Ask the E-mail Diva: Personalization

Dear E-mail Diva,

How critical is it to personalize subject lines and open messages with a first and/or last name? I have heard about personalization in many conferences and publications, but no one seems to have a clear answer or any unbiased studies concluded in this area. Does this technique help or hurt--and to what degree? Any numbers to reflect and address this question?


Dan Scott, Chief Marketing Officer, Scott Kay, Inc.


Dear Dan,

The E-mail Diva has done many tests on personalized subject lines and is happy to share the results with you. I have not done tests on a personalized salutation, e.g., "Dear Dan," but expect that the results would be similar. One's name is a touchstone. Your connection with it is deep and subconscious. We're not sure exactly why it works--well, surely some Ph.D. knows--but we know that it works.

One interesting phenomenon is that personalized subject lines may not only affect open rates, but click-through and conversion rates as well. It's counterintuitive: once the e-mail is open and the subject line forgotten, all recipients see the same e-mail and go to the same Web site. Why should there be a difference in response rates? I don't know, but I have seen the stats and heard similar findings at many conferences. Here are my results:

Cell

Open Rate

Lift

CTR

Test 1: Personalized

5.5%

 

2.5%

Test 1: Generic

4.0%

37.5%

1.7%

 

 

 

 

Test 2: Personalized

38.2%

 

15.6%

Test 2: Generic

28.3%

34.9%

10.9%

 

 

 

 

Test 3: Personalized

68.1%

 

 

Test 3: Generic

52.3%

30.2%

 

 

 

 

 

Test 4: Personalized

33.3%

 

9.8%

Test 4: Generic

28.3%

17.6%

8.1%

 

 

 

 

Test 5: Personalized

23.8%

 

10.9%

Test 5: Generic

21.9%

8.6%

9.5%

 

 

 

 

Test 6: Personalized

14.8%

 

 

Test 6: Generic

13.2%

12.1%

 

 

 

 

 

Test 7: Personalized

17.1%

 

 

Test 7: Generic

16.3%

4.9%

 

 

 

 

 

Test 8: Personalized

13.2%

 

 

Test 8: Generic

12.2%

8.2%

 

 

 

 

 

Test 9: Personalized

15.4%

10.0%

 

Test 9: Generic

14.0%

 

 

For Tests 1 - 3, the subject lines were different for the personalized and non-personalized versions. For the remaining tests, the subject lines were identical except for the recipient's name. In Test 2, we used both the recipient's name and state.

Beware of forcing personalization. Gratuitous personalization can make you sound like a huckster and detract from your message and your brand. Even though these results are pretty impressive, this client did not use personalized subject lines 100 percent of the time.

There are those who will tell you that open rates don't matter because a) they're unreliable due to image blocking and b) it's the desired action that counts. But although they are flawed, they are consistently flawed, so split test results are still valid. If you understand what drives opens, you'll have a larger pool to motivate to read, click or respond. Do some tests of your own and let me know what you find out.

Good luck!

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at emaildiva@kd-i.com. All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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