The from line as sacred cow: can you change it? Should you?
You can change your religion and nationality.
You can change your mind, hair and underwear.
You can even change your gender.
But you cannot (CANNOT!) change your from name.
At least you’d think so based on how most people react when you make the suggestion.
They’re not wrong, but they’re not completely right either: I changed my newsletter’s from line and improved results, as I’ll show below.
What are we changing?
First we need to clarify what exactly we’re changing.
Every email carries with it various bits of information to say where it came from. This includes such things as the sender’s name and email address.
Most email software and webmail services display the “friendly” version of the sender’s identity in the inbox, i.e. the sender’s name:
So viewing, for example, my newsletter in a typical inbox would show a sender name of:
“Email Marketing Reports”
In this post, I’m only talking about changing this friendly from/sender name, not your sender email address: that’s a topic for another day.
Why you should not change your from line
The main issue with the from line is recognition…existing subscribers have got used to associating a certain from line with your emails.
Most people argue that changing the from line breaks this recognition: emails may then be ignored or even marked as spam (eek!), if the recipient decides some unknown sender has sent them unsolicited commercial email.
This argument is perfectly logical. (But see the P.S. at the end of the post for a surprise!)
However, the problem is not changing your from line per se, but how you change it.
Every criticism of a from line change I have read refers to a case where the from line has changed to something largely unrecognizable to most recipients. Like if email from “Email Marketing Reports” suddenly came from “David Macmillan”.
Nobody knows who David Macmillan is.
But it’s not the same as saying you cannot change your from line at all. Who says the new sender name has to be an unrecognizable one?
Why you should change your from line
The from line plays a major role in getting people to give your message attention. Assuming you send emails worth that attention, then you want people to recognize those emails…which starts with a recognizable sender name.
Equally the value of that recognition increases, the closer the relationship between recipient and sender (again, always assuming the recipient sees value in the messages).
For most businesses, there is no personal relationship between sender and recipient. So most marketing emails therefore come from a company or brand name to exploit the recognition factor (see the earlier image for examples).
So why would you ever want to change this from line?
Of course there are times when a brand, company or newsletter name changes…but these forced changes to something potentially unrecognizable are not what I’m talking about and need their own special approach.
My question is this: when would you voluntarily change your from line?
In an ideal world, we’d have optimized our from line on Day 1. Call me a pessimist, but this isn’t an ideal world.
Like me, you may have come up with a from name at the beginning of an email program and then bowed to the Goddess of No Change and left it untouched, even though in retrospect it was not the best choice of sender name. Like some of these ones from my Gmail inbox:
You might want to move from a generic sender name (like “marketing”) to a recognizable one.
Or you might want to use a person’s or personality’s name to try and get a bigger connection to the reader. This could work well in B2B where the sender might be the recipient’s account manager.
The first case seems logical. The second is a little more complicated: in the best case scenario, everyone recognizes the new “human” sender and you get a results boost. In the worst case, the person’s name is meaningless and results tumble (but see later).
So how about we test? We just need to make sure that:
1. The new from line is as recognizable as possible
2. Other recognition elements are built into the email
Let’s see how that looks in practice.
A real-world example and test results
As I stated, my newsletter comes with a sender name of “Email Marketing Reports”.
Now every issue starts with an editorial signed by “Mark” (me) and every landing page features an article written by “Mark Brownlow”. And I try and keep the tone of the emails and the articles fairly conversational.
Could I get a response boost by using my name as the from line, rather than the rather unexciting website name?
“Email Marketing Reports” is hardly a household name in its own right, but it’s surely more recognizable than “Mark Brownlow”: plenty of readers won’t have any kind of relationship with me. Will my name simply bemuse people?
Or will the value of a more human from line outweigh recognition problems? Are there perhaps enough people on the list who do know my name?
The only way to know the overall impact of such a change is to test.
But…instead of testing “Mark Brownlow”, I tested “Mark at Email Marketing Reports”.
A name is in there AND Email Marketing Reports, hopefully addressing recognition issues, but also adding that human touch.
I also ensured the rest of the email was helping recognition: the subject line also has “Email Marketing Reports” in it, and there’s a branded logo and text in the area typically revealed in email preview panes.
(Unique CTR was up 19% with the new from line, too, but not enough to be considered statistically significant.)
Now this is a very specific example, so you certainly could not say it was a general lesson on what from lines are best. My circumstances (not a household brand name, some name recognition among recipients) are probably different to yours.
Equally, I’m not convinced those improvements will hold in the long-term: there may be curiosity and novelty factors at play.
Also, if the emails don’t carry enough of a personal touch from me, then the new from line may actually start to hurt results by raising expectations that are then not met.
But the results do tell us that voluntary, unannounced from line changes do not automatically mean campaign disasters: they are another potential tactic to use as you look to boost your email results.
1. Consider a voluntary from line change only when you have good reason to believe it might lift results
2. Avoid changing to something that is unrecognizable
3. Ensure other elements of the email are optimized to keep recognition high – preheader, logos, preview pane, subject line etc.
Here’s a little spanner to throw into our theory.
If you made the sender the name of a random person, you’d expect results to tank and spam reports to rocket.
A few years ago, a reader noted that their experience suggested the opposite was true: a name (even a fake one) boosted opens and clicks…also over a longer period.
See the original blog post and (particularly) comments for details.
This raises questions like:
Just how quickly do people mark email as spam (people, not email marketers who are more finely tuned to the whole issue)?
Do they really do so without even glancing at the subject line or content, before making their decision? If no, is there less risk than we always imagine with from line changes?
How do from line changes work in the long run?
How often could/should you change a good from line (if at all)? Is there potential to use variations on a *recognizable* theme to keep people on their inbox toes?
What about when people have set up filters based on the sender name: how do they react when these filters break? How many people actually use such filters?
Can from line changes help when people are tired of your emails or have gone inactive (see this post for details)?
I’ll leave those for you to ponder!
What’s your view/experience on voluntary from line changes?
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