{!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:

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?

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:

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?

By:
Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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76 Comments

  1. Justin, hi,

    Excellent message! I particlarly related to the section on using the ‘_fix’ personalisation option. It truly amazes me how many experienced email marketers don’t use this.

    I get emails addressed to Malden (my surname), martin malden, and martin, as well as Martin.

    I don’t use personalisation in the subject line. Ever.

    I use {!firstname_fix} in the salutation. Always.

    I don’t use personalisation in the body of the email. Ever.

    But what I do do is to fix someone in my mind – usually a friend of mine who lives in Bangkok – and write my email as if I’m writing to him personally.

    I always include a little snippet of personal information – like ‘I’ve had a week of late nights this week, so I’m looking forward to some serious sleep this weekend’

    I always send myself a test email once I’ve set it up and I read it out loud to myself when I get it.

    My point being that personalisation has as much or more to do with the way emails are written and worded as using the personalisation tools in Aweber. (Good though they are!).

    2/12/2009 12:50 am
  2. Justin,
    This is a great article!

    I’ve come to the same conclusion:
    I don’t personalize my emails anymore.
    I’m not even asking for a subscriber’s basic info like name and address.

    Try this and you will get better conversion rates.

    2/12/2009 2:18 am
  3. I use personalised fields – but straight from the first follow-up message in the subject, so my subscribers are use to this.
    e.g. {!firstname}, here’s your promised leaflet.

    And in the body text I try to put the firstname in somehow, only if it makes sense, like when asking a general question.

    There is indeed a very fine line between personalising a targeted message and personalising a general message. Wrote a blogpost about it a while ago:
    http://www.thekissbusiness.co.uk/2008/12/fineline.html

    2/12/2009 6:28 am
  4. This was really useful info. As a newbie, infant, beginner or whatever at email marketing I’m often asking myself "how can I get more opens and how can I really bond with my list?". So, yes I have overused some of the things you suggest in this article. Not anymore. Thank you.

    2/12/2009 8:13 am
  5. Wow! Never thought about not adding personalization in the subject. I just sent out a broadcast too. Next one, I’m going to just send the subject without adding their name.

    You guys are always teaching me!

    2/12/2009 8:19 am
  6. Tammy, it would be worthwhile to split test and see if and how much difference it makes.

    2/12/2009 9:16 am
  7. Thanks everyone for sharing how you use personalization. I’m always fascinated to get your experiences!

    Martin,

    Taking that kind of "one-to-one" mentality with your content and injecting some personality into your emails is something I try to do as well.

    John,

    That’s a viable angle for a lot of people. If you feel your subscribers are aware (as many likely are) that your email campaigns are *not* one-to-one emails to them, then there may not be any point to collecting and merging in their names or other information.

    Worth some testing for sure.

    2/12/2009 9:32 am | Follow me on Twitter
  8. Hi Justin,

    As usual your insight is always enlightening. I must say that I have mixed feelings about your view on personalization, but you’ve triggered my curiosity to do a some testing on it.

    I too like Martin Malden will send a test e-mail to myself first and read it out loud. You’d be surprised how many times I have to edit it because something just wasn’t quite right.

    My worst nightmare is sending out a broadcast e-mail with
    "Hi {!firstname_fix}." I know it can happen because I’ve received them in my inbox before.

    Thank you for a great post.

    2/12/2009 9:37 am
  9. It was really interesting to read this. Hadn’t thought much about it, to be honest; but now I will.

    I don’t really have time to do split testing, but I will go through my campaigns and perhaps take the firstname out of of all but the primary message subject to begin with.

    I might replace it with the campaign name instead. (See, I’m thinking already!)

    Hmmm. Definitely food for thought.

    2/12/2009 9:37 am
  10. I can’t really see why having personalised messages can be a bad thing, surely the reader seeing his name is not negative?

    I can understand the point about not using it if it doesn’t fit the context.

    I would say it can’t do any harm to address someone by there first name, personally if I see an email with my name I either think its genuine, or if I don’t recognise the person I think how did they know that?

    2/12/2009 10:30 am
  11. Hi Justin,

    As always, another interesting and very useful article!

    I beg to differ on personalization, if done right, in the Subject. For a routine followup email, no, I don’t do that. But for a regular newsletter, I like using something like:
    {!firstname_fix}, here’s your February Smart Trailer USA Newsletter

    Yeh, it is long, but the name of the product is long. And, there is no mistaking what the email is about – hopefully, something {!firstname_fix} is looking for.

