Pros and Cons of Email Personalization

To personalize, or not personalize? That is the question du jour.

Personalization – sending an email that contains the recipients personal information making it look the email was sent to only them – is an easy enough task in most email marketing programs these days. But should you use it?

Most experts waver back and forth between the answers yes, no and maybe so. Some vehemently protest: “No! It’s a thing of the past!” Others believe, “Yes, there’s a certain level of familiarity that can’t be obtained otherwise!” And still more fall into the “maybe, sometimes” category.

Even though we see an incredible amount of emails on a daily basis, our own team members are divided on whether or not personalizing email is a good idea. Find out what they think!

The Pros

Personal details can still grab a reader’s attention.

“When it’s just my name, I tend to roll my eyes. But send me an email based on my past activity, whether it’s events I’ve attended or things I’ve bought, and you’ve totally got my attention.”

-Awesome Amanda

Customary personalization can inspire recognition.

“While having a user’s name in a subject line or email body may seem cliche, there is no denying it’s power. Users instantly recognize their name, which in turn makes them more prone to open your message. It’s a simple way to get noticed in a sea of nameless cookie cutter messages.”

-Enthusiastic Eric

Personalization sets expectations and leads to stronger engagement.

“Using personalization can lead to better engagement with your list. People respond to tailored content.”

-Nice Nick

Nontraditional personalization makes messages truly custom.

“It’s not just about personalizing with first names anymore. With email analytics, you are able to see so many stats for your messages, so you can say with certainty that an individual visited a particular page on your website, or clicked a particular link in your last email. I mean, a lot of these things really fall under segmentation, but it’s just as easy to customize emails with stats as first and last name.”

-Kool Kelly

It’s helpful for split testing messages.

“Personalization is a great tool to use when split testing broadcast subject lines. If you want to see if your subscribers are more likely to open messages with their name in the subject line, you can create one broadcast with personalization and one without in a split test. In turn, this can help you increase opens.”

-Lovely Lindsay

The Cons

People provide false information all of the time.

“If people are not consistently entering names, or entering something other than a true name like “Test,” then it could have the adverse effect of proper personalization.”

-Jive Jeff

It’s a tactic widely used by spammers.

“I can’t even tell you how many emails in my spam folder right now include my first name in the subject line. It’s a tactic that many spammers use – why would you want to identify with spammers? Instead, I’d suggest using a branded subject line: something that identifies your company and serves as a recognizable message in the inbox.”

-Tyrannical Tracey

It can show how poorly you know your subscribers.

“Let’s say Robert signed up for your email list and entered his full name in your form because he always uses Robert for business stuff. But what if they go by Bob? They might see Robert in your subject line and be turned off.”

-Mean Matt

It’s 2010. Most people know that marketing messages aren’t individually sent.

“Sometimes it comes off as fake, transparent and “markety.” As a reader, most of the time I realize I’m subscribing to a newsletter that will also be sent out to a lot of other people. So for that newsletter to try and play it off as if its being sent specifically to me seems almost cheesy and ironically impersonal.”

-Brash Bob

Weighing Your Options

Personalization tactics aren’t bad in and of themselves, but a truly personal email will address a subscriber’s needs, desires, fears and preferences.

Does populating an email with the data you already have available take those things into consideration? It’s not a question that we can answer for you – it’s, well…personal.

Let us know how you feel about personalization in the comments below. We’d love to discuss it further with you!

66 Comments

  1. Peter

    12/2/2010 5:52 am

    I’ve noticed a huge increase in Open AND CTRs when I don’t personalize the subject line but in the greeting I do…

    example:
    “Hi {firstname},”

    My MOST all around EFFECTIVE subject lines are:

    Calling all MOOCHES…

    and…

    Only for WEIRDOS…

    Happy emailing

  2. Amanda Gagnon

    12/2/2010 9:12 am

    Chibuzo ~

    Seeing who opened your message takes just a few clicks:

    On your broadcast page, click on the subject line of the message (after it’s sent, of course), and you’ll see a graph of opens over time, plus each open-ers details beneath.

    Toggle down the left-side menu to see clicks, sales and more. 🙂

  3. EH

    12/10/2010 5:39 am

    How about hearing from someone at the ‘thorny side’ of one of ‘your’ email campaigns? Me!

    I subbed to someone using Aweber, he comes off as caring and personal, and using the personalization.

    It perturbs me to no end. – Really, you snapped up this incredible offer, JUST FOR ME? – WOW! Thank you very much! I will now rename my first born after you! – Heh heh! – I know, as well as he does, that all he is trying to do is get my money, some how or another!

    I wrote him an email, telling him to quit sending every thing he had to sell, to be selective. Of course, I knew ‘he’ would never see the email, because I knew I was going to get an auto-responder.

    People, quit insulting other people’s intelligence! (Well, actually, the state this world is in, I have to wonder how much intelligence is actually out there.)

