My Name Is Loren. BTW, I'm A 'He'

Hi, I'm Loren McDonald, and I'm a "he." You might not know that, though, by looking at the mail in my mailbox and messages in my email inbox.

While I've never done an actual audit of my mail, I'm guessing that when a gender is inferred (e.g., Mr. or Mrs. Loren McDonald), one-third to one-half of my mail assumes that Loren is a female. (BTW, generally, "Loren" is the masculine spelling and "Lauren" the feminine spelling.)

Similarly, my wife surprises people all the time when she meets them in person the first time after previously speaking with them only on the phone.

She often sees quite the look of astonishment when people discover that she is a tall, black-haired Chinese woman, not a blonde or brunette Caucasian. Because her last name is McDonald, many people simply make several assumptions. Being Asian is typically not one of them.

Finally, as you read this, many of you are saying to yourself, "Loren, you fine Irish lad, whatever is your point?" Well, that's another assumption.



Actually, I'm three-quarters Swedish and one-quarter Lithuanian. Not a touch of Irish in my genes. And yet, I get Irish references to my heritage all the time.

As humans and as marketers, we have to remember that it's dangerous to make assumptions about people. Imposing your own stereotypes and assumptions on people in your database or communications programs is a very bad habit.

The downside of wrong assumptions about your customers and prospects goes beyond potentially annoying them and even hurting your brand. It can also hurt your bottom line by continually sending subscribers offers and communications based on "bad" data -- or, almost worse yet, no data.

As marketers, we obviously have to make some assumptions about people in our database. If you sell mountain-biking equipment, it is probably a fair assumption that someone who opts in to your program is interested in mountain biking.

If you sell winter sports equipment, and someone's first purchase is a snowboard and boots, you might logically conclude he or she is a snowboarder and not a downhill skier. You might be correct, but, of course, the purchase could have been for a spouse, child or friend.

So, how can you avoid or minimize potentially embarrassing and costly mistakes by assuming the wrong things about your customers and subscribers?

Here are a few tips:

Capture basic data: I recently received an email promoting engagement rings from the most respected brand in jewelry. Sorry, folks, but I've been married for 26 years and have no use for an engagement ring. This kind of gaffe caused by a lazy approach to marketing could be rectified simply by collecting 3-4 demographics during opt-in.

Capture the right data out of the gate: If you sell men's and women's apparel, capture gender. If your core offerings are downhill skis and snowboards, capture subscriber preferences.  These baseline demographics and preferences can be overlaid with behavior and purchase data later on to create a more accurate profile.

Don't make careless assumptions: A client of ours sells maternity and post-maternity clothing online. As part of the registration process, it captures the baby's expected birth date.

You might think this would trigger a "Congratulations on Your New Baby" email as part of the cross-sell transition to post-maternity clothing. But, because not every pregnancy ends in a birth, this client refrains from sending a potentially poorly timed or hurtful email message.

Instead, it bases its post-maternity transition emails on actual purchases.

Use preference centers: While most marketers will tell you that behavior trumps preferences, capturing a customer's basic interests and preferences enable you to increase potential conversions simply by being more relevant and timely with your message.

Capture additional information during purchase/conversion activities: Add a field to your purchase form that indicates whether the purchase is a gift or for buyers themselves. If it's a gift, invite the buyer to fill out his or her own preference list.

Please share below the worst assumptions you've made as a marketer or seen in email sent to you, or approaches you take to create a more accurate subscriber profile.

17 comments about "My Name Is Loren. BTW, I'm A 'He'".
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  1. Casey Fitzsimmons from iProspect, October 8, 2009 at 12:17 p.m.

    I can't tell you how many emails I've received to "Mr Casey Williams". Casey is a gender neutral name, and I'm female. Any company that addresses me as "Mr" (CVS, this means you!) immediately leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Not exactly the brand experience you'd hope for as a marketer.