    I seldom try to personalize in the body of an email, unless it just seems to fit the flow.

    And, BTW, I do look forward to my copy of the AWeber blog! :-)

    2/12/2009 10:58 am
  12. Hi Justin:

    Well, after your article, I feel silly starting off that way (Hi, Justin). However, I wanted to point out that not everyone who uses your great service uses aWeber for selling. I use it to send out a newsletter and newsblasts to a growing membership of artists, musicians, performers and patrons, and many of them have told me they appreciate the personalization. In a more personal situation, in which I and my Board know many of these people, I think the feature is entirely appropriate.

    2/12/2009 11:01 am
  13. Zarine Arya

    Thanks, Justin — you’ve made me re-think this issue.

    However, it might be a good idea to personalize the first few emails to a list, till readers get familiar with our names. If we send posts infrequently, then personalizing might be very important.

    It has happened that I’ve subscribed to a list and forgotten all about it because the mails are infrequent. Since I delete (unread) all mail from unfamiliar sources, it is only my name in the subject line that ensures the authenticity of the sender, and gets me to open it.

    Of course, no wise marketer would send emails so seldom that his readers forget him! :o)

    2/12/2009 11:39 am
  14. Justin,

    I’ve tested personalization in emails and have found that it’s best to leave it out of the subject line for sure. Think of an email you would send a friend. You wouldn’t be putting their name in the subject and many times wouldn’t put their name in the body. People open emails from their friends first.

    But I do have a question, if a large portion of your list includes the first name, but another portion is email only then what happens when you send a personalized email? Would {!firstname_fix} show up on those who don’t have a name in the system?

    Thanks!

    2/12/2009 11:40 am
  15. The only way to know is by testing. Case closed.

    2/12/2009 12:17 pm
  16. Another aspect in this equation is what the person entered as a first name may not be what their name actually is.

    PERSON THINKS:
    I’d like to get this newsletter, but I’m tired of entering my name into all of these stupid forms. It’s Valentine’s time… I know… I’ll enter Cupid… heh heh isn’t that funny?

    MONTHS LATER:
    I like this newsletter but why does this person keep addressing my as Hi Cupid? Are they stalking me? I better quit the newsletter before this gets worse.

    SUMMARY:
    What was funny at the time is forgotten in the future and leads to a loss of contact. What’s the possibility of this being the case? I dunno, but it does seem like a probable one enough to keep me from always using the first name field.

    2/12/2009 12:30 pm
  17. Kay

    Thanks Justin for bringing this to peoples attention. I remember saying to a couple of friends last year that I was not feeling right about all the emails being sent my way with my name on it. I knew too well that it was marketing and wasn’t really directed at me as a person. I said that I felt uncomfortable working this way as I truly wanted to let people know that I care and they are not just a name. They both ag reed and said that they too delete half the emails sent to them. Todays business has to come from integrity. So thanks for coming from t hat place. Kay

    2/12/2009 12:35 pm
  18. I like the ideas in this article. I wish that you’d included some test data though as that’s what really helps me make decisions.

    Also, thanks for mentioning the "fix" feature in the e-mail personalization. Is there a way you can make sure more people know about things like that? I have an e-mail list of students and some put their names with no caps and I’ve often wondered how they would respond to an e-mail that said, "Dear emma," instead of "Dear Emma."

    So thanks for this tip.

    Also, is there a way I can make sure I know all the other useful features of Aweber? There seems to be more than I can count. :)

    2/12/2009 12:45 pm
  19. Jon

    Hi {!firstname_fix_in_all_caps}…er… Justin,

    Great article. Since I mail out to a large list every day (I could speak hours on that subject) I find that personalization in the subject line to be an epic fail. Rather, I branded my newsletter instead. My open rates over four months went from an average of 11% to over 20% and unsubs dropped by 300%… and this is from daily (or near-daily) mailings.

    I do use the {!firstname_fix} variable in each issue, but it’s always in the opening line. Stuff like:

    You know it’s true Justin.

    Justin, let’s talk about food…

    Stuff like that. I have not bothered to split-test, but I have noticed slightly higher conversions when I start off that way rather than leaving it impersonal.

