First Name Basis: Does using member's names in subject lines make a difference?

First Name Basis: Does using member's names in subject lines make a difference?

You’ve seen a lot of them — emails with “[[FIRST_NAME_HERE]],” in the subject line. Everyone is doing them, so do they work?

We do a LOT of subject line tests here at PowerThru. And when we do subject line A/B testing for our client Environmental Action, we always try to include a “first name variant.” That means inserting the member’s name in their subject line.

Our hunch has been that while it seems a little dorky and 1999, addressing members by name would improve the chances they would open, click and act on the email. Would it work? Do people respond to their own name or are they turned off by the intrusiveness of faux-familiarity in mass email? I reviewed 11 email A/B tests to find out, going back six months. The samples all went to 10% of the eventual send, and ranged from 2200 to 8600 for each test segment — so the results should be statistically significant for all but the largest lists..

subject line with first name personalization results

In all cases but one, there was one first name variant out of four. (We did one test with TWO first name variants out of four.) I then compared it with whichever the highest non first name variant.

Out of a total 44 total emails, 12 included a first name merge field (which we refer to as the firstname or Fname variant below). If the results were mathematically random, meaning no variant preferred better or worse than any other, you would expect the first name would win 27% of the time, or in 3 of 11 tests.

But the Fname variant actually won 4, or 36%, of the time — over performing by 33%. What’s more, in two more of the tests, they were within 1% points of the winner. So in 6 of the 11 tests, or  nearly 55% of the time, including a first name was the right choice, or double what you would expect.

Overall, the average open rate of the Fname variant was almost as high as the winning non first name variant (and keep in mind there were two other non-first name variants that did more poorly.) The conclusion is that using Fname merge fields in your subject lines is worth a try, at least. 

So should you just put a Fname variant in every subject? Not so fast, [[FirstName_Friend]]! Recall there were plenty of times when the NON first name variant won, sometimes by a lot. There’s a natural alchemy to subject lines — a sense that the best open rates are a product of inspiration AND perspiration, that cannot be reduced to a simple formula like merging the Fname field.

Even where Fname variants won there were often other funny, snarky, or teasing elements at work (those are all other things that tend to improve open rates). And as always, we’ll advise that the results of one organization (even over 11 tests in the course of 6 months) are no substitute for a good A/B test: the usual caveat applies: your list is your own and might not follow this rule. But it’s worth a test, [your first name here].**

Got a thought, personalization or just want to share the truth according to {YOUR_NAME}? Hit us up on Facebook, or Twitter to share your thoughts. Want to improve the open rates of your emails? Contact PowerThru today!

*Funny story: one of the PowerThru partners once sent out an email with what he thought was a “Dear Fname” value at the start. In fact, he’d typed his own name, and since in tests to himself, all the emails read “Dear Mike” he assumed the merge field worked fine. As a results, some umpteen thousand voters were temporarily re-named “Mike” for a day. So be careful when using merge-fields! Always have a second human proof-read your emails and double and triple check your links, merge fields and other database-powered inputs. Also, coincidentally, this story has a happy ending in that the “Dear Mike” fundraiser actually performed BETTER than many other emails. So either personalization (even when inaccurate) really works, or we’re all secretly dreaming of being a boy named Mike.

**Funny story #2, when testing adding a first name to the subject line “Let’s protest Miami-Style”, Drew put his at the end, making it sound like he would henceforth be known as “Miami-Style Drew.” Be sure to check how it will actually appear to a member in their subject!