the messaging personal to one’s needs/ wants. Surprisingly, this mix allows for more manageable budgets for overall campaigns because they are more effective and require less time for impact.”

In the end, building that bond with your customers—and finding more and more ways to strengthen your relationship—is critical in a landscape where people find trust and support in communities




Personalization requires starting simple and testing, and then iterating and building on your program’s complexity. Matthew Vernhout, VP of Deliverability for Netcore Cloud, says part of building a robust personalized experience for users is determining what you want to accomplish with personalization and the data required to make that a reality. For example, adding the local weather to your messages requires knowing where the consumer is, just like sending a birthday message needs for you to know the date. Here’s a 5-step plan to get you started:

❱ STEP 1: Identify your goal and purpose of personalization (hypothesis)
❱ STEP 2: Do you have the data required, or know how will you collect the data?
❱ STEP 3: Introduce personalization into your messaging
❱ STEP 4: Measure for changes, adjust and re-measure
❱ STEP 5: Iterate, repeat with another personalization data point

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