Emerging TechTechnology Stack

Time to Get Personal

September 23, 2013

Create Personalized Email with our Activity Tracker Rails Gem and Mandrill from Mailchimp

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What’s so hard about personalized email?

Behavior-driven personalization of email (and just about anything else, like in-app notifications or text messages) isn’t easy for most applications today. In most cases, the  activity related data is locked away in an analytics application, while the actual content is located in a content management system or content repository. Marketers or Developers looking to send email based on user behavior on sites or in apps face a tough challenge. They need to track all behavior, then be able to query both content and user behavior data to dynamically create and then send a highly personalized 1 to 1 email, like the ones users love from Pinterest (example – pins you might love) or Twitter (example – people to follow). It’s a hard problem – and often a very expensive one –  to solve.

Or at least it used to be. So, how do you enable personalized email?

There are three main ingredients of the system that you’ll need to assemble – the Activity Tracker, your email platform, and your favorite flavor of Search Server.

First, let us introduce Activity Tracker. It’s a rails gem (free and released under MIT license) that makes it easy to bring together both behavioral analytics AND the content being accessed.  It solves the principal problem that prevents applications (sites, stores – everyone!) from sending highly personalized email . . . auto-magically.

How does Activity Tracker work?

Activity Tracker does what the name says – it tracks user activity on a variety of web platforms including your website, in emails, and on apps. This information is then stored in a central search server / repository (e.g., Elastic Search) that can be used to push out personalized experiences for its users. The tools used in the example below include Ruby on Rails, Analytics.js, Elastic Search, Email platform, and Javascript widgets. By bringing these elements together, developers can easily build personalized email content, dynamic web pages, widgets, browser notifications, and in app notifications that are specific to the user, resulting in higher click-through rates (and more purchases, more signups, more whatever).

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Next, it’s time you chose an email platform if you don’t have one already so that you can implement the Activity Tracker gem.

Third up, you’ll need to create a search server to store all of this user behavior analytics data and content. At Digital Scientists, we like Elastic Search, but we’ll leave that up to you.  This server will be the content repository that will serve up personalized content – fast. It will be queried independently to generate real-time personalized content that will, in turn, be used in email or personalized widgets.

Activity Tracker is a tool that developers can add onto Ruby on Rails applications to personalize user experiences.  The collected data is stored in the Elastic Search Index tied to the application and the application developer has complete control over the data.  Note that an appropriate privacy policy is required on the website, explaining what the user has control over and how the data will be used.  Here’s a good checklist of things to look out for in a privacy policy from Truste.

Case Study – Personalized Email on Rately

Rately is a site for creating stories or asking questions about stuff. Rately users grab content from ecommerce sites or really anywhere, assemble them into stories or questions, and then publish them in social media. As they continue to click through, save images, create lists, and generally just peruse the site, they will begin to receive highly personalized emails based on their behavior on the site.

For example, Activity Tracker knows that the user below searched for “modern, design, lighting, furniture, and fashion,” and sends the user recommendations based on these keywords that others using the app have rated up in those categories.  “Rating up” signals which products have the most positive buyer feedback or “likes” via the site.

Delivering personalized emails creates a better shopping experience, a higher click-thru rate, and an increased ROI.  Twitter, Fab.com, Pinterest, among others, have been wildly successful with this personalized approach, as well.

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Just about everyone prefers personalized, targeted content. With personalized email (and in general with a more personalized experience), the Activity Tracker can help your app, site, or store reduce email bounce rates, improve communication with customers, and generate more site traffic.  What’s not to like about that?

The best part? Activity Tracker is relatively easy for a developer or dev team to integrate into a business platform, is built for speed,  and can support a large number of simultaneous requests.  Visit the Activity Tracker gem on github to learn more.

 Activity Tracker GitHub repository is available here.