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Personalized Emails
they're NOT a no-brainer
tedster




msg:637222
 11:41 am on Jul 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'd like to take a closer look at the idea of personalizing mass emails: using the person's name in the subject, the greeting, and/or the body copy.

The direct mail industry has seen great success with personalizing their pieces - so much so that DM mail shops have expensive laser divisions that add all kinds of personalized touches from a database after the basic print run is finished. Many people assume that this success in snail mail will automatically transfer to email marketing. But there are many reason that this may not be so...as well as the possibility that it may.

First, this is a technique and NOT really a relationship. It's an electronic database trick and almost everyone knows that.

In fact, using a personal name in the subject line may be a flashing beacon that says "WARNING - MARKETING MESSAGE INSIDE!" Why is that? Look at your inbox. If it looks like mine, your real friends do not use your name in the subject line - almost never.

Similarly, it's just a bit more common, but still very rare, for someone to write sentences such as "You know, Ted, that we..." They talk like this, yes, but they don't write this way. So turning out copy that inserts a name somewhere has an oddly "off" feeling associated with it.

Finally, there's the greeting - a place where a friend or relation often will use your name. That is, they will use YOUR name, the one you are actually called by. A database trick needs a source for the name. If you use the data from credit card bill-to information, you run the risk of using a formal or legal name that no true relation would ever call that person. In my own case, I have always been called Ted -- that began even before my parents chose my legal name, Warren Theodore, to honor my Uncle Warren. So when I get an email that opens "Dear Warren" the experience I have is "Oh, here's someone who's after my wallet." There are many other people whose situation is parallel to mine.

Likewise, you can simply ask someone what their name is, through form input boxes. And then you risk using accidental typos, or even run-on versions of first and middle name where there was no space (I get lots of mail that begins "Dear Warrent," - which has an even worse effect for me than "Dear Warren" would.

Finally, there are technical issues in how to construct and send mass emails. For instance, I get emails that still have a variable in the position where my name is supposed to be.

None of this necessarily means that personalized emails won't get higher response rates in any particular application - they certainly might. If anyone intends to wade into these waters, I suggest they do split run testing and measure which approach is more effective for them.

Given the extra effort involved in every personalized emailing (and it doesn't get that much easier even with lots of practice), I suggest testing these waters rather thoroughly before committing to one method exclusively. A lot of the industry "information" that recommends personalization so very strongly actually originates with a company who sells personalization software!

 

Sinner_G




msg:637223
 11:55 am on Jul 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm not sure whether this is just your choice of focus, but I miss the important part of personalisation here. But first let's not forget that email marketing should ALWAYS be opt-in (I guess everyone agrees on this by now). So here you have the option of getting the preferred name of the user. Ted, I suppose you don't use the 'Warren T.' bit when you enter your name somewhere. So with that you already have the right name for the greeting.

Your points subject and body copy are 100 % valid. If you are going to write a personalised email, use the target's name only in the greeting.

As I said, the real personalisation part has nothing to do with names in my book. More important is the possibility of choosing your areas of interest when opting in. Than as the sender you can have a database where you enter your copy and an email template which chooses what content to put into the mail according to user preferences.

Basically, it is content management applied to email.

tedster




msg:637224
 6:26 pm on Jul 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

email marketing should ALWAYS be opt-in (I guess everyone agrees on this by now). So here
you have the option of getting the preferred name of the user.

Except that user trust may be low at the time of the opt-in, and the organization earns good faith over time. For the merchant to assume that they now have a name they can use to REALLY personalize their messages is a leap of faith.

Grumpus




msg:637225
 8:14 pm on Jul 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

If I see my name in the subject line, I delete it without looking at it. If someone is writing to me, then I can safely assume that they know who I am and that I know who I am, and therefore, there's no reason to point it out in the subject line. Period.

G.

Sinner_G




msg:637226
 6:41 am on Jul 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Except that user trust may be low at the time of the opt-in, and the organization earns good faith over time.

Maybe I'm an exception, but if I have enough faith in an organisation to give them my email adress, I have enough to give them my real name. Also I have several email adresses, but if something really interests me, I'll give them my adress at work, which contains my name.

What would be the point of giving a wrong name? Even in my Hotmail account, I don't see a point in having greetings like 'Dear prdskndfn'.

tedster




msg:637227
 8:24 pm on Jul 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think you're the rule, Sinner_G, not the exception. (I really like the nick, by the way.)

But in my experience, the exceptions are rather frequent, and there's the rub. I wrote my opening post to encourage organizations to test before they go to the trouble of always personalizing mass emails. There are pitfalls, and the resources involved may be better spent hiring a top-notch writer to develop the copy for the offer.