    Finally, it’s a voice issue: If your readers feel like you have a voice and it’s directed toward them, using their name is far more likely to be a good thing than a bad thing… but that’s just my $.02.

    Thanks!

    2/12/2009 3:08 pm
  20. Rodney, Diana and anyone else talking about testing,

    I totally agree – our own tests are what help us make decisions about what works for our campaigns.

    The trouble with testing here, I think — and this goes for people who favor avoiding personalization as well as those who favor using it — is that we have to be careful what we test here.

    If we’re talking about the long-term effects that personalization can have on our campaigns, I think our testing has to take a long-term view as well. Doing, say, a couple A/B split tests with personalization doesn’t tell us the long-term effects of personalizing or not personalizing – it just gives us a snapshot of how one or two campaigns were affected.

    I haven’t done that kind of long-term testing (say, running all messages for a year to one group with personalization, and the same messages without personalization to another group) and so I can’t say what the results are.

    I’m not aware of any such long-term tests on personalization. But with luck, this post will get someone to give it a whirl :)

    2/12/2009 4:20 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  21. Great article Justin. Sometimes we need to be challenged on what we have become used to doing as routine. So thanks for the thought provoking article on personalization.

    I recently received a text based email from someone I think has worthwhile content. But in this instance he started without a "hello", without any personalization – I found it off-putting. It was interesting that with a lack of "common courtesy" I felt the sender was not really connecting with me at all – he got in my inbox and just started talking. So consider how you use personalization, but always remember to be polite.

    2/12/2009 7:29 pm
  22. @Zarine – You made a good point when you said

    "It has happened that I’ve subscribed to a list and forgotten all about it because the mails are infrequent. Since I delete (unread) all mail from unfamiliar sources, it is only my name in the subject line that ensures the authenticity of the sender, and gets me to open it."

    And I treat emails exactly the same – but to play the advocate, the only reason we rely on the name as a reminder is because we’re educated on how email marketing works – and not every subscriber will be familiar with {!firstname} etc…

    2/13/2009 2:24 am
  23. This is an interesting topic and it was fun to see all the different takes on it.

    Do most of us agree that using the name of the newsletter or campaign in the subject line is a good idea? Like this [Magnificentnow] subject follows.

    I think this is a good way to get our subscribers used to seeing the business name / website and recognizing who sent it. Then, perhaps putting the subscriber’s name in the subject line is less important.

    Thanks for all the great information from everyone.

    2/14/2009 3:49 pm
  24. Well, my view is that it’s rude NOT to use their firstname in the subject.

    Firstly it tells them that they must have signed up to receive this email (otherwiase how do you know their first name) and secondly,

    It tells them that it is not Spam.

    I also use their first name in the email when it is appropriate to highlight a particular point.

    I admit I haven’t split tested this and I know that some marketers say it is not the right thing to do. But as a recipient of many emails I know that if I see my name in the subject line I immediately realise I have signed up for this email and it makes me feel like I’m being spoken to as an individual (although I know I am not).

    2/14/2009 8:35 pm
  25. Interesting… I recall reading (somewhere) that personalization should always be used or at least was a good thing.

    I know that when I write my emails/broadcasts I write them as if I am writing to each individual rather than a list. Email tends to be so impersonal these days that people lose sight of the fact that using a person’s name means something because you are using their name. If I am on a list I have generally signed up to it so I am not surprised when I get an email.

    The majority of the emails I read use my name in the subject line and I prefer it. I have always used the {first name fix} but not with a greeting. I thought of leaving off the personalization but when I sent it to myself it seemed so impersonal that I put it back in. I also tend to delete the emails I get that don’t have my name…
    I’ll probably do a test and "depersonlize" at some point but right now I haven’t had the time.

    2/15/2009 12:31 am
  26. Thanks for the tip!.
    This is why in AWeber, you can use the “fix” version of several variables (example: {!firstname_fix}) to correct any incorrect capitalization.

    I never knew the significance of this feature until now.
    I will definitely use this in future

    2/15/2009 8:10 pm
  27. Personalization in the subject, if done properly, will always grab my attention.
    People who do not test their emails, I will automatically un-subscribe from.
    Too much personalization in the body is a bit canned.
    Great tips!

    2/16/2009 3:49 am
  28. Another article on personalization came out today over at the Email Wars:

    http://theemailwars.com/2009/02/16/to-personalize-or-not-to-personalize/

    Nice example of when personalization can work. Also a good point in that article about relevance.

