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“Dear First Name” is not personalisation

We all get newsletters addressed to “Dear First Name”. Usually the person sending the message using an email marketing package has used the wrong code, or not set up their database properly. The real problem is that many marketers seem to think that calling us by our first name is “personalisation”. It isn’t; it is merely being polite.

Imagine going to a dinner party where the host opened the door and said hello followed by your first name. OK, that’s what we’d expect. But what happens next? There will usually be lots of questions like “how was your journey” or “your dress looks gorgeous, where did you get it” or “would you like a drink”. In other words, in a normal human encounter the next step after the ritual of “Hello First Name” is to personalise the conversation around the interests of the individual.

In a shop, the same thing happens. Shop assistants can see what you are interested in as you browse and they will start up a conversation about what you are looking at. They will ask a couple of questions about you and will start to provide information based around what you say. For example, you could be in a computer shop looking for a new laptop for your son or daughter who is off to university. The sales assistant will ask what kind of thing you are looking for and why. Before you know it, they are chatting about university students, their own time at university and what extra gadgets students find helpful. The conversation has become completely personalised to you and your interests. When you leave the shop and the assistant is talking to someone else, they could be chatting about how tablet devices are really useful for old people….!

To each of us the most important person on the planet is ourselves. Even if we tell our loved ones it is them, deep down it’s us…! Indeed, there is a psychological phenomenon known as the “cocktail party effect” whereby people can hear their own name being whispered on the other side of the room at a social gathering. We are so focused on ourselves, we love to hear anything that is about us.

Online this means that email newsletters that start with “Dear First Name” and then go on to be rather generic, are not perceived as personal at all. They may as well not have “first name” at the start. However, web pages that are precisely about us as an individual are exactly what we want – they are personalised to your needs. This means that an important thing for an online business is to collect as much information about customers as possible and to prepare a variety of similar pages but which can be focused on those very narrow groups of customers.

Equally, if you collect data from your visitors you can use this to truly personalise ach email newsletter beyond “Dear First Name”, instead adding in highly individual and personal elements that make each message much more focused on the person reading it.

The more you can do to extend personalisation beyond “Dear First Name” the better.


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps businesses understand how their customers use the web so that they can provide webites that truly and deeply engage people. He is the author of “Click.ology: What Works in Online Shopping”. See grahamjones.co.uk and http://click.ology.biz.

Graham Jones Internet Pschologist

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