Dear marketer: You lost me at Dear

by Ben Martin, CAE on November 12, 2008 · 7 comments

From Cindy Butts:

“I recently got an email from an airline that started “Dear Mr. Soandso” … then continued.”

Who begins typing a personal e-mail with “Dear…” anymore? As far as I can tell, only the survivors of deceased African millionaires hoping to transfer a fortune through my bank account and European lottery officials.

Today, e-mails begin as follows:


In olden times, Dear used to mean something. Hand-writing a letter, putting it in an envelope, addressing it, stamping it and mailing it was time consuming and meant you really only sent letters to those you held dear.

E-mail has none of those warm fuzzies. Today, in e-mail, Dear is a dead giveaway, the equivalent of “the following is a paid announcement.” In other words, it’s implicit permission to delete immediately or delay action.

Drop the “Dear” from your e-mail marketing.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Junker November 12, 2008 at 9:29 am

I don’t necessarily agree–I think e-mail salutations depend a lot on what kind of e-mail you’re sending, and who you’re sending it to. For what it’s worth, I always begin person-to-person e-mails with “Dear” unless it’s the middle of an ongoing e-mail conversation or it’s someone I know well enough to say “Hi Ben!” to. It’s probably because I spent some time as an executive assistant, writing a lot of correspondence for my boss at that time, but my e-mails do tend to use the same conventions as postal letters. Perhaps I’m just a dork. =)

I think it depends on industry, too. If your members are very formal (college professors, scientists in other countries), you’d better open your e-mails with “Dear Dr. X” and not “Steve,” or some members are likely to take offense. Once you get to know that member, you may be able to skip the “Dear Dr. X,” but I wouldn’t go there until I knew the member and was sure he/she would be OK with it. In other industries, of course, starting with “Yo!” will be perfectly acceptable, and “Dear Mr. X” would be ridiculously formal. It all depends on what works for the people you’re trying to reach out to.


Ben Martin, CAE November 12, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Lisa, I’m specifically writing about e-mail marketing e-mail. Personal correspondence is a whole `nuther story. 😉

Dear Keith, good one! I’d expect nothing less of a segway-riding cape-wearing wiki web wonder.


Keith November 12, 2008 at 9:59 am

Dear Ben,

While I see your point, there are times when using Dear is still important. This reply is not one of them.



Peggy Hoffman November 13, 2008 at 7:53 am

Okay I can buy into dropping the dear but how then do you suggest we put the warm & fuzzy in? We still have to be personal, yes?


Sarah Lawler November 13, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Personalization is a great way to talk to your audience, but your data and fields have to be right. This week I have gotten 2 emails addressed to “Dear Lawler.” Well, you lost me right there. In my personal email I am skeptical of personalization so when you get it wrong I stop reading, chuckle, and hit delete.


Ben Martin, CAE November 13, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Peggy, I think that can be done in your writing’s tone or voice, use of images, more sophisticated personalization (like those mentioned in Cindy’s original post).


chris uschan - Omnipress November 14, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Howdy Ben —
Hi Ben –
Ben —
Hello –

Dear Ben — <>

Email is a non-formal type of conversation where don’t replaces do not and salutations can be softened. Wow – I didn’t realize there were rules.

Okay then, let’s break the rules. Here’s why.

I had a conversation with Shelly Ryan, the communications director at last year about her tone and formality of her emails/newsletters.

She’s writes on the edge… “Hey Chris, I was sitting at the pool and almost forgot to tell you about this weeks webinar… ” or something to take effect. Now mind you, mprofs has over 300,000 marketing professionals in their association (from associations to omnipress to google).

I told her I felt engaged by her emails… Finally, someone who writes like we’re having a conversation as Starbucks. I asked why. She indicated her renew rates were dropping when she was “Dear Christopher’ing” and boring her readers as she called it. So she changed her salutations, her tone which had tremendous results in renewals.

I truly believe if you can provide meaningful, engaging emails that help the reader… they’ll quickly get over the “Howdy Ben” and realize the 90’s email filter is hungry for “Dear Ben” emails.

I didn’t start with Dear Ben, so I trust you made it to here.

Good article and good comments by the others too. You need to do what works best for you. Consider me a risk taker or just fitting in to the evolving ways we communicate.

: )


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