Email personalization is a topic you hear hotly debated in marketing circles… and it has been for some time.

First of all.  Email personalization is the concept of including a person’s name in an email to make it more, well, personal.  In so doing, it becomes more effective because the reader thinks you really are talking to them, one-to-one, and not just blasting out some impersonal email spam.

The argument goes like this.

Using a person’s name in the email copy or subject line appeals to their inner brain and they can’t resist responding to it.  It’s human nature. Salespeople have known this for years.


The use of a person’s name in the email copy or subject line has been so overused by marketers it is no longer effective, so don’t lower yourself to that level.  Take the high road and you’ll do better in the long run.

Where do you stand?

Both arguments are equally valid.  And I’ve run enough split tests which have proved both sides of the argument.  So which is it?

Here’s the real truth of personalization.  If you’re looking at just using a First Name for personalization you’re missing the big picture AND a big payoff.

Here’s how you should look at personalization.

1.  Use First Name in an email if you use it sparingly and make it sound natural.  It’s also pretty important to ensure you have a clean quality database.  If someone has subscribed to your list with a First Name of “AK899-banana” you’ll find using that in an email is not very personal at all.  But if you are using the First Name field pulled from your shopping cart, you’ll have a good shot at personalization using a name.

2.  Go beyond the subject line.  Use the name in the subject line or in the salutation of the email or in the closing but not everywhere. You really can overdo it.

3.  Consider other personalization data.  What about full name?  Or use the email address in a paragraph that tells the reader this is the email address on file.  What about subscribe date, last purchase date, first order date, the name of the report they downloaded, or the last product they purchased?  You can use ANY data you have in your database to make a more personalized email.

Email personalization is way more than using a reader’s name. It can range from the simple, “A 30% off coupon for Mitch Tarr” to “You last clicked on a link in one of our emails on 5/12/13”.

The real secret of personalization then, relies on your good judgement to use when appropriate.