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Perhaps it's the focus on empathy and connecting with our subscribers on a human level. Or all of the emphasis on writing in plain English—using colloquialisms, sentence fragments, emojis, and even slang. Or maybe the risky desire to find a way into Gmail's 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. That pressure appears to be the greatest among B2B brands, but it can also affect B2C brands such as Peloton, which has sent bulk emails that appear to be from its instructors.

Done in the wrong way, this tactic can cause problems.

Potential Dangers of Sending From a Person

First, positioning a bulk email as if it's a one-to-one personal email can be misleading, leaving 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 person:

  • The inclusion of an unsubscribe link, which is legally required for marketing emails
  • A reply-to address that clearly doesn't belong to the person
  • A "Your email has been received" auto-reply of support software when someone tries to reply to the email

Second, if recipients don't recognize the person whose name you're using as the sender name, they're more likely to ignore it—or to report the email as spam. That can harm your deliverability, prompting inbox providers to junk or block your future emails.

All 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 top B2B consultants at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

1. Reserve the 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 name of anyone at your company. That includes your CEO, who 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 recipients 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 one-on-one business email, consider including a signature block with the sender's contact information. In B2C, the approach is particularly effective in some industries, such as insurance and financial services, because 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 "Find some time on my calendar," which links to scheduling tools.

"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, or other parts of the business. Any time a campaign is being created as from an individual person, regardless of what email address is being used as the reply-to address, that person 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 fewer 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 using only the person's first name, then you have even more flexibility.

Here are some hybrid sender name configurations to consider:

  • Your Brand | Full Name (e.g., Oracle | Peggy Sehorn)
  • Your Brand Title Full Name (e.g., Oracle CEO Safra Catz)
  • Full Name at Your Brand (e.g., Chad White at Oracle)
  • First Name from Your Brand (e.g., Cristal from Oracle)

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 the message can't be written as from an individual person, such as your president or CEO. That is by far the most popular approach taken for disaster and crisis messaging, whether 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 a person, then consider how familiar the recipient is with that person. 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 person has been established, then use a hybrid or, if you're really confident, just the person'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.

Strangers aren't generally welcome, so make sure you're using a sender name that's going to create instant name recognition.

More Resources on Email Sender Names and Best-Practices

The Real Truth About Email Marketing

How to Manage Email Deliverability: Six Simple Best-Practices

Optimize Email Deliverability With Best-Practice Strategies

Four Tactics to Refresh Your 2021 Email Marketing Strategy

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image of Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the head of research for Oracle Digital Experience Agency and author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules, as well as nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing.

LinkedIn: Chad S. White

Mastodon: @chadswhite

Twitter: @chadswhite