Email marketers spend plenty of time worrying about the quality and effectiveness of their subject lines (and they should), but I believe the "From" line is just as important, if at times even more so.
The "From," or sender name, is the inbox field that tells your recipient who sent the messages. Some marketers use a company name, others a brand, publication or person's name, while others simply use an email address.
It seems like a minor item, especially because it occupies less space and prominence than the subject line. The “From” name is critical, however, given that most recipients look at the "From" name first and will discard or mark as spam messages from senders they don't recognize.
What's More Important: “From” Name or Subject Line?
I asked a potentially controversial question in the title of a recent Email Insider column: "Does the Subject Line Matter Anymore?"
The short, best-practices answer is, "It depends." But unlike with subject lines, I'm not a big fan of testing "From" names, although there are times when it makes sense.
As with the slogan "Volvo = safe," I usually recommend that people go with the obvious choice, the one that makes sense and which recipients would expect to see. Then, stick with it to establish instant recognition and trust.
But even something as simple as a "From" name is more complicated than it looks and deserves consideration in selection and use.
An effective “From” name:
- Forms the foundation of your recipients' trust and email relationship with you
- Is the email brand they use to recognize whether to ignore, delete or open your messages
- Stands out in the sea of subject-line sameness
- Helps readers find your message if it gets routed to the junk folder
- Differentiates individual message streams such as promotional versus transactional
- Is what the recipient uses to sort or search messages
- Embodies your ability to deliver on the recipient's expectation of value
The "From" name and subject line clearly go hand in hand. Anybody can write a catchy subject line, but a vague "From" name can doom the email to be deleted unopened or to provoke a spam complaint.
When that happens, you don't pass "Go"—and you don't collect clicks or conversions.
Why the “From” Name Matters More Now
Several changes in the email environment have made the "From" name more important:
- Attention spans and time spent on email are shrinking. People aren't less interested in email, they're simply spending less time on irrelevant email.
- Consumer inboxes are getting flooded with commercial messages—many bearing repetitive or undistinguishable subject lines—as well as transactional messages and social-network notifications. With the holidays looming, many retailers will add to the noise by doubling or tripling their normal frequency.
- Some inboxes on mobile devices cut off the subject line after only eight to 10 characters, or about 35 characters on iPads.
- Many email recipients use mobile devices to triage their inboxes and then read what they've saved later on their laptop or desktop computer.
- ISPs increasingly factor in relevance to their junk filtering algorithms and are adding prioritization features (see my thoughts on the Gmail Priority Index, “Gmail Priority Inbox: What's The Big Deal?” or enabling users to sort and view email according to whether the sender is a contact or connection.
When “From” Names Go Bad
The worst mistake marketers make with the "From" line is not to specify a friendly “From” name at all, instead using a “From” address such as "firstname.lastname@example.org."
An email address as "From" line provides poor branding, is harder to recognize and therefore trust, and in an inbox full of well-branded “From” names, simply looks like spam. Check your junk folder and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Although almost any email address is bad as a "From" name, the most heinous of these is the "no-reply@XYZ.com" address. Brrrrr! Almost any "From" name is better than "no-reply."
When a sender does specify a "From" name, my biggest pet peeve is using a person's name, or worse several different individual names. Unless that person is your brand, it’s likely one of the biggest email mistakes you’ll ever make.
Every day I receive emails from some variation of "Mary Smith"—I have no idea who "Mary Smith" is or what company she is with.
It's even worse if the company or brand name is so widely known that having a stranger's name attached to it makes it looks suspicious. Think of all those pitches in your junk folder for Viagra, computer sof