Future Marketers May Try to Capitalize on Our Initials

u really got a hold on meOur names, whether we like it or not, affect the way we move through life. Plenty of studies have shown that employers favor some names over another, particularly when racial, gender, and socioeconomic prejudices come into play.

Your name in part determines how you are perceived, your name links you to a particular generation and sub-culture, and—a newer development—your name determines your personal SEO.

That’s enough to make you want to go initials-only, to follow the examples of J.K. Rowling and D.J. Tanner and obscure as many of the race/gender/socioeconomic name signifiers as you can. Ester has already written about how using your intials in lieu of your name can make you appear richer and smarter—and we know from the Matthew Effect that if you are perceived to be rich and smart, people will give you opportunities that they subconsciously (or deliberately) reserve for the wealthy geniuses in their lives. Those opportunities, in turn, are likely to make you richer and smarter.

So fine. I’ll change my name to N.M. Dieker, and nobody will ever be able to tell that I am a middle-class woman born in the 1980s! (I mean, I kind of blew my cover with that Full House reference earlier, not to mention the Sesame Street image.) Initials forever!

But even your initials have a not-insignificant impact on your life, as follows:

Psychologist Jesse Chandler and his colleagues found that people donate significantly more money to hurricanes that share their initials. So Roberts, Ralphs and Roses donated on average 260% more to the Hurricane Rita relief fund than did people without R initials. Also in 2005, people with K initials donated 150% more to the Katrina relief fund, and in 2004 people with I initials donated 100% more to the Ivan relief fund.

That’s from a 2008 Society for Judgment and Decision Making journal article, referenced in a 2012 Psychology Today piece that was adapted for The Monkey Cage in 2013, which was then referenced in a Medium essay, Charles Best’s  “Great Names Give Alike,” last Friday. (The Internet, people. Finding original sources can be fascinating.)

Charles Best is suggesting that email marketers use this research to their advantage. How hard could it be, he proposes, to send out custom email campaigns designed to attract prospects with the same initials or names as your cause? These prospects are, after all, psychologically predisposed to give you money.

Best, who is the CEO of DonorsChoose, gave an example of this tactic in action:

Inspired by this finding, we tested whether name matching could inspire more generosity to the classroom requests listed on DonorsChoose.org. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, we emailed 500,000 donors with this poem:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Give to a teacher,
With the same name as you.

And then we showed the recipient a classroom request created by a teacher with the same last name.

This campaign, which Best ran against a control email campaign, was overwhelmingly successful:

Some of our colleagues were skeptical, but the results eliminated any doubts: name-matched donors were nearly three times more likely to give to a classroom project! Name-matched donors also gave more generously — nearly three times as much as donors referred to a geo-targeted teacher. Best of all, many of these donors had lapsed (not made any donation in years) before the name-matching campaign re-activated them.

Did any of you get the DonorsChoose “give to a teacher with the same name as you” email? Did you donate? (I have donated to DonorsChoose before but did not get the email, possibly because there aren’t a lot of Diekers out there.)

Best considers his DonorsChoose campaign “a tactic to use sparingly,” but it is very easy to see the future of email marketing and various other kinds of online marketing embracing this name-matching or initial-matching strategy. I could definitely see Ikea sending me an email campaign asking me to check out the Nandor chair while Ann Taylor Loft bombards me with requests to try on its Nantucket tunic. Or, someday, a clothing company creating a single dress and sending it out to hundreds of different people with customized subject lines: “Introducing… the Nicole!”

I’d probably open that email.

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