When I send out email campaigns, I tend to shy away from personalisation simply because I’m absolutely, positively convinced it will be a massive, career-ending disaster.

Back in 2011 when I started working for Virgin Media, staff were in the midst of dealing with the backlash from a major email screw-up: the Dear Dean fiasco. Virgin Media’s agency had just sent out hundreds of thousands of customer emails all addressed to – you guessed it – Dean. Naturally the recipients didn’t respond kindly to the mistake; nothing says ‘we’re a big greedy corporation that doesn’t really give a damn about our customers’ like getting their names wrong.

Having just received the “Dear Dean” email I am seriously thinking of upgrading – Ericthelobster

Glad I’m not Dean, he’s not getting a good deal is he! Hope mines better – Lee

From now on Dean can pay my bills – dodgem22

That job was my foray into digital marketing, so the Dear Dean horror story stuck and I’ve been a little afraid of customised emails ever since. Silly really, considering 62% of marketers swear by them.

I did occasionally personalise the Virgin Media Shorts newsletter, and a freelance client of mine last year really liked the recipients’ names included in every email, but I tested and tested and tested before I put the campaigns live. I’d send it to myself, my colleagues, my friends and triple check every version until I was confident people wouldn’t be greeted with ‘Hello <CUSTOMER NAME>’ in their inbox.

But obviously I’m well aware that customising messages (when it’s done properly) has been proven to work: personalised emails convert.

That’s why I was interested to read MailChimp’s blog post on subject line data, particularly the part on email personalisation using merge tags and the impact it has on open rates.

Surprisingly (I think), they found that, while it’s far more common to use just a recipient’s first name in the subject line, addressing them by first and last name actually saw more success, with a 0.33% increase on the control, compared to a 0.09% increase for emails just using the first name. So subject lines like this are the way forward:

Congratulations, *|FNAME|* *|LNAME|*

Honestly I would have expected this to see a much lower open rate, since – to me – including a full name in the subject line looks extra spammy. But rather than being seen as junk mail, these emails are inspiring trust: ‘They know my full name, it must be legit.’ Considering how crucial it is in marketing to build a personal connection with the reader and make them believe you’re speaking directly to them, I suppose reinforcing that connection with the reader’s full name sort of makes sense. ‘They’re not even talking to all the other Siobhans, it’s just me this time!’

MailChimp drilled down further into the data and discovered that subject line personalisation works better for some industries than others.

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Personalisation has the biggest impact on open rate for government emails, and if you’ve ever received a campaign message from a political party you’ll know how good they are at using your name. Labour is particularly skilled at flirting you into submission by sprinkling a few [SUBSCRIBER NAME] tags throughout their copy.

But interestingly, it has a negative impact on legal sector emails. Presumably people don’t feel comfortable with informal lawyers.

It’s rather telling that marketing industry emails don’t benefit too well from personalisation either. I guess marketers are too savvy to be sucked in by that old trick, eh?

Tell us, do you personalise your emails and do you notice a significant uplift in open rate or conversion?

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

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