The overwhelming view in the direct mail industry is that a mailing list addressed to businesses will be much more effective if it is also addressed to the appropriate individual by name - as opposed to addressing recipients by their titles such as The Finance Director, the Personnel Manager, etc.
Unfortunately this is a theory that is always repeated but rarely tested - and when it is the results are not as expected. Here's the reason why.
Let's imagine that you want to write to the Personnel Director or Manager in companies in a certain industry. We'll say, for the sake of argument, there are 10,000 firms that meet your selection criteria, and you expect all of them to have Personnel Directors or Managers.
The problem is that no mailing list will have all 10,000 Personnel Directors by name. In some companies there will be a policy of not filling in name forms, giving names on the phone etc etc.
Some lists try a different approach, having people who are recipients of magazines, while others might list members of an association. But not only will these lists of themselves be incomplete, they will also need to exclude all those people who have ticked the box saying, "no mailing from other companies". And that number is growing all the time.
It is hard to be exact, but it is probably not far out to suggest that on average only about 20% of eligible people are included in named business lists.
The negative effect of belief
Now we have to add in the fact that 90% of people who mail companies of this nature believe that mailing named people is so much better than mailing generic titles that this is all they do. Everyone - well almost everyone - mails named people.
So what we have is a situation in which 80% of the people who could be mailed are never mailed. These people, in other words, get precious little direct mail - which means they are ideal people to mail. Their desks are much clearer than those of the people whose names appear on lists.
But the only way to reach these people who get little mail is by mailing generic titles.
In an equal world...
Now it is probably true that if all things were equal - if the people addressed by name and those addressed by title received an equal amount of mail - the named people's list might give a better response rate.
But even then there is a problem. Named lists are inaccurate. My own research (which is limited to the named mail received by half a dozen people) shows that over 50% of names are wrong - either because the person has left, or because people have changed roles or because the name has simply been entered wrongly in the computer. My name for example (Tony Attwood) is wrongly printed on hundreds of lists. Some lists pick me up from the public list of company directors (where I am Anthony Attwood - but no one ever calls me that). Some get me down as Atwood (just a mistype) some have me listed as Altwood (misheard on the phone), and one even has me listed as Asherwood.
But does this matter?
If you are sent a mailshot which carries your name wrongly spelled then you might not notice too much or even worry about it, but there is evidence that if that mistake is repeated on the letter via the mailmerge facility then you do notice - and response rates go down. In other words
Dear Mr Asherwood
really doesn't make me want to read the letter or buy the product.
So, odd though it may seem, there are good reasons to mail generic titles rather than names.
The exception - your customers
Mailing your own customers is the exception; as long as you have an accurate database team then you should mail your customers by name - not least because you already have a relationship with them, and it is foolish to ignore this.
But do you have an accurate database entry team? Everyone I ever speak to on this topic always says "our people are very good", and I say, "how do you know?" and the answer is "I get no complaints".
This is a false answer, because by and large most of us don't complain about having our names spelled wrongly - it just puts us off. The company that sold me the extractor hood that goes over my cooker write to me each year as "Mrs Attwood", There is no Mrs Attwood (in my family) and I find that quite offensive - but I haven't told them. I just don't buy from them.
Then there's price
Named lists are almost always more expensive than non-named lists, and often come with minimum orders - which means that even if generic title lists actually performed the same as B2B named lists they would still be more interesting since the lists are a) larger b) cheaper and c) more open to testing (because there is normally no minimum order).
Overall, the great thing is that the database industry has invested so much money in researching and keeping names that they will never give up promoting names, and so people will continue to use names, which will mean that the opportunity to pick up all those extra sales will be out there, for those who want to try.
Free analysis of your mailshot
This article is written by Tony Attwood, Chairman of Hamilton House Mailings Ltd. If you would like to discuss the writing or design of your mailing campaign, or indeed a single mailshot, with Tony, without cost or obligation, just call 01536 399 000, or email Creative@hamilton-house.com You can also send Tony a copy of your latest advert and he will call you back with his thoughts on how your response rate could be raised - again without cost or obligation.