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Trends Q: Is email subject line personalization a cheesy add-on or effective tool to increase relevancy?

photo of the author Gregg Blanchard

We’ve all seen, and may have even used, a subject line that starts with, ” Hi John, check out…”. Now, the number of people that actually think this was personally sent by a thoughtful marketer manager is low, but does it work anyway? Can the mere inclusion of the recipient’s name increase the open rate? Here’s what we found.

The Goods
Over the last three years, our clients have sent personalized emails to a total of 600,000 recipients. A far cry from an exhaustive sample, but a good starting point to see if these personalized subject lines had any impact on their open rates.

Now remember, this is a look at the correlation between using something like a first name in the subject line and open rates. Personalization is another tool in the shed to increase performance and isn’t the only thing that will impact the final performance.

Also keep in mind that with a specific tool like this, its effectiveness can quickly change over the years as it is adopted and/or overused. So, we split this data up over the last three years to see how it not only performed, but changed along the way.

In 2010, personalization lost by a clear margin of 15.5% to 13.8%. The next year, 2011, personalization came out on top – besting non-personalized subject lines by a “score” of 17.2% to 16.3%. So far in 2012, we’ve seen that repeated as personalization is again in the lead at 20.7% compared to 18.5%. You may notice that performance in general has increased over the last few years as resorts have used guest data to improve segmentation.

Now, we mentioned this sample was small, so when we take all emails together across those three years, personalization also takes a slim victory with 17.0% compared to 16.7%.

What This Means
As we mentioned before, this is identifying a correlation. It doesn’t mean you can simply add %%FIRSTNAME%% to your next subject line and get higher opens. Though, that would be the best way to find out if your resort customers respond to this type of customization.

It’s also important to realize when this tool makes sense to use and when it doesn’t. Haphazardly tossing in a recipients name can look spammy. Plan promotions to be relevant to the recipient and, when it makes sense, consider trying personalization to add another level of relevancy to your message.

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