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Why You Should Avoid Using Personalization in Your Email Campaigns

Personalization can be great, if used correctly. But if the personalized element of an email is missing you’ve left the subscriber feeling a bit uncertain about the content right from delivery.

This is one of the mistakes I made in my hay days of email deployment. Remember, the point of deploying email is to generate subscribers into traffic, making the website traffic a customer. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and missing data can be embarrassing to both you and the client. I’m telling you what no one told me, so learn from my mistakes and avoid using personalization in your email campaigns.

Why to Avoid Personalization

A few years ago I sent out an email for a full service client who wanted to send a personalized email using the subscriber’s first name. The subject line read, “Christine, save 25% today only!” The downfall to using personalization in this campaign (which truly is a great concept) was that the mailing list didn’t have first name data associated with the email address. Big deal you ask? Well the subject line started with a blank space and a stray comma followed with save 25% today only! The blank space replaces the missing name since the software deploying the email has no data to populate the name with and the client wasn’t too happy about this embarrassing mistake.

Personalization, Salutations and Stray Commas

Interestingly Etsy sent me an email the other day reminding me to complete my billing info, (for an account I had not completed) which included a perfect example of this personalization mishap. This Etsy account doesn’t have my first name associated to it and when personalization was used in the email it didn’t work as planned, because the they just don’t have my first name data on record.

Screenshot of Stray Comma in Personalized Email

Screenshot of stray comma in personalized email


Here’s a few screenshots to illustrate:

  1. This screenshot shows the missing first name data and a stray comma. You can see how a stray comma gives the impression the sender forgot something or there’s been some type of error.
  2. The second screenshot is an example of what I suspect the email should have looked like if the mailers mailing list had my first name data.
Screenshot of Email with Personalization

Screenshot of email with personalization


The software isn’t producing an error, in fact, the opposite has happened. The software has done its job correctly, but the email deployment software (MailChimp, Responsys, ConstantContact, Lyris) doesn’t have first names associated to the email addresses. So, in order to populate the FIRST NAME and/or FIRST AND LAST NAME, it can’t. Generally a string of code is used to populate the subscribers name, often referred to as a ‘merge tag’. Usually it looks something like %FIRST%.

This code prompts the deployment software to say, “Oh hey, this email is being sent to and we need to put in the first name where that itsy bitsy string of code is.”

So your subject line would look like this, before send: %FIRST%, save 25% today only!

Another scenario of personalization is in the body copy of the email, which is what we’re seeing happen in the Etsy email.

The Personalization Workaround

If you must (or have a client that insists on having personalization in a campaign) I have a helpful tip for a personalization work around. Keep the salutation to a simple greeting. Something like, “Hello”, “Hi”, “Good Day” works. Avoid salutations like “Dear” and “To”. That way if the name is missing from your mailing list data your content is still effective by simply stating, Hello, Hi, or Good Day without the name. Using salutations like “Dear” and “To” leave the subscriber hanging if the personalization is missing. Definitely omit the use of punctuation as well.


Hello Christine,
Hi Christine,
Good Day Christine,

Examples of Email Personalization Salutations To Use

Examples of email personalization salutations to use


Depending on software, elimination of a space between the comma and first name might be required. Do some testing here to determine what happens if the name doesn’t display so you don’t end up with a random space and a trailing comma.

Examples of the Missing First Name in the Salutation
Hello ,
Hi ,
Good Day ,

Examples of the Missing First name without a Stray Comma
Good Day

Examples of email salutations to use without personalization

Examples of email salutations to use without personalization

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