Who, Me? Using The Person's Name In The Subject Line Boosts Clicks, Study Finds

Here’s a surefire way to break through inbox clutter: Put the person’s name in the subject line. That tactic will boost clicks even when the content is “not particularly informative,” according to research conducted by a team of academics, as summarized by the Chicago Booth Review.

Excuse us, but that statement seems to defy all known logic about email personalization.  

The research was conducted by Stanford University’s Navdeep S. Sahni and S. Christian Wheeler and Chicago Booth’s Pradeep K. Chintagunta.     
That team tested emails from a major online test-preparation company, MercadoLibre, a Latin American online marketplace, and Stanford University. They split the emails between those personalized with the person’s name in the subject line and those that were not.



It’s not clear whether this personalization consisted of first names, last names, nicknames and suffixes. But here are the results.

Putting the name in ““increased the probability of the addressee opening the email by 20 percent, from about 9 percent to about 11 percent of emails,” Chicago Booth Review reports.

In addition, this maneuver drove a 30% boost in sales leads valued at $100 apiece. And there was a 17% decrease in unsubscribes. 

This practice also boosted engagement for MercadoLibre and Stanford.

Here’s one caveat: Discounts only worked when the email was personalized.

Here’s another: These findings are not necessarily supported by other research. 

For example, a InMoment study found that 75% of consumers find most forms of personalization at least somewhat creepy. And 22% will dump a brand after being creeped out. 

In addition, Adobe reports that almost one-fifth of consumers are turned off by the creep factor, a pertinent finding in an age when people are afraid of phishing attacks and identity theft.  

What bothers them the most? For 33%, annoyance builds when recommended items fail to match the person’s interests. And 17% are irritated when their name is misspelled. 

More importantly, when asked how they would change the emails they get from brands, 39% said they would “make them less about promotion and more about providing me information.” Moreover, 27% say they want content that’s better personalized to their interests.

These studies suggest that effective personalization starts with sending with relevant offers based on past behaviors — and with being informative. 

“People want to feel important and valued,” says Bridgette Darling, product marketing manager, Adobe Campaign. “It’s frustrating to receive batch-and-blast emails that haven’t been personalized based on their habits or interactions with you.”

Granted, comparing these results with those of the academic authors is comparing apples and oranges. So we’ll give that team the last word. 

“Our investigation of the mechanism shows that personalized content can be non-informative, but still be valuable in garnering a consumer’s interest and increasing the likelihood of her processing and responding to the rest of the advertising message,” the researchers write, per Chicago Booth Review.

1 comment about "Who, Me? Using The Person's Name In The Subject Line Boosts Clicks, Study Finds".
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  1. Phil Rubin from rDialogue, October 15, 2018 at 11:28 a.m.

    Personalization is only effective in the form of relevance.  Ray appropriately points this out but it's sadly staggering that in 2018 we are still talking about how to use data around "personalization" and that such elite institutions such as U of C and Standford are not only publishing this kind of research but doing it in the first place.  Then again, that's what makes a market, right?

    At some point marketers will learn that direct channels that are part of the broader customer experience are not for mass marketing.

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