And then again, when you test in your particular market, you may find that personalizing the message doubles the response rate and the resources are well spent. But the point is to test, not just assume the personalization is always a best practice.

rcjordan




msg:637228
 8:37 pm on Jul 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

>using a personal name in the subject line may be a flashing beacon that says "WARNING - MARKETING MESSAGE INSIDE!" Why is that? Look at your inbox. If it looks like mine, your real friends do not use your name in the subject line

As it happens, last week I added some filters to mailwasher to delete some trends in "personalization" that I had noticed being employed.

mivox




msg:637229
 9:02 pm on Jul 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

they know who I am and that I know who I am, and therefore, there's no reason to point it out in the subject line

Exactly. I don't think anyone I know has ever used my name in the subject line of an email... If I had enough problem with receiving pseudo-personal email, I'd probably filter for it.

Then again, I get really annoyed by paper mail where my name has been laser printed onto offset print material... it's always slightly mis-aligned, and a different shade of black than the rest of the sheet... I'm also annoyed by fake ballpoint pen scribbles on the outside of the envelope... and fake sticky notes inside the envelope...

The absolute worst I ever received was a letter printed to look like handwriting on yellow ruled paper... ugh.

You're sending me an ad. I know it and you know it. The more honest you are about it being an ad, the more likely I am to actually look at it to see if I'm interested. If you try to pretend you're my buddy just writing to let me in on a great deal, whether you do it via email or snailmail I'm that much more likely to throw it away.

Hawkgirl




msg:637230
 9:06 pm on Jul 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

One other thing I've noticed is that different folks feel differently about the casual nature of email.

When I email my customer base, for example, I email to "Dear [FIRST NAME]", and our touchpoints are almost conversational in nature. They're easy to read, not stilted.

Every once in a while I'll get a customer complaint - "Have some respect. To you I'm MRS. JONES, NOT MARY."

Of course, if I did an email to "Dear [TITLE] [LAST NAME], I'd get complaints, too.

There's no pleasing everyone, even with super-double-triple-opt-in-on-the-total-up-and-up emails. :)

Hawkgirl




msg:637231
 10:30 am on Jul 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

You're sending me an ad. I know it and you know it. The more honest you are about it being an ad, the more likely I am to actually look at it to see if I'm interested. If you try to pretend you're my buddy just writing to let me in on a great deal, whether you do it via email or snailmail I'm that much more likely to throw it away.

I want to qualify this a little.

I work with a product that is really low-interest (confusing, misleading and annoying widgets :)). I've done a ton of in-depth interviews with customers (generally they're site usability and/or ad tests). I always delve a bit into marketing techniques to see what people are/are not receptive to, and one of the things I've talked to them about is mail.

Many of the people I've talked to <qualify>who are in my target segment(s); some of whom were randomly recruited and some of whom weren't; directional data only and not statistically significant; no purchase necessary; void where prohibited</qualify> say they're highly likely to just throw out any mail (without reading) that looks immediately like advertising - like your faux ballpoint-pen envelope example or anything else that looks like an ad (glossy, tri-fold, bulk mail postage, yada yada).

But nearly all of my respondents said they're most likely to open and (at the very least) read the first line of a solicitation if it looks like a regular old business letter - names & addresses printed on the front of the envelope and a 'real' stamp. And they're more likely to read the whole solicitation if the first line makes them think the letter is from a professional, trustworthy organization. (How to craft this make-or-break first sentence, however, is something that eludes me to this day!)

Similarly for email (opt-in customer email and not unsolicited junk of any sort), people say they're more likely to read the email if you give them something upfront that entices them to keep reading. And by 'give them something' I don't mean Unlimited Monthly Earning Potential! or Free Viagra! :) ... I mean a fun fact or a piece of information that is particuluarly relevant to them.

You're right that the whole, "Hey, I'm your buddy, I'm on your side!" thing doesn't work. But the, "Hey, I'm a professional and I can be trusted because {insert proof of expertise here via gimme}" thing at least has a chance of working.

bird




msg:637232
 2:53 pm on Jul 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I don't think anyone I know has ever used my name in the subject line of an email...

That surprises me, mivox, unless you don't use this nick anywhere else but here and in your personal domain name.

I was stupid enough to register my most common real world nick as my primary domain. This means that I regularly get emails with a subject line similar to "question about xxx on www.<mynick>.com". Since I explicitly offer to answer questions about my site subject, I better make sure those really reach my inbox.

And then there are the game servers where I registered with the same nick, that will send me the game records as "<mynick>-<opponent>-200206121332", where the numerical part is the exact date and time of the game I played (and no, I didn't really play a game at that specific time... ;)).

Luckily, the "went to your pages-http;//www.<mynick>.com/blah/" and "<mynick> learn all about HGH" spammers tend to make at least a dozen other mistakes in their messages besides this one, so they're still trivial to filter out.

luma




msg:637233
 3:47 pm on Jul 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Well, maybe it's easier in Germany. We don't use (and hardly have) middle names and the greeting is normally "Dear Lastname".

I use a white filter for Firstname Lastname <email@address.com>, since it normally means some one replied to one of my emails.

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