    If you really want to know what people think about this subject, don’t ask yourselves, or each other, or worry about doing a split test, ask the people you are marketing to. Sheeesh! Grow a brain! :p (JK)

  4. Amanda Gagnon

    12/13/2010 9:14 am

    EH ~ Yes, clearly it is important to know your audience before you start sending them personalized messages. 🙂

  5. Bill Nickerson

    12/13/2010 11:58 am

    EH, you have hit the nail on the head with this problem. I don’t think that personalization is the problem per se. You probably get lots of mail (email and snail mail) addressed to you that uses your name.

    The problem is the inappropriate use of it to make it sound like we’re best friends or that they actually sat down and wrote a single email specifically to you.

    Then there is the other problem of flooding people with emails promoting other peoples’ products and lists (i.e. ad swaps). Some people figure that a little is good so a lot must be better. They’ve even automated the process so it gets way out of hand.

    Ultimately, though, split testing is the way to ask people what they want. It shows what people are responding to. How they respond and what they say they want are often two different things.

  6. Branch Whitney

    7/18/2011 10:22 pm

    I believe it depends on your reputation. If you have a good reputation and are known in your field, then asking for and using the first name is a good practice. If the first email is really a benefit to your potential customer, then they will open additional emails you send them.

  7. Fred Tappan

    8/7/2011 5:55 am

    Wow so much to think about! I don’t have list but I want one. On my webform, I think I’ll try going for only e-mail addresses. Can you have a webform for only e-mail addresses only, and then leads to another webform that captures more information?

  8. Jim Tuffin

    9/10/2011 5:56 am

    Personally I think it is polite to address your messages to the person. If you receive a letter in the post addressed to the occupier then you probably send it directly to the bin! I don’t address my children as Kid, but by their name, and that is what we all prefer, especially from a trusted source.

    If someone addressed me in a letter as Hi, then I don’t read any further.
    My evidence is that those on my lists prefer to be addressed by their first name, I trust them and they trust me!

  9. Jeff

    10/27/2011 4:25 pm

    A few commenters also pointed at what I think the real question is here, which is not should you personalize or not, it’s can you personalize without overstepping. At one end of the extreme is the ‘fake best friend’:

    “Bob! Wow! I have a special deal especially for special you! Cuz you’re my special friend Bob!”. Mmmhmm, riiight.

    And at the other end is simply the truth and not trying to hide the fact you’re using an autoresponder..

    “If you’ve chosen to recieve emails from me, Bob, chances are you and I might end up working together. Would you do me a favour and take a quick look at (some link) and see if the packages I’ve put together make sense to you. If not I’d be happy to discuss your specific needs and put something custom together. Thanks for your time Bob, Jeff”

    Does that seem offensive to you?

  10. Cecil Ponsonby

    11/7/2011 4:19 am

    I think I agree with Brash Bob mostly. if the content is personalised fine (like how Amazon use my info and emails), but otherwise, I tend to use the personal details for linking back through to the site – using their info more as something to make things easier for them to buy off of me again such as populating their login details.

  11. Rahman Mehraby

    2/12/2012 8:35 am

    Frankly speaking, I’ve been on the web for such a long time and I’ve seen both types of them so many times that it almost makes no difference to me. Yet, any time I seem the email begins with something like, “Hey Rahman”, or “Regarding the ebook you bought a few days ago Rahman”, etc I have some good feeling although these two are different and I know that it’s not a real person.

    I love it when I ask a huge company like Google for something and they answer me even if they deny my request. Timeliness matter to me more than that.

  12. Jon

    2/15/2012 3:41 pm

    Great article, nice easy to read style and gets the points over well.

    Over the last four months I’ve tested my emails with and without name in the title; I get a better open rate when the name is in the title. Maybe my results are different as I know the people in the list (not bought etc), but I’ve found it worthwhile

  13. Alan

    2/27/2012 1:48 pm

    Thanks for this post. I first started asking for name and email, but right now I’m asking just for the email. Why? Simply because more people subscribe when you are asking them for less data.

  14. Dale

    2/27/2012 6:04 pm

    With the clients I have, I have no problem getting their first name.
    One thing I don’t do is, use their name in followup’s or broadcasts in
    the subject line. Only for confirmation emails onlyl

    However I do use their firstname, in the body of email… Hi XXXX for instance.

    The way I look at it, my friends don’t but my name in the subject line.

  15. Natalie

    2/11/2013 7:37 am

    I noticed that all of your “Cons” came from the guys. I really think it depends on what your product is and your targeted audience. I think we have become too “impersonal” in our society and we don’t get to know our subscribers. I like the idea of connecting on a more personal level with my subscribers.

  16. Harold Hansen

    8/26/2014 2:18 am

    I think it’s a matter of etiquette. When anything
    Is written out and it’s supposed to go to me, I expect to have my name on it, or “Beat It!”