    2/16/2009 10:19 am | Follow me on Twitter
  29. Excellent article! This is the second article I’ve come across in two days that calls into question the idea that slapping the customer’s name on something equals personalization.

    I’ve actually come to find it jarring when I see my name in the body of an email (other than in the salutation). I know it’s just a piece of code that puts my name there, so I actually feel a little manipulated to see it anywhere else.

    And if I feel that way, how many of my recipients feel that way, too?

    In an industry where increasingly savvy receipients recognize the "tricks of the trade," personalization needs to focus not just on the customer’s name, but on the customer’s needs, as your post points out.

    2/16/2009 12:55 pm
  30. I may be in the minority…I don’t like personalization at all. I’ve begun to view it as web 2.0 gimmick – trying to act as though they know me and are a friend…when they don’t and aren’t.

    2/16/2009 4:25 pm
  31. I stopped trying to use personalization of first names a long time ago in letter writing campaigns. Here is why.

    Dear Robert – ahem, my wife calls me Robert when I am in trouble and e-mailers call me Robert because they do not know I am Bob (Rob, Robbie, Robby?)

    Dear William – Bill, Will, Willy, Billy?

    Can’t work.

    2/17/2009 10:29 pm
  32. Re Bob

    See where you’re coming from, but didn’t your Robert and William sign up to your list with Robert or William – the name of their choice.

    If they are liked to be called Bob or Bill they will enter that name in most cases.

    will work ;-)

    2/18/2009 9:22 am
  33. Re Jim

    Personalised marketing is not limited to Web2.0 – direct mail uses personalisation too, for many more years than Web2.0 has been around.

    2/18/2009 9:24 am
  34. Sam

    Have any of you guys experienced emails where you are targeted personally and then you get emails from the same list that reference the whole list? It’s almost feels like some emails target and speak to you personally and some target the whole group. What’s your feeling on this if you have experienced it? Is it a good email marketing strategy to get click throughs?

    2/18/2009 9:52 am
  35. Jim Dixon

    With all due respect and agreement about the superficial foolishness of personalizing communications directed to strangers, I must point out that there are some fundamental differences between marketers (presumably our side) and consumers (the other side). As marketers, we are tuned in to every attempted trick or device employed. Depending on your market, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the majority of your recipients neither know, notice, care about, or even employ a single stray synapse to the contemplation of the absurdity of it all. It’s like the lieterary author struggling for a day to decide whether or to use the word "and" or "but" in a sentence he feels is exceptionally meaningful, when his reader almost without exception (exceptions being critics and scholars, generally,) flys by the word all but unnoticed. It’s human nature for all but the most jaded among us to appreciate gestures of friendliness, no matter how superficial or even insincere or gratuitus that gesture might be.–It’s what they used to call "good manners"–a concept sadly diminishing in Western culture today.

    2/18/2009 10:04 am
  36. "personalizing communications directed to strangers"

    I think this is the most essential part of the discussion: do you see your subscribers as strangers or as persons you would like to have a conversation with. Conversation in this regard – we’re all business persons in the end – to convert them from lead to client.

    The personalisation should go two ways: does your signature mention just your business name or does it also mention your own name?

    We frequently get replies on our personalised messages that start with – Hi Karin.

    I won’t call properly used personalisation "superficial foolishness". I prefer to call it essential to built a long lasting relationship with your prospects/clients. Email marketing doesn’t have to be ‘cold’

    2/18/2009 10:50 am
  37. Jim Dixon

    I don’t PERSONALY consider trying to be friendly "superficial foolishness", but rather acknowledge that there are many who do, and that much of that attitude is born out of (our) familiarity with the technology we use. I do maintain that there are essential differences in the mindsets of marketers and professional sales people, and the rest of the public at large. To disregard those differences will end up misidrecting the nature of your messages–i.e. your copy–in a number of subtle, non-productive, and undesirable ways.

    2/18/2009 2:12 pm
  38. This post sparks some really great questions.

    Have we gone over board with the personalization…? I think yes there are some cheese balls out there, it’s really how you use it.

    Nothing wrong with a little personal touch, but sometimes marketer go too far.

    I think if you really try to deliver value in your services and products and your follow-up emails stand parallel to that same quality message nobody would care if you used "their" name or not.