  2. Loren Mckechnie from Move, INC, October 8, 2009 at 12:24 p.m.

    Loren, I "feel your confusion" as my name is Loren, as well. But in addition my girlfriends name is Sydney. Interesting to get the confusion on both sides of the gender fence.

    By the way, your name McDonald is most likely Scottish in origin. I know, as my name is McKechnie, which is a sept of the clan McDonald, the largest clan in the history of Scotland. But there I go, with my stereo-types!

    Great article!

    Loren McKechnie
    Move Inc.
    Associate Marketing Manager of SEO/SEM

  3. Stacey Marmolejo, October 8, 2009 at 12:39 p.m.

    My ex-husband is Hispanic. I kept his name. I receive all kinds of direct mail and email solicitations in Spanish.

    Add to that the insulting nature of many of the offers - directed at "people of modest means" - which suggests the marketer is making the assumption that because I'm hispanic I don't make much money.

    On top of that most marketers also assume I'm male.

    Hey marketers - You're completely missing the mark with me. I'm a highly educated, white female. And even if I was Hispanic there's no guarantee that I would read Spanish.

    Great article Loren.

  4. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, October 8, 2009 at 12:44 p.m.

    My name is gender-neutral. I have a deep voice. I'm called "Mister" all the time on the phone and in email - no one makes that mistake in person, luckily. The confusion even reached comic-opera levels when I was arrested in passport control in Saudi because the TV network I worked for at the time forgot to tell the Saudi wallahs I was a girl.

    Doubt that the Saudis care about their brand, but every other group that's called me "Sir" or "Mister" has either severely compromised the relationship, or lost me completely.

    Great tips, Loren - particularly your example re careless assumptions.

    Casey Quinlan - Mighty Mouth - Mighty Casey Media

  5. Steve Coppola from Lewis J. Advertising, October 8, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    Loren, in your last recommendation, you say, "If it's a gift, invite the buyer to fill out his or her own preference list." Do you mean Preference Center settings? Can you please clarify? Thanks.

  6. Frances Dugan from Permanent General Companies, Inc., October 8, 2009 at 1:01 p.m.

    Great article Loren. It is a shame that so many marketers rely on assumptions to make up for lack of data, when data collection on the front end is so easy.

    I get the same thing with my name even though "Frances" is the feminine spelling and "Francis" the masculine spelling.

  7. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, October 8, 2009 at 1:51 p.m.

    This reminds me of a mailing from Staples to our office manager a few years ago, Geoff Norman, addressed to "Mrs Jeff Dorman". Classic. So many things are wrong that I wouldn't know where to begin.nWe laughed and laughed about that one, and still can't figure out how it occured other than pure incompetent human error. And to this day I will always think of that when I think of Staples.

  8. Mai Kok from So What, October 8, 2009 at 2:14 p.m.

    Having been on the sales side of receiving gender-neutral and unusual names, I know and understand the frustration you all are talking about. I learned very quickly when making sales calls and following up leads to be careful with the name. If a name looks gender neutral, I usually call and ask for the name. For instance if the name is "Stacey", I will call and ask for Stacey and keep asking for Stacey until I get confirmation about whether Stacey is male or female.

    I once spoke with a woman whose last name was Thompson. I heard, what I thought, was a hispanic accent. Not in intonation or even in rhythm, more of a struggle with pacing and speech pattern. But anyway - when I finally met her, she turned out to be this beautiful, dark-skinned Jamaican woman (with a modelesque body to boot). That's when I learned about Jamaican accents. That's also when I learned to not assume but to ask instead. How do I ask? I build rapport with them, some banter, ask them other questions and when they seem charmed enough, I ask them about their accent or their name or whatever.

  9. Louise Quigley, October 8, 2009 at 3:18 p.m.

    Great article Loren. There are about 20 people I need to forward it to. I'm amazed how many assumptions are made in the name of communication "personalization." I have a name that only the 70 year plus crowd seems to appreciate (sorry to stereotype!). People see "Louise" in writing and pronounce it as "Louis" that's (loo-is). Even if I'm standing there. Have you ever met a woman named Louis??? And no, I could not be confused for a man in person. As a direct marketer, I register for communications from other companies all the time. I'm amazed how many times I'm addressed as "Mr. Quigley." I even have registered subscriptions under the name "Louise" only to be addressed as "Louis" in the follow up communication. I guess I need to be corrected on the spelling of my own name.

