[hei] -(pause)- [Ju:]?

I was surprised when my Korean name was called by a beautiful barista at a coffee shop. I visit there often but I had never told anyone there my name. How did she know it? Of course, she had gotten it from my credit card. It surprised me, but in a good way. It felt... friendly. Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." What was true in 1936 is still true today. But simply because technology makes it easy, is using a person's name on a marketing communication enough in the way of personalization to drive responses higher?

In the offline world, some companies have started to have their employees call customers by their names to build rapport and show that they are focusing their attention on their customers' needs. Derrick Kwa argues that when we hear our own name being called, we tend to have a greater response, and he has an NIH-funded study to back his statement up. We're more alert and responsive to our own name. Therefore, he suggests marketers should make use of it. Companies should make messages personal. It is more likely to get a response and get the person's attention (Calling Your Customer’s Name). However, is that increased attention definitely going to be positive?

Emails offer a different context vs. face to face interaction in stores. But while we may know a lot more about a newsletter recipient than just his or her name, we usually do not know the individual behind the email address. Great care must therefore be taken. Many marketers simply fall back to using the recipient's name to attempt to personalize the interaction. But does this work?

Experian Marketing Services ran a study where they found "personalized subject lines had an average open rate of 19.5%, compared to 15.1% for those without personalization." But a study by MailerMailer found the opposite: emails with non-personalized subject lines had "an average open rate of 11.5%", while those with a personalized had "an average open rate of only 5.2%." (See Email Open, Click Rates Seen Lowest During Work Hours and Personalized Promotional and Triggered Emails Seen Delivering Strong Results)

Why the discrepancy? Which study is right?

Neither of them. Your customers are not the same as those in either study. Your email subject lines are not the same. Even the timing of your emails is not the same. So the way to find out if personalizing your email will help is to "benchmark against yourself", as another email study group, Silverpop, puts it.

Prepare a test. The next time you send out a mass email, talk to a market analyst with a statistics background and create a test which will show you whether you will benefit from personalization. This is usual as simple as breaking the email group into two roughly equal sets of randomly chosen recipients and making as small a change as possible. In this case, adding the name to the subject line. Send the emails out in random order, and then check your results. This will tell you very quickly whether personalization of an email subject line works for you.

Test again to see if formal names get a better response. Store the results at an individual level, because this tells you what individual customers prefer. And keep testing, because the very emails you send to your customers changes them and their habits.

The next time I visited the coffee shop, another barista called people's names when their drinks were ready. "Mike, you're coffee is ready!" "Jenny, your espresso is here!" I knew the next one would be mine. I saw her holding my drink, looking at the receipt and furrowing her brow as she tried to decide how to pronounce my name. Finally, she looked up and said "Small latte?"

Posted by Heaju Pomerleau on 09/06