How best to start off marketing emails?

I know that for some of you this will like teaching you to suck eggs, but given the amount of times that we still see this it is obvious that mistakes are still happening.

Conventional wisdom is to put the recipient’s name in the subject line – however whenever I see my name in the subject of an email now my default reaction is often to not bother reading it unless I have plenty of time.

You could start the email “Dear *name*” or “Hi *name*!” which would probably work quite nicely if you are 100% certain the names on your subscriber list look like this:-

John
Sarah
Julie
Dave
But in my experience, the name field in databases – especially databases which are populated from forms on websites – tend to look like this:-

John (work email address)
S Smith
juli
dave@whatever.com
All of which would make you look pretty silly when you send an email addressed “Dear juli” to Julie.

And, yes, it would make YOU look silly, because Julie wouldn’t remember her typo, and you would be very much mistaken if you thought it was a good idea to point it out to her if she ever mentioned it.

You could solve this problem by manually checking your database, which is fine if it’s relatively small. If it’s bigger then you could pay someone to check it, if you think it’s important enough.

If you do this, most email marketing software gives you an option to specify a ‘fallback’ greeting, for example:-

Dear *name,fallback=’friend’*
In this example the email would start either:-

Dear John
if you had John’s name in your database, or if you didn’t it would start:-

Dear friend
Blegh. In that situation I’d prefer to keep the fallback blank and start with a more open greeting, such as:-

Hello *name,fallback=”*
That way, your email will start with “Hello John” or “Hello”. Much neater.

Linked to that, another option is to start your emails “Dear customer” or “Dear friend”.

Don’t do that. Please.

If you don’t have any names then just start with “Hello” or you could do what I tend to do – and jump straight in. You know I’m not writing this email to you alone. I know that too. So we drop the pretence and get on with it.

As usual, the best way to find out what works best for you is to test it. Send emails with different amounts of personalisation and see what works best.