People love seeing their own name. It makes them feel is if the email was written to them personally and not sent to thousands. Online services have simple options to directly insert names from your contact database using a template editor.
(Source: Selling Power, Seven Ways to Improve Your Email Response)
There's much more into this than simply adding a first name. Think about all the data scrubbing you have to do to ensure your list(s) have the correct first name. Then, think about the content itself - does it actually make sense to use their first name? And, how do you use their first name? (ie, Hey FNAME or Hi FNAME or FNAME?).
I think this is the highest risk / reward when building an email marketing campaign. When I receive an email with my name correctly used, I have a better feeling than when the email comes to me without that introduction.
And if that name is wrong? I know the sender doesn't care (about me or their list).
Still, I think this is part of a bigger approach. Treat your email lists like you're trying to build a relationship. If you meet someone in person, you are going to try and remember their name (as they told you) and address them as such.
If it's a big list, maybe start by breaking the list up into a few different segments:
- No First Name: We'll send different content to these folks (maybe even a first-name request like a free book if they fill out a short form)
- 'Funky' First Names: These might not be their first names or their first names are two-word names but we don't know how to address them (ie, Patrick, Mary Ann, etc.)
- 'Solid' First Names: These are the ones we have high confidence that their first name is their first name (ie, Jack, Louise, etc.)
I think if you put a little effort into your list - especially the first names - you'll start caring a bit more and will start to build a relationship with your list members.
Give it a try. I think you'll be surprised by the short-term (numbers) and long-term results (relationships).
(This is an affiliate link to Amazon.)