    2/18/2009 8:19 pm
  39. Hi
    Sorry if this is a stupid question. On my web signup form I only capture "Name" not first name and surname. When I use {!firstname_fix} does it literally just take the first word of the word (so if someone has entered Mrs Jones – will it email Dear Mrs?)
    cheers

    2/19/2009 3:46 am
  40. Hi Justin et al – ;)

    following on from Jim Dixon’s point about the people we are communicating with.

    I received a reply to my verification email from a lady who had requested my free ‘How To Control Your Diabetes’ ebook from my diabetes website (these subscribers are ordinary folk – consumers – rather than people with our marketing knowledge).

    She was very irate and said "Cancel my request, now. Since you can’t get my name correct I won’t do business with you."

    The problem? Same as the one Paul mentioned above. She’d entered her name as Mary Ann followed by her surname, but the {!firstname_fix} code picked up her name as Mary and this obviously upset her.

    I sent an apology and explained how the system automatically collected the name from what she entered, but I suspect it probably all seemed like gobbledygook (or a lame excuse) to her – anyway she didn’t confirm her request.

    I suppose the lesson to be learnt is to use Aweber to create custom fields so you can ask for First Name and – maybe – Surname.

    2/19/2009 10:49 am
  41. Paul,

    Yep – the {!firstname_fix} variable takes the first portion of what’s entered in the "Name" box.

    If you’re concerned about people doing that, you could change the label on your form to say "First Name" instead of "Name." Then just use the {!name_fix} variable instead of {!firstname_fix}.

    That way, the full text of what someone enters in the field appears – which since you labeled it "First Name" … will typically be their first name :)

    2/19/2009 2:50 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  42. Hi All,
    I’ve spent the last three and a half years of my life building a successful web business. I’ve made many mistakes along the way.

    How many times have you had a brainwave for your online business….actioned it with great excitement….and then discovered your idea sucked…and no one bought, subscribed, commented or even acknowledged all your hard work?

    I rarely do that these days (well not too often anyway) what do I do instead?

    I note the comments that ‘the open’ isn’t everything but . . . without it . . nothing else matters.

    What do I do with all my great ideas these days?

    I test ‘em.

    You don’t have time to test . . . WHAT?
    You are in the wrong business?

    Honestly folks . . . test everything. Let the subscribers and customers tell you what works and what doesn’t. If they click, buy, respond, subscribe . . . .it works. If not . . then go back to the drawing board.

    When was the last time you split test your main headline?

    Try it.

    2/20/2009 5:28 am
  43. Jim Dixon

    ding ding ding ding ding–

    and the winner is: (drumroll)

    MIKE HERBERTS!!!

    in the end, nothing else matters–just find out what works!

    2/20/2009 4:24 pm
  44. I have newsletter going out next week so I’m going to test it. I did a bit of asking around and so far most like seeing their name and tell me they tend to open emails WITH their name and dismiss those without.

    I’ve also been paying attention to the emails I get (I’m on quite a few lists) and most of them tend to use my name in the subject line and/or the salutation. Having said that, I know who the email is from and i know they are using the first name I entered in the opt-in, so it never really bothers me…it is the content that matters in the end and I believe it is the same for my subscribers. I am going to leave off first name fix from the subject line and keep their name in the salutation for the next couple and if I get used to it enough may keep it like that.

    2/20/2009 9:24 pm
  45. Joe

    This was really useful info. As a newbie, infant, beginner or whatever at email marketing I’m often asking myself “how can I get more opens and how can I really bond with my list?”. So, yes I have overused some of the things you suggest in this article. Not anymore. Thank you.

    2/21/2009 6:49 am
  46. John

    Thanks, great post!

    2/22/2009 6:55 am
  47. Appreciated Insights…Thank You Justin!

    Yes, Revelevance is the word to assist us in making the decision to personalize or not, but more importantly exactly HOW we can best personalize when we do.

    It is easy to get lazy and simply do what others are doing…yet hasn’t it been said that the wise man/woman sees which direction all the others are going in and does the opposite?

    Standing out is certainly a first step, relevance for our standing out and calling attention to ourselves immediately follows.

    As you well discribed in the above article, after we have stood out and received attention we must meet immediately meet the requirement of Relevance…in our readers mind rather than our own.

    It’s all a bit like the "crying wolf story" isn’t it?