  10. Brynn Palmer from Customer Experience Doctor, October 8, 2009 at 5:08 p.m.

    I am a female named Brynn (bren), however, I will respond to: Mr. Brian, Bryan, Byron, Brim and Berm

    Your article is timely given the trend towards unique and less traditional names. It also made me chuckle as I reflected on the time I was incorrectly assigned to the "boys" cabin as summer camp...I was redirected but the shock and horror of the camp staff was priceless.

    Brynn Palmer

  11. Liz Harney from Engaging Media, Inc., October 8, 2009 at 5:31 p.m.

    My first name almost never gets mistaken or mispronounced, however I have dealt with grief over my last name since I can remember. My last name of "Harney" has been misspelled in many embarrassing ways, worst of which you can probably guess - Horny. Other, less insulting spellings have been Hamey, Homey, Hamy and many others. It always amazes me that when people write, or even speak your name, that they don't take an extra half-second to proof what they are about to say/write. To me, an incorrect spelling of my name means one of two things. Either I am receiving a mass mailing and the business simply didn't have the time to proof their envelopes, or the person addressing me doesn't truly care about me. Either way, it is a major turn off when someone who is just getting to know me can't even take the time to get my name right.

  12. Jalee Smothers from WXXV-TV MORRIS MULTIMEDIA, October 8, 2009 at 6:03 p.m.

    Loren, It's not only gender. My mother gave me the name Jalee from a mix of my grandparents names.

    I am a white female and moved from Arkansas to Alabama. I immediately started getting direct mail targeted to African Americans. I now live in Mississippi and still get the same type of direct mail and people actually tell me they thought I was Black when they meet me in person and see I am not.

  13. Steen Knigge from Berard Associates, October 8, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    While I'm not being gender-confused by people, they do have a puzzled look when they see my last name, Knigge, and try to pronounce it. "mr. uhhmmmm??" and then they proceed to call me by my first name instead, oftentimes calling me Steve. Doesn't really bother me, except when I try to use my name as a username online and the built-in obscenity filter rejects it!! Well well, i do understand...

    PS: It is pronounced with a hard K

  14. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, October 8, 2009 at 6:45 p.m.

    Wow! Thanks everyone for all of your personal stories and experiences - I had no idea this would resonate with so many people. Clearly, many direct and email marketers are making a number of false assumptions about who we are.

    Steve, in response to your question - no I was speaking more to idea of asking a customer during the purchase process if the item(s) they were purchasing was a gift for someone else, or for themself.

  15. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, October 8, 2009 at 9:47 p.m.

    This reminds me of some interesting correspondence I saw once a very long time ago. I was working for Jerry Della Femina. The agency's full name was Della Femina, Travisano & Partners. Sure enough, one day a letter comes in addressed like this:

    Della Femina
    Travisano & Partners
    Dear Della;

    And you think you get junk mail...

  16. Loretta Poggio from Ethnic Technologies, October 12, 2009 at 1:41 p.m.

    You have touched on a subject that our company confronts each day: how to correctly identify names by gender and ethnicity. Our June blogs mirrors some of your concerns. Below is the link:

  17. Arthur Einstein from Loyalty Builders, December 16, 2009 at 2:51 p.m.

    These assumptions, misclassifications, prejudices don't just happen in email. It happens in restaurants, stores, car dealerships. A good Porsche salesman told me once that he never makes assumptions about walk-in's based on looks, attire, etc.

    I saved bushels of mail that came to my dad years after he'd died.

    BTW, my name is Einstein and I'm not that smart - but I'd love to have a dime for every time I've been asked if I'm good at math :)

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