Email marketers know the rule: use a first name in the subject line.
This is the accepted benchmark of email marketing success. Using the first name makes the prospect feel good. It makes them feel like you know them, they are thus, more likely to open your email and click on your email.
The most cited study to back up the using the first name theory is this one from Marketing Sherpa published in April of 2012.
Wrong. Data from our email campaigns shows a much lower open rate in favor of NOT including the recipient’s first name.
Open Rate WITHOUT First Name: 15.7%
Open Rate WITH First Name: 14.9%
Keep in mind that we aren’t saying this is a scientific study, or that we know everything there is to know about email marketing. What we are saying is that over 10 months we’ve held 80+ marketing webinars and we’ve invited our growing email list to those webinars. And in that sample size, subject lines without the first name perform better.
This flies in the face of common knowledge and accepted best practices for email marketing.
It surprised us.
A few factors that may be influencing results include:
– The data that suggests subject lines should contain a first name are, largely, pretty old. A study in the spring of 2012 is the most cited study on the subject. That’s ancient. Things change.
– Personal experience – When I get emails that have my first name on them, I get annoyed. I’m smart enough to know that the email didn’t come from a person, it came from a marketing automation system. And yet it is pretending to be person. That’s sort of annoying right?
– Everyone is doing it – If everyone sends emails with a personalized subject line (which most companies now are), doesn’t it lose its power? Yes…yes it does.
– Maybe people are figuring out that these emails are really personal. Maybe, like me, many people are wise to the fact that these are not truly personalized emails.
– Marketers are smart – Maybe personalized emails work for audiences that are not familiar with marketing tactics. But when marketing to other marketers, personalization is dumb.
– Maybe our data is not useful.
Personally, I think that people are sick of getting personalized emails because they know they are not personal. Anyone with half of a brain knows that a real person didn’t send that personalized email, thus, it is no different than an email without a first name in the subject line. And in some ways, it is worse.
Do with this data what you will.