I've received over 500 emails so far this year in which the subject line included my first name. "Morgan, Book Now & Save on Top Travel Deals" "Morgan - Congratulations! Your Nomination to Cambridge Who's Who!" "Morgan, Get Dad a 58" Samsung Widescreen."
Congratulations, you have a whiz-bang email tool with mail merge functionality. But it's no longer novel. The wow-factor has officially subsided for anything you could do on a Commodore 64.
When I see an email with my name in the subject line, my first thought is not "Phew! These guys know my name!" No, it's become a red flag for spam.
In fairness, it used to work. When I analyzed the use of name personalization in subject lines six years ago, there was a slight uptick in open rates for subject lines that contained a name personalization string. I looked again three years ago and there was no difference in open or click rates when name was included in the subject line. "Dear [First Name]," at the top of form letters had no impact on click-through or conversion rates. If I cared enough to look today, I suspect the results would be worse.
But why bother? First, there is the potential for mistakes. Some people, like me, make up names when forced to provide an email address. I did this with one company I suspected of having questionable privacy practices. Each email I receive from them starts, "Hi, GetSpammed!" reminding me I didn't trust them in the first place.
Of course, you can scrub the database for questionable names or profanity, but then there are still the issues pointed out by Loren McDonald in My Name is Loren. BTW, I'm A 'He', and you still need a default when you don't have the name on file. Has "Dear Valued Customer" ever made anyone feel like a valued customer?
Stop using my name in subject lines. Don't include my name at the top of your form letter. Neither have a meaningful impact. Yes, appropriate personalization can increase engagement, but relevance is the key. Personalization only matters if it helps me as a customer. Consider these quality examples:
1. Account Information: Mint.com sends me weekly emails with updates on all my financial accounts. While my name never appears in the company's email, it is still the most personal and relevant email I receive each week.
Many companies take advantage of this opportunity to personalize messages. Airlines and hotels send the status of my loyalty program accounts. Best Buy sends notifications about awards I have earned as a frequent shopper.
2. Location-Based: It's not hard to figure out where I live. Look at my transaction history and figure out which store I shop. Worst case? Ask. Subscribers are comfortable providing their zip code during registration.
There are many opportunities for location-based personalization. Golfsmith provides information on events at my local store. Scotts Miracle-Gro features lawn tips tailored to my local climate.
Still, most retailers don't include local store information. Instead, they go the "safe route" by including links to a store locator. Be bold. Include local information in the body of the email like Papa John's and Charles Schwab, who include local numbers so I can take immediate action.
3. Interest-Based: If I search for appliances, send me information on appliances. If I've downloaded a whitepaper on ecommerce security, send me information on ecommerce security. You've likely heard these examples before. The bottom line is that tailoring content based on the interests I've exhibited on your site is top-notch personalization that demonstrates class.
4. Triggered Messages: There are two main categories of triggered messages. First, there are messages that are triggered based on some activity I have recently performed. I abandon a shopping cart. I buy a camera without needed accessories. After I'd downloaded Dropbox, I got a short a series of emails on how to use the software. These messages are inherently personalized since they are based on something I just did.
Second, there are date-based triggers. This may be a birthday email, anniversary email, or a holiday email reminding me of something I purchased last year. In any case, these messages are tailored to me -- making them personal. And for those at risk of suffering mail-merge withdrawal, this is where using your customers' name makes some sense.
Just do your QA, so my card doesn't read, "Happy Birthday, GetSpammed!"
Disclosure: Best Buy, Papa John's and Scotts Miracle-Gro are ExactTarget clients.