{!firstname}, Think Before You Personalize

If you’ve been subscribing to email marketing campaigns for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced personalization several times.

How much of it impresses you? How much of it makes the email feel “personal?”

Yeah… me too.

Lately, I’m wondering whether as email marketers, we’ve allowed ourselves to get lazy with personalization, and whether we can do better.

I can hear some of you thinking,

“But personalization gets more opens and clicks!”

But Does It?

I’ve heard numerous marketers say it does. And it’s entirely possible – if not likely – that at least some of them regularly test this and continue to find it to be true.

But when’s the last time you tested it?

I’ll be honest here and say I haven’t tested it in quite a while – partly because other tests are more interesting or exciting (like testing what happens when you add social networking links to your emails).

Besides… Is The Click All That Matters?

A recent pair of articles has me thinking about what it means, in practical terms, to take a long-term approach to email.

I’m subscribed, as I’m sure you are, to many email lists. Many of the campaigns I receive have subject lines like:

  • Justin, Do You Have a Minute?
  • Exclusive Savings for Justin
  • Justin – Good news and bad news :(
  • Hi Justin
  • JUSTIN, Save 30% For Two Days Only!

Now, let’s face it: a lot of these emails would get the average person to open them. I opened them.

But does that mean they’re a good idea? What do you think of someone when they send you an email with those subjects?

  • Justin, Do You Have a Minute? – I did. And I just spent it on your email. Was it worth it?
  • Exclusive Savings for Justin – Is it for all people with my name? Is this National Justin Day? Why not just say “Exclusive Saving for You?”

    Personalization here, while it might get more opens, makes no sense when you read it.

  • Justin – Good news and bad news :( – Good/bad news for whom? This one isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but if the news isn’t really good or bad from the subscribers’ point of view, then you’re taking a very “me-centric” approach to your relationship with subscribers. Not good.
  • Hi Justin – this screams “I’m spam!”

    There’s technically nothing deceiving about saying Hi to someone in the subject line, but… it just feels wrong. It feels like a subject line that a long-lost friend or relative would use to reopen communication with you after disappearing for years.

    Wouldn’t you be mad to get an email with that subject, open it, and find it was an email campaign?

  • JUSTIN, Save 30% For Two Days Only! – Quick personalization tip: Don’t put my name in ALL CAPS, even if that’s how it is in your database.

    This is why in AWeber, you can use the “fix” version of several variables (example: {!firstname_fix}) to correct any incorrect capitalization.

How much more likely are you going to be to unsubscribe if you get an email with a subject like these? How much more likely to click “Spam?” How much less likely to open other emails later, or recommend that company to someone else?

Isn’t There More To A Truly “Personal” Email Than A Name?

Personalization isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But when it gets misused for the sake of an extra open or click, it becomes a bad thing. It also becomes less effective over time. And it allows us to think that we’re creating “personal” emails just by merging a name into the message.

A truly personal email addresses the subscriber’s needs, desires, fears, preferences and other aspects of their personality.

Truly personal emails look at things like:

  • Which emails an individual subscriber has opened and clicked through from in the past
  • Where on your site s/he visits
  • How s/he originally found you and what inspired him/her to sign up to your list
  • And a lot more things that aren’t coming to mind at the moment

A lot of this isn’t typically considered personalization – it falls more under discussions of segmentation and targeting. But I think it’s worth considering that relevance and personalization are somewhat interchangeable when we think about it from the subscriber’s perspective, and not our own. A relevant email is personal, and a personal email is relevant.

Making truly personal emails isn’t easy. And I don’t profess to be the example to follow; I’m going to be re-examining a lot of the emails I send here at AWeber as a result of this discussion.

Care to do the same?