April 11, 2013

Fiasco in the Fields

screen shot of email header

There's nothing like getting an email addressed to 'fname' or 'subscriber' for making you feel valued. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. This is definitely not the message you want to send to your readers.

You want to make a personal connection with your readers but using form fields is not the way to do it, even if you use them correctly. A form field is simply another automation. People know.

Am I blown away when I get a newsletter addressed to 'Linda'? Not usually. Sure it takes a little more time to set up and maintain. Various experts will tell us that using a person's name will have a subconscious impact. Is the sender suddenly my trusted advisor? No.

Let me start at the beginning. What do I mean by a form field? They're places in an HTML document used to insert specific data from a database. As an example, [fname] will insert the person's first name from the database. You can type "Hi [fname]" and it will look like "Hi Linda" (the subscriber's name) in the newsletter.

Here's where the trouble starts - what if you don't have the subscriber's first name in your database? Then it will look like "Hi Subscriber" in your newsletter. Or, if you use the form field symbols incorrectly, you may end up with something like "Hi {fname]" or the screen shot above. No one wants to be addressed as 'subscriber' or 'fname'!

So you might be thinking that you'll be OK with the technical piece - doesn't sound too hard. Let's talk data collection. How are you going to get the first name (or another piece of data) into your database?

Manual subscription process:
If you're typing up contact info from business cards or paper forms, you'll also have to type in the first name - correctly, of course. A name spelled wrong is much worse than no name at all. And what do you do the first time you get a subscriber who doesn't give you their first name? Not add them at all? Follow up individually to collect that info? If you're only collecting a few names a month, maybe. If you're collecting hundreds, not likely.

Automated subscription process:
If you're using an online sign-up form to gather subscribers, you'll need to add a required field for first name. The more information you ask for at sign up, the less likely people will be to sign up. Don't underestimate the impact of this - it's huge. OK, so you decide to go for it anyway, what about the person that signs up as 'lINDA' or 'linda'? Are you going to insert those in a newsletter? You'll need to constantly review your list and correct issues like this.

Am I saying to never use form fields in your newsletter? No, but if you do choose to use them, make sure you're prepared for the extra effort required to maintain them. When it comes to data, it doesn't take long for things to go awry from lack of maintenance.

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