    Let’s be RELEVANT with any personalization and Follow Thru to truly implement this article’s great insight!

    2/23/2009 8:04 am
  48. Having just uploaded one more email campaign i’m now going to go back & implement some of these ideas, thanks alot everyone :0)

    2/23/2009 10:36 am
  49. Hi Justin,

    In your post, you raise the question of whether personalization increases open rate and click-through rate or not.

    I’ve tested it a few times, and for me it does.

    Here’s raw data from my last test:

    The Crash Course On Dieting
    Split Test 05/12/08 10:36 PM
    Group 1:
    Opens: 49 (32.9%)
    Clicks: 18 (12.1%)

    {!firstname_fix}, Here’s My Crash Course On Dieting
    Split Test 05/12/08 10:36 PM
    Group 2:
    Opens: 57 (38.3%)
    Clicks: 32 (21.5%)

    Simply put, group 2 (with personalization) opened more and clicked more. And personalization was the only difference between the two groups, of course.

    Hope this helps.

    3/2/2009 1:44 am
  50. Jon

    Carl, thanks for those stats. The click-through almost doubling is quite significant. I think what we forget as internet marketers is that our clients usually are NOT internet marketers.

    Most of my readers refer to my emails as "that letter you sent to me" — so personalization seems to work well for my audience too.

    3/2/2009 12:12 pm
  51. Ha! Ha! Ha! If this catches on it will foil ALL my fun! I love to sign up for email info that I am interested in using fun and fictional 1st names! I am currently known as "silly sal" and "goofy gerty" and son on! I first started using this technique to see who, if anyone was passing on my email info – I never actually had that happen – and it just became an interesting thing to do!

    Sincerely yours,
    silly sal!

    3/22/2009 2:47 pm
  52. Will

    Think about this…

    How many times do you email your friends/family and include their name in the subject line? How many times do you email your friends/family and begin the email with ‘Hi John’? When speaking with your friends/family one-on-one, how many times do you address them by their first name?

    If you’re anything like me then the answer to all those questions above will be… NEVER!

    You all need to think long and hard about the relationship you are trying to develop with your subscribers. I, for one, want to develop a personal/one-on-one relationship with each one of my subscribers. I’m not going to achieve that by using their first name in the subject line and opening each email with ‘Hi John’, etc.

    This may have been very effective years ago when no one else was doing it. These days when I read emails with personalised fields, they make me feel like just another number on a list. No one who REALLY knew me would call me by my first name like that.

    For those of you that disagree and have tested personalization and have found that it gets more of your emails read, I suggest you run your tests for much longer. If you use personalization every once in a while it can be effective – but as soon as you start to use it day in and day out, I guarantee that you will start to notice a less responsive list after just a few months.

    Marketing is really so simple. It’s made even easier for a small number of us because the vast majority of marketers out there try to be clever and jump on every band wagon that passes them by. Forget about what everyone else is doing and ask yourself this one simple question… "Is this how I would talk to a friend?"

    3/24/2009 7:52 am
  53. Will, you do not like hearing (or seeing in this case) your own name? I do not care what the statistics say; people love to see and hear their own name no matter how contrived it may seem. Just ask Ed McMahon who offered you, Will, a million dollar sweepstakes.

    Will, I do agree with your comment about the subject line, but I almost always use my friends’ name in the salutation (i.e. Hey John, usually just John,)

    Also, I find it incredible rude not to use someone’s name in an e-mail. I am guilty of it but only about 5% of the e-mails I send out. This includes e-mails to friends and family.

    3/24/2009 8:18 am
  54. LOL, well I do address my friends in every email starting with

    Hi John or Mary.

    Starting an email to friends without this simple and respectful salutation is in my eyes rather rude. And yes, I do mention their name when I talk one-on-one with friends or family. same reason.

    I like to treat our prospects, clients and subscribers with the same caring attitude. So they receive personalised email messages from us.

    And you know what’s really great about this: when they reply to one of those messages they start with
    Hi Karin

    Now, how’s that for relationship building? Achieved by {firstname} both in subject and first sentence of email

    So, each its own – you cannot say one way or the other is the correct way. We all will decide for ourselves on what works best for our business and our subscribers.

