Today, an overstuffed email inbox is practically a given. So, it may seem a bit counter-intuitive that email remains one of the most effective marketing tools for your business. And, unlike some tactics, email marketing is popular and effective across demographics, even with millennials. Despite the fact that many of us complain about our glut of emails, Adobe found that Americans are practically addicted to it. We check our email around the clock no matter where we are or what we're doing.

While social media may be the marketing choice du jour, email is consumers' preferred means of communication with companies. Email is also more effective than social media, particularly for going beyond a casual connection and building a deeper customer relationship. In fact, digital marketers rank email among their top marketing tactics, with more than half calling it their most effective marketing tool.

So there's a clear case for making email communication a regular part of your marketing strategy, particularly if you are already creating content for a variety of channels and want to ensure that interested people actually read it. Yet--as with every marketing channel from magazines and television to social and SMS--it is essential that you find a way to rise above the noise.

Start with personalization. But this doesn't just mean inserting the name "John" after the greeting "Dear." All effective content marketing revolves around a clear understanding of your customers and putting their needs first--from content and format, to frequency and time of delivery. Email communication is no different.

Here are three things to think about in order to deliver an effective personalized email experience:

1. Let them drive. Given the inevitability of information overload, it isn't a big surprise that people like to have some say over what they read. A sophisticated approach could entail providing email subscribers with keyword-level control over what appears in the emails they receive. If you're just starting out or have limited resources, perhaps offer a choice of newsletters that are optimized for different audience segments.

Some other options to consider include control over frequency (daily, weekly) or optimal time of day for delivery (Night owl? Located on another coast? In another country?). Clearly provide the options you offer on the initial email sign-up form and include a reminder in every issue about the ways your subscribers can customize their email preferences. This can also be an effective way to retain subscribers.

2. Get to know them better. One thing that can be particularly challenging for personalization is having a lack of information about your subscribers. Maybe you've inherited a legacy list that only contains email addresses, and no other personal information or preferences about your subscribers. Creating opportunities for your readers to fill in the blanks about themselves will help you understand who your readers are and what they're looking for from your brand. You can do this by offering value-added information or research in exchange for a few more personal details such as their job title or industry.

However, even when you don't know everything about your readers, you can learn a lot about them through their behavior. A/B testing and analysis can give you insight into their preferences. Look at what links they clicked on in the email or whether or not they signed up for a special offer. This information can help you segment your list so that your future communications are even more targeted and valuable.

3. Be human. Unless you are a one-woman-show, your organization is likely represented as a "brand" rather than an individual. As is the case in social media, communicating as a brand presents challenges in an era of one-to-one communication. You can (somewhat) overcome this if you leverage what you know about their interests and create a sense of shared values and community when communicating with them.

If possible, make the human behind the communication visible and accessible via the return email address and contact information within the email. Consider using a more conversational tone and words like "I" and "we". Being a disembodied entity has little upside in most content-based communication.

Research has shown that people not only have a strong desire for control but also a distaste for information overload (particularly if it is irrelevant). Personalization offers a way to address both issues. It is also important to remember that personalization is more than a means to improve open rates and click-throughs. It makes your marketing useful. And useful content creates meaningful connections that will yield long-term success.

Published on: Mar 27, 2017