April 29, 2010
How To

Using an Employee Name in the 'From' Line: 6 Tactics to Supplement HTML Promo Emails

SUMMARY: HTML promotions may perform the heavy lifting in your marketing strategy, but occasionally altering your approach can generate additional response. We've heard many marketers cite the value of sending simple, personalized, text-only notes to their subscribers.

To learn more about this strategy, we spoke with a marketer who has seen personalized \"From\" lines generate a 50%-100% increase in open rate and a 10%-20% lift in CTR. We cover six tactics, such as how to choose a sender name, how to approach subject lines and body copy, and why it’s important to watch your unsubscribe rates.
About two years ago, Mike Atkinson, Director, Internet Marketing, House of Magnets, got a call from his boss. He’d just received an email from a company that used a person’s name in the "From" line, rather than the brand name.

The name in his inbox got him to open the email -- and prompted the call to Atkinson asking why his team wasn’t using personalized, text-based messages.

"So we tested it, and it tested great," he says. "Now, the most important emails we send out are going to be text."

Although they regularly send HTML email to promote their line of magnets, stickers, calendars and other products, Atkinson and his team occasionally send special emails that appear to be personal notes from their sales manager. Her name appears in the "From" line and the body of the email is all text -- a short reminder and a call-to-action that directs subscribers to a link and an 800-number. (They are sent in Rich Text Format/HTML, but contain no images, to preserve open rate measurement.)

Compared to their standard HTML promos, the special reminder emails generate a:
o 40%-100% increase in open rate
o 10%-20% increase in clickthrough rate

But sending a note with an individual’s name in the "From" line carries risks, such as a potential increase in unsubscribe rates or spam complaints. So we asked Atkinson to describe how his team has found success with the strategy.

Here are the six tactics they employ:

Tactic #1. Reserve use for the most important messages

A text email with a personalized "From" line only stands out if it’s used sparingly.

Atkinson’s team sends two or three HTML email promotions a month, but only uses the personalized text emails nine times a year. These messages are saved for special pricing deadline reminders for three key products:
o Annual calendar magnets
o Baseball schedule magnets
o Football schedule magnets

During each of these campaigns, the team offers three pricing levels leading up to a final deadline to order products. The day before (or the day of) each pricing change, they email a personal note from their sales manager to their entire list, reminding them of the deadline. (See Creative Samples for a copy of a reminder email)

Tactic #2. Choose a relevant person as the sender

Choose a name for the "From" line that will be recognized by -- or relevant to -- your subscribers. The goal is to provide a more personal touch, so you should pick someone with whom you want your customers to have a relationship.

Atkinson’s team sends personalized emails from sales manager Katie Blackburn. Other companies may want to use the name of a well-known founder, president or other executive. Or, you can send personalized emails based on each customer’s account representative.

Tactic #3. Prepare your customer service or sales team to receive responses

Problems can arise if the person named on the email is expected to handle all responses to that message. Instead, make sure the email explains the preferred channel for responses,and prepare your staff to help field responses.

- Atkinson’s team includes a link to their online store and an 800-number for phone orders in its deadline reminder emails. But they’ve also added a note below the number to explain that customers don’t need to speak with Katie personally:
o "Order them on our website or call (anyone here can help you)."

- They also prepare the customer service team to handle a rush of orders following a deadline email. The day of the deadline, callers who ask for Katie will be asked, "Are you calling to place an order? I can help you with that."

Tactic #4. Watch unsubscribe rate and spam complaints

The downside of using a different name in the "From" line of your email messages is the potential for an increase in unsubscribes or spam complaints.

For example, subscribers who have been on your list for a long time and stopped opening your promotional emails may see a different sender name, open the email, and forget that they’ve opted-in to receive messages. Or worse, they can feel duped.

Atkinson says they have noticed slight increases in unsubscribe rates after sending personalized reminder emails. But the increase wasn't significant enough to cause concern.

"In our view, to a degree it’s one way to clean out your list."

Still, your list and your subscribers may react differently, so test the tactic with a portion of your database and watch spam reports and unsubscribe rates carefully.

Tactic #5. Test subject line style

Because you’re using a different name and format for personalized emails, you may also want to employ a different subject line style than that of your typical promotional email.

Atkinson’s team has used two approaches:

- A general subject line that doesn’t specify the sender -- e.g., "Tomorrow’s deadline"

- A more specific subject line that reflects their brand and products -- e.g., "Prices increase on baseball magnets Wednesday"

The vaguer the subject line, the higher the open rates, says Atkinson:
o Personalized sender emails with non-specific subject lines typically achieve open rates 80%-100% higher than their standard promotional emails.
o Personalized sender emails with product or brand-specific subject lines generate a 40%-50% increase in open rates.

However, these higher open rates typically generate higher unsubscribe rates, says Atkinson. So the team mixes up their subject line style over the course of pricing deadlines for their three primary sales campaigns.

Tactic #6. Use short, informal copy

The personalized sender name provides an opportunity to use shorter, informal copy. You want the message to sound like it came from an individual, not a marketing department.

Atkinson’s team uses short paragraphs and short sentences that get to the point and provide an immediate call-to-action.

"We want it to sound like an email from a friend, saying ‘Hey dude, don’t forget this.’"

Here’s the first paragraph of a recent reminder email:

- "I want to make sure you remember that our pre-order discount pricing on Baseball Schedule Magnets ends TODAY, Tuesday, 2/9/10: www.houseofmagnets.com/baseball.asp"

Another reason to use short copy and short paragraphs is to quickly offer additional options for readers who aren’t interested in the primary offer. For example, only certain cities have Major League Baseball teams, meaning 25%-30% of the team’s list is unlikely to want MLB schedule magnets. So the third line of that email explains that the company can create custom magnets for local high school, college or little league teams.

"There are a lot of people rediscovering us with these emails, so we show them options," says Atkinson. "If we keep them engaged, the next offer might apply to them."

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from House of Magnets’ email program

Members Library -- Personalized Emails, Website for Sales Agents Boost Response: 5 Strategies to Lift CTR 23%

Members Library -- HTML vs Text Email: Which Works Better in a Short Conversion Cycle?

House of Magnets

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