Perhaps it’s the focus on empathy and connecting with our subscribers on a human level. Or it’s all of the emphasis on writing in plain English—using colloquialisms, sentence fragments, emojis, and even slang. Or maybe it’s the risky desire to con their way into the Primary tab instead of the Promotions tab.
Whatever the reason, some brands have gotten the message that it’s in their best interest to position their emails as coming from a person—the CEO, a salesperson, a support rep, almost anyone—rather from their brand. This pressure appears to be the greatest among B2B brands, but can also affect B2C brands like Peloton, which has sent bulk emails that appear to be from their instructors.
Done in the wrong way, this tactic can cause a number of problems.
Potential Dangers of Sending from a Person
First, positioning a bulk email as if it’s a 1-to-1 personal email can be misleading and leave recipients feeling tricked. Coming across as dishonest or manipulative generally isn’t the best way to build brand trust and profitable relationships.
The biggest giveaways that an email isn’t from an individual include:
And second, if the recipient doesn’t recognize the person whose name you’re using as the sender name, then they’re more likely to ignore it—or to report the email as spam. That can harm your email deliverability, making inbox providers junk or block your future emails.
All of that said, in the right circumstances, it is possible to benefit from using a person’s name as your sender name.
How to Safely Send from a Person
Consider these best practices that I rounded up from some of our top B2B consultants:
1. Reserve this tactic for late-funnel communications.
Early in a relationship, a prospect or subscriber is going to be much more familiar with your brand name than the names of anyone at your company. That includes your CEO, which has a lot less name recognition than most companies assume.
However, as the relationship matures, sending emails from a person becomes a viable tactic, says Jessica Stamer, Consulting Technical Manager at Oracle Marketing Consulting.
“When the contact is close to conversion and likely developing a relationship with sales, sending from a person helps strengthen that relationship,” she says. “But at the top of funnel? No way. Keep those messages from the company.”
2. Use an appropriate reply-to address and turn off auto-replies.
Brands have spent the better part of forever telling consumers not to reply to their marketing emails. However, people expect to be able to reply to emails from other people, so make that experience a good one, says Stamer.
“To mask the automation of it and maintain the personal feel of the experience, use signature rules to set the replies to dynamically go to the salesperson or representative,” she says. “Or you could have replies go to a group sales/marketing inbox. Whichever way you go, never use an auto-reply.”
3. Include a signature block.
To mirror a 1-to-1 business email, also consider including a signature block with the individual’s contact information. In B2C, this approach is particularly effective in industries like insurance and financial services where consumers often want to call a rep rather than exchange emails or use a website.
4. Consider using a CTA to add time to the person’s calendar.
Some brands are trying to reduce the issues around replies by making the email’s primary CTA to “Find some time on my calendar,” which links to scheduling tools like Calendly.
“This is effective because it allows the contact to get in touch with the person who the email is from and cut out the time coordinating calendars,” says Kaitlin Reno, Senior B2B Consultant for Eloqua at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “This tactic is often used in sales prospecting emails, which are among the most common messages to use personalized from addresses.”
5. Ensure the person whose name you’re using is aware of the campaign.
This may sound like a given, but sometimes marketers aren’t fully aligned with sales, support, and other parts of the business. Anytime a campaign is being created as from an individual, regardless of whether their email address is being used as the reply-to address, they should be made aware of the campaign and familiarized with its content.
“The person should be prepared for the out-of-office responses they may receive, which can happen even if their email address is only listed as the from and not the reply-to address,” says Laura Marty, Consulting Technical Manager for Eloqua at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “And they should be prepared to potentially receive calls or outreach on social media about it, too.”
It Doesn’t Have to Be Either/Or
Not sure which is better? Then why not choose both as part of a hybrid approach? If your brand name is fairly short (say, less than 10 characters) and the person’s name is, too, then you can use them together.
Among B2B brands, that’s one of the more popular from name extension strategies, where brands are making use of the extra characters available to them in the sender name field. It varies, but inboxes generally display around 20 characters of a sender name. So, if you’re using less than that, then you have some latitude to add to your sender name.
Because of the danger of having your sender name truncated in inboxes that are less generous toward sender name lengths, we tend to favor leading with your brand name, since that ensures you’ll be recognized. However, if your brand name and the person’s name are sufficiently short, then you have options. And if you’re only using the person’s first name, then you have even more flexibility.
Here are some hybrid sender name configurations to consider:
If the character counts work in your favor, this approach is in many ways the safe compromise.
The Full Menu
Of course, just because you use your brand name as your sender name doesn’t mean that the message can’t be written as from an individual, such as your president or CEO. This is by far the most popular approach taken with disaster and crisis messaging, whether it’s a hurricane-related message or the messaging sent in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, you have options. To determine the best approach, first think about who the email’s message should be from. If it’s from the brand, then the sender name should also be the brand.
But if the message makes the most sense being from an individual, then consider how familiar the recipient is with that individual. If it’s early in the relationship or the recipient may not recognize the person’s name, then use the brand name or a hybrid sender name that leads with the brand name. However, if it’s later in the relationship and familiarity with the individual has been established, then use a hybrid or, if you’re really confident, just the individual’s name.
It’s a big decision, because your sender name has the biggest impact on whether your email is opened or not. That makes sense because the email channel is all about permission, trust, and relationships. In inboxes, strangers aren’t generally welcome, so make sure you’re using a sender name that’s going to create instant name recognition.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.