For years, email marketing professionals have been pounding the drum of personalization. But according to a July 2011 article in DM News, conventional wisdom may be wrong again.
The most unexpected finding was that emails with a personalized subject line underperformed generic subject lines by just about 75%, seeming to undermine everything most people thought they knew about email. Generic subject lines were opened at a rate of 11%, while personalized subject lines were opened at just 4%.
That’s a huge discrepancy. Even in our testing across dozens of clients, we’ve seen similar behavior. The only exception to the rule seems to be campaigns that have already set up a relationship with customers or customer segments that are highly personalized in nature.
Email content, or email body, however, is another story. DM News reported that emails with a personalized body are opened at 13% — a nearly 20% improvement over completely non-personalized emails. At MarketTraq, we’ve seen individual campaigns where the improvement is closer to 100% with mass-customized or dynamic message content.
This is something all marketers should definitely sit up and pay attention to: a 20% increase in opens just through basic personalization like including recipient first names in messaging can mean huge improvements in revenue and ROI.
What causes the huge drop-offs in opens?
One theory is that since spammers took over the technique of personalizing email subject lines, the technique has become tainted, with subscribers immediately deleting messages without checking who they’re from or what they’re about. Spammers also get personalization wrong quite often, which confuses customers and makes personalized subject a red flag and less compelling to readers. While that seems on its face to be a legitimate reason, without more rigorous testing, it’s impossible to prove one way or another.
An even more interesting question to come out of this is “why would the open rate go up if the body text was personalized?” Doesn’t someone have to open an email to see what’s in it? The answer is both yes and no.
What is the sound of one mouse clicking?
How can personalizing the body positively effect open rates?” The obvious answer is that the personalization is usually found in the very beginning of the body text, and as such, shows up in a preview of the email. That may or may not be the case (without seeing the exact data, it’s impossible to say), but consider that not every email client has a preview pane, or has a very small preview pane.
Gmail, for instance, gives you a hundred or so characters on most screens, and those have to be shared with the subject line. The troubling aspect of this theory is that if a personalized subject line turns customers off to such a great degree, wouldn’t it make sense that seeing their name in a preview may have the same effect?
It turns out, no.
Since a subject line is expected to be a concise summary of what the subscriber can expect inside the email, adding in personalization crowds the already terse copy that can be fit into 40 characters or less. With no room left to set expectations, the subject line becomes less effective, and subscribers are far less likely to open an email if they don’t know what to expect. Body copy, on the other, has plenty of room to insert personalized touches without having them stand out so much as to appear like spam. It’s the difference between:
Subject: “Jane Doe, Do you know how to improve conversions?”
Preview Pane: 43% of marketers use segmentation to improve their conversions.
Subject: “Email Segmentation Improves Conversion Rates.”
Preview Pane: Hi Jane, only 43% of marketers use email segmentation to improve their conversions.
This is an important piece of information. What this suggests is that while recipients are have grown distrustful of emails with their names in the subject line, they take seeing their names in the body of the email as a more important trust factor.
Going one step further… how far behind this logic can anti-spam filtering software be… not only can the correct usage increase your open and click rates, it could help improve your delivery rates…