WebProNews posted some interesting information from a report by MailerMailer about how to get your emails opened and links in them clicked on. Their post focused on the subject line words that get emails opened, but what I found most interesting were the graphics showing open and click rates based on how personalization is used.
Messages with the subject personalized (ie., the recipient's name in the subject line) were opened only about half as often as messages with no personalization. Why? Probably because most personalized emails these days are actually impersonal auto-responder messages, and people know that.
Even more surprising was that emails with both the subject and message body personalized were opened slightly more often than unpersonalized messages, and emails with only the message body personalized were opened about 20% more often than unpersonalized messages.
How is that possible, you ask? How can message body personalization affect open rates if the recipient can't see whether the message body is personalized without opening it first? Here's what I think.
First, the difference could be partly explained by the fact that emails with shorter subject lines get opened more often than those with longer subject lines (18.98% for subjects under 35 characters vs. 15.38% for over 35 characters). Adding the recipient's name makes the subject longer.
Second, some mail readers (like GMail) show the first bit of the message body next to the subject before you open the message. Perhaps the backlash against subject line personalization is limited to the subject line only, and message body personalization still works!
Depending on your market, results may be different (the less your market is exposed to mailing lists with personalized subject lines, the more likely I'd imagine they'd be to work). So be sure to test to see what works best for you.