    3/24/2009 8:27 am
  55. Will

    Ash,

    It may be that we use email for different purposes. My friends and I use email to communicate quickly and easily with one other. For that reason I don’t think I could tell you the last time we have started an email with "Hi, John" or even just "John". For us, email is a quick, convenient, and casual way of interacting with one other. I don’t think that is rude, we use it so frequently that those formalities are not needed or expected.

    Karin,

    I think that there is a difference between how certain age groups use this type of communication. Younger people these days, like myself, don’t worry about all the formalities. I know my parents though would probably address their friends by a first name but only because they are emailing each other so infrequently. But I don’t agree that including a persons first name really means you care about that person anymore or anyless. I care about my friends and family.

    3/24/2009 8:55 am
  56. Will, I won’t dare to suggest you don’t care!

    But contrary to your experience, and I’m sure it is due to the type of contacts we attract, but even younger people (20 – 30) on our lists do start their reply with Hi Karin.

    So that shows us again that every business – doing things right – targets, gets and addresses those prospects, clients and subscribers they seek as preferred clients.

    I do worry about formalities, that’s the way I’ve grown up and been taught by my parents, teachers, mentors etc. There is simply no one correct or incorrect way, we can only learn from each other’s experiences and see how that fits into your own preferences in how you like to do business.

    3/24/2009 9:22 am
  57. I’m betting that the "best answer" is different in various target markets. For example, when you "personalize" to a group of marketers, they all know about the personalization feature and don’t get the same "gee he sent this just to me" warm fuzzy that others might.

    I’m in the health field and when I use personalization, I get responses back from folks indicating that they thought I really sent a note just to them. It’s marvelous!

    Guess the true bottom line s always test, test, test.

    3/24/2009 9:53 am
  58. @ Will – You seem to be intent on telling people what they should or should not do… it’s up to each person to do what they feel works for their audience and what they feel comfortable with. What works for you isn’t necessarily right for someone else and threads like this encourage sharing what everyone else is doing, not ignoring it.

    I for one address my friends and family by their first names when I email them or write to them (with the exception of certain members as I don’t call my parents by their first name and never have done). And I usually use Hi or hello. Obviously if one is going back and forth in a conversation or texting or similar, using the salutation isn’t necessary. But as a marketer I am not writing to my family or friends – so it’s not quite the same thing. When it comes down to it I am writing to people with whom I want to build relationship and do business with.

    When I write my newsletters I actually do care about the people I am writing to. I am not writing to a number I am writing to a person who has indicated they want to hear from me. When the reply to me they start with Hi Nicky…

    I like and prefer people emailing me to use my first name… and my open rates have indicated that those on my list like me using theirs. I believe formalities matter to my target market and those I want to reach. Even though they may seem "old school." And I believe it’s just polite that, if you know someone’s name it costs little to use it.

    3/24/2009 8:53 pm
  59. The old rules of direct marketing state:

    - when you write to prospect, don’t use personalization.

    You haven’t been tongue in cheek yet, so it’s just polite.

    - when you write to clients, use personalization

    In my opinion, name in the subject is still strong because normal people don’t understand there is something like AWeber: if there is the name in the subject this is an email someone sent to me.

    The problem with personalization is that someone (like me) put a phony name when doing the optin (I put the name of the product so I remember which list is which) personalization goes south. Even worse is when someone put nothing in the name (never put name mandatory) and the emails go like "Hello , here is…".

    3/25/2009 1:42 am
  60. Jim Dixon

    When homogenized, the sum of the experiences of all you fine readers adds up to one thing: anything you do ALL the time is bound to be wrong at least SOME of the time. Different markets, different demographics, different purposes–common sense alone dictates that an identical approach in each case can’t possibly be correct! Life experience alone provides all the "testing data" you need for that assessment!

    3/25/2009 6:37 am
  61. "The problem with personalization is that someone (like me) put a phony name when doing the optin (I put the name of the product so I remember which list is which) personalization goes south."

    Make sure your ‘promise’ doesn’t need ‘tricks’ like this, would be my answer. If you are truly interested in what’s on ‘offer’ I believe I would remember which ‘list’ is which.

    Jim: hence testing for the best – or in other words least wrong least of the times – method for every individual business using AWeber ;-)

    3/25/2009 8:46 am
  62. Interesting article. I just stumbled it.

    As a marketer, I always get mad a my husband who types everything in all caps. Although, the only good thing about him typing in all caps is when we get junk mail I can say, "see this is because of you." ;-)

    As for me, I never open a personalized subject line if I don’t recognized the From name or email address.

