Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

Why Personalization Isn't Addressing by Name

Why Email Personalization Doesn’t Equal Addressing by Name

Psychologists say that addressing a person by name has a magical effect, building sympathy and trust. But does this applies to automated emails?

Why Calling by Name in Emails Doesn't Always Work Out

In email marketing, such terms as personalization and addressing by name are often considered interchangeable. In fact, personalization goes way beyond a name and includes much larger data that helps make emails unique and relevant for the customer. Moreover, putting a customer's name in messages doesn’t always increase conversion and sales, and can even injure your reputation.

1. Typos while data collection.

Check the names carefully before uploading to the database. This is a one-time operation which nonetheless ensures the correct spelling: people could have made mistakes while entering the name in the registration/subscription form. Make sure personalization will benefit you instead of harming.

Most often mistakes are made in the following cases:

  • Contacts are collected through offline forms. Someone may have bad handwriting, or a typo is made when manually transferring data to the email service.
  • Name is entered incorrectly on purpose. People can fill the name field with all sorts of nonsense, but writing Hi there, Lord Saruman is unlikely to increase your conversions.
  • One field for the name and surname. Hope you have separate fields for each piece of personal information; otherwise you’ll never know what in Chamapiwa Temitope Zivai refers to a name, surname, or a middle name.

2. Irrelevant information.

Unfortunately, the correct spelling doesn’t guarantee success for several reasons:

  • Registration in someone else's name. Once we checked one of our client’s database and found that more than 50% of names do not match the names in the email addresses: for example, a wife may buy something and using the account of her husband, or an HR uses the company’s account.
  • Redirect for corporate email addresses. Corporate email addresses can be redirected after the employee’s discharge, and you’ll send your seemingly personalized campaigns to another person.
  • Corporate accounts with unlimited access. The longer the life of the corporate email, the more owners it has changed, and the more chances you’re putting the wrong name in your campaigns.

3. Unconfirmed names.

Many companies use unreliable information when inserting a name in the campaign:

  • Names are taken from social accounts. A very uncertain method as people may use whatever profile options instead of real names.
  • Login is used as a name. The only business that may consider using a nickname in the campaigns is online games. For the rest of brands, it’s a taboo.
  • Names are taken from email addresses. For their personal accounts, people may come up with whatever address. John Smith according to the ID may be pikachu567349 according to Gmail.

If you don’t know the name but really want to get beyond Hi, try to think of something natural and inclusive like Hi dear team, Greetings, Hello again, etc.

4. Names in emails impersonal by default.

Many people get annoyed seeing their name in promotional campaigns. There’s a time for all things: being an element of personalization in a welcome email or thank-for-your-purchase email, a name in promos, app instructions, or general privacy updates looks out of place.

We’ve run several tests to see how the presence or absence of names in a newsletter can affect the campaign performance. You’d be surprised to know the results.

1. We removed Hi, %FIRSTNAME|% from our blog newsletter.

Surprisingly, nothing has changed, and the unsubscribe rate was even lower than usual. A compilation of blog articles implies nothing personal, so there’s no need in obvious insincerity.

2. We added a name to the subject line.

We had never addressed the subscribers by name, but before March 8, we decided to send our female readers the campaign with % FIRSTNAME% in the subject line.

Subject line stats

The open rate was slightly higher, which may be explained not by the presence of the name but by mentioning the holiday. However, the click rate dropped almost by half. The reason might be that we simply sent a greeting without including extra incentives. Turns out the use of the name alone doesn’t improve the campaign statistics if the content itself is disappointing: our audience expected to see gifts alongside wishes.

3. We run a subject line A/B test.

We used two subject lines:

  • Main variation: %FIRSTNAME|Dear client%, tell us about your preferences
  • Variation 2: Tell us about your preferences

The whole contact base was split into two equal parts who received our promotional campaign. These are the results:


But we can’t tell how many contacts from the first group received the message with the name, and how many – with Dear client. You can run a similar test, and send the first subject line only to contacts with names, and then compare the result.

5. Addressing by name in Opt-In causes spam.

Spammers can send spam through subscription forms if the following conditions are met:

1. The subscription form on the website has email and name fields.

2. A subscription confirmation contains a name ("Hello, %FIRSTNAME%!").

A spammer fills out a subscription form on the website. In the email field, they enter someone else's email address to send spam to; in the name field – spam content (earn $100 an hour using this simple method). As a result, an email is sent with the spam text. A spammer automates form filling and sends spam to their contact base.

To protect against such attacks:

  • check subscription forms;
  • track abnormal subscription frequency;
  • add captcha to the registration form.

We use all these methods in our system, but the easiest and cheapest way to protect yourself is not to use the name in automated confirmations.

Craft & Send Personalized Emails

Customer’s Name in Triggered Emails

All the above doesn’t mean you don’t need to collect personal information or use it for targeted campaigns. What it means is that you need to do it when appropriate and based on your email purpose. And there is no better place to do it than a triggered email.

As suggested by the name, such emails are triggered by a certain action of the customer: purchase, feedback, event registration, birthday, etc. And this is when you want to get personal, possibly refer to the previous partnership, and ensure future cooperation.

You can achieve it by putting the name

  • in the subject line;


  • in the body;

Personal name

Last post
  • for a “wow” effect;

Sometimes, a name can be used not only in a header or copy, but also on a banner or other images. It’s quite difficult to craft an individual banner for each client, but there are special services that simplify the task, for example, NiftyImages. You can choose any banner, name placement and text font and color.

In NyftyImages, you set the personalization parameter (for example, %FIRSTNAME), and the system would generate the code to insert in the email. At the moment of sending, in each email would be inserted a customer’s name stated in your contact base.

This is how Really Good Emails did the job done.

Personal name

But note that around two weeks before sending this campaign, RGE sent a clarification email asking to confirm that they got the name correct. That’s a smart idea that helped avoid possible spelling errors.

Email example

Another service, Vidyard, allows to put the name directly in the video! That’s a good idea to show off your creativity, but mind that not all email clients support HTML5. Instead of a personalized video, the subscriber may see just a static image. If you opt for the video email, let people know they may need to watch it in the web version.


  • Addressing by name isn’t personalization as it is, but a kind of introduction of further personalized content.
  • Name is something personal, so use it wisely and don’t put in every campaign regardless of its purpose.
  • Use the name only if you are sure that it’s the actual name.
  • Find out more about your subscribers by their names.

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Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

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