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Ken Magill

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Stupid 'From' Line Watch: And You Are?


By Ken Magill

Lately there seems to be a disturbing trend in business-to-business email marketing—disturbing being a euphemism for needlessly stupid.

Multiple trade publishers and other marketers whose email lists are up for rent have been sending stand-alone commercial pitches with the advertisers’ names in their “from” lines rather than the list owners’.

It’s not that the pitches are out of line with subscriber interests. But when email recipients see a vendor in the from line to whom they know they haven’t supplied their address, their first thought naturally will be: “How the heck did Acme Widgets get my email address?”

In one typical case I received, opening the email revealed how Acme Widgets got my email address in teeny tiny type at the bottom of the message dangerously close to the “unsubscribe” link.

“Your email address has not been given to any business partner,” the explanatory copy said. “You received this email because you have an existing relationship with [extremely misguided publisher].”

The only explanation I can come up with for putting the advertisers’ names in from lines is that advertisers are demanding it thinking they’re getting some added exposure for their brands. Oh, they’re getting added exposure alright.

Multiple studies over the years—not to mention common sense—have determined that people tend to decide whether or not to open their email mainly based on who is in the from line and their previous experience with that name.

As a result, when a marketer sends out an email campaign, the quality and relevancy of the message has a ripple effect on people’s likelihood to open future messages.

Likewise, when a company sends a message with an unknown name in the from line, recipients have had no experience with that brand in their email account. At best they’ll ignore the message. At worst they’ll report it as spam. There will certainly be no goodwill attached to the brand.

In all probability, the messages will get shunted off into people’s spam folders. And there the brands will sit, right next to messages with subject lines like “So hard you can break an egg” and “Humongous bouncing boobies.” [Those are real.]

Thing is, the delivery troubles and lack of interaction that result from putting unfamiliar names in email from lines is completely avoidable.

Sending stand-alone offers on third parties’ behalves to a permission-based list is a perfectly acceptable business model. I plan to do it with my subscriber file as soon as it’s big enough, but there will only ever be one name in the from line.

And it’s not just in b-to-b list-rental situations where marketers have been unwisely putting unknown names in their from lines. Some firms put employee names in them.

People who subscribe to the Acme Baby Clothes weekly specials email aren’t expecting messages from Bob in customer service. They’re expecting email from Acme Baby Clothes and Acme Baby Clothes should be the only name that ever appears in the from line.

Not only does the strange name do nothing to help the effort, it is off putting to recipients and needlessly risky.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Luke Glasner
Date: 2011-11-15 17:29:41
Subject: From Names

Hi Ken, I think that many Publishers are putting the advertisers' names in the From line not to meet advertisers's requests but because they think they have to under the CAN-SPAM rules. When I worked in publishing that was one of the things they often trotted out as a the reason. Personally, I liked "Publisher on Behalf of XYZ Corp" the best for our rental emails. Often advertisers had no problem not having their name in the from at all, once I explained that our subscribers where a lot more likely to open our messages they subscribed to than one from them that they didn't. The data I collected at the time supported that fact too just as the studies you mentioned do too.