    3/25/2009 4:48 pm
  63. Will

    Nicky,

    Don’t JUST concentrate on your open rates, they don’t mean a whole lot at the end of the day. Open rates are only really useful for telling you one thing – which subject line is performing better than others.

    Sure, emails with a personalized subject line will more than likely attract a higher open rate because they stick out a lot more in between all the other emails people receive, however this doesn’t mean that the people who open those emails actually read them or take any action.

    I’ve done it countless times when I’m sifting through my email and see my name and automatically just click on the email, but then I quickly realize it isn’t from a friend and delete it without reading.

    Unless you track how many people opening the emails, how many of those people are then clicking on your link, and how many of those people then turn into a sale or action, then you can’t really say you have tested it to be true…

    3/25/2009 11:47 pm
  64. "I?ve done it countless times when I?m sifting through my email and see my name and automatically just click on the email, but then I quickly realize it isn?t from a friend and delete it without reading."

    Will,

    You make a good point here. I find myself doing that a lot, especially when I get e-mails from Indian Web Developers named "Ian Smith" who want to sell me their services.

    3/26/2009 8:58 am
  65. Will, I don’t recall saying I JUST relied on email open rates or that I wasn’t tracking anything else.

    For the record I tend to look at who the email is from as well as seeing my name before I open it. I take an action if the content interests me. But that’s me. Like I said, everything is a matter of experimentation and no two groups are the same. You do what works for you and others will do what works for them.

    3/26/2009 11:06 pm
  66. Isn’t the subject line the equivalent of the address on an item of direct mail that arrives through the physical front door? I might not open every letter that has my name on it but I am less likely to open one that doesn’t have my name on it.

    1/17/2010 3:24 pm
  67. Lee

    Justin, I would agree with two things after reading your article and the ton of great comments.

    (A) The only way to truly know is to test.
    (B) As many readers have suggested, the vast majority of subscribers typically will open something personalized to them more often than not. With the caveat being every niche is different.

    Lastly, we have come full circle with personalization in internet marketing. It was in, then it was so 1999, and the only constant has been ‘Trust’. If your subscribers trust you and love the content you produce, they will always open your emails because they are looking forward to receiving them.

    1/24/2010 5:55 pm
  68. Carl – Thanks for running the test.

    Despite all the comments, it appears your test makes it obvious to include {!firstname_fix}. Even if not in the subject line, then at least as the salutation.

    I just use:

    {!firstname_fix}:

    Content starts here…

    My question is, I wonder how many potential subscribers we’re leaving on the page that don’t fill out the form because we’re asking for “First Name” as well as “Email Address?” Seems there could be an increase in subscribers if they only had to fill in their email address. It seems some of the biggest bloggers only ask for email address.

    http://www.copyblogger.com/
    http://www.chrisbrogan.com/
    http://www.chrisg.com/

    Anyone have any thoughts or see any stats on this?

    3/3/2010 12:05 pm
  69. Gregg,

    I look at it as a question of expectations – do subscribers expect to get a "personal" message from the people you mention? Or do they expect to get an update (presumably sent to numerous other subscribers) when those people’s blogs have new content?

    For the record, as of 3/3/2010 Chris Brogan *does* ask for name (and some other info like company, phone number, URL) when you sign up for his newsletter (which is different from signing up to his blog via email).

    3/3/2010 2:49 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  70. I read one of my friend’s emails today, and I knew he used AWeber to personalize it but he had something in there that said, "I know you pass by the BMW lot and wish you had that car, right Dennis?"

    For a minute I forgot it was AWeber. I congratulated him because I use AWeber and I was completely punk’d. LOL.

    I love it though. Thanks for such a great site.

    6/22/2010 4:58 am
  71. Any emails that I get WITHOUT being personalised go straight into the Spam Box unopened usually. Of the others, they all get opened, with about 30% acted upon.

    4/2/2011 3:33 pm
  72. Great Post Justin ,

    I was always using personalization , but now I will thing twice
    I guess I need to learn more at this aweber help site …Lol

    Big big Tx

    Hezi

    12/14/2011 8:00 am
  73. Apparently “Hi Justin” just reeks spam.

    My Email from AWeber regarding personalising emails started off……

    Hi Steph !

    7/8/2012 6:03 pm