We all know the old marketing gimmick of getting the person's first and last name and using it in the subject line of an email. The idea was that when a person saw an email from a strange address, perhaps an unknown brand's, the person would be more likely to click on the email if it seemed directed at them personally. It was a method of customization that marketers used, used, and...overused.
It turns out that consumers see right through the tricks. In fact, messages with the first-name-last-name format were four times as likely to be sent to the spam folder than non-personalized messages, and had a 16% read rate (or CTR) compared to 22% for non-personalized messages. The buyer is always right, and the buyer doesn't like shallow marketing tactics.
Which brings us to this question: How can we personalize our marketing messages without seeming less-than-genuine and turning away our customers?
One of the good proactive marketing ideas one encounters is to customize not just to a name, which is a simple trick, but to interests. This takes a good deal more effort - of course, you have to figure out what makes a person click - but it reaps the rewards of loyalty.
We can see some evidence for why interests matter through the very structure of Twitter. Twitter is typically used as a way to get quick updates on things the individual cares about. Its mostly non-mutual 'following' system poses Twitter as more of an information gathering rather than sharing platform for most non-brand individuals, unlike the 100% mutual system of Facebook, which is more for keeping tabs on friends. We can think of Twitter as a topic-centric network, and Facebook as a people-centric network.
So, the only way to get someone to follow you on Twitter is to produce content that they're interested in. In the same way, the best way to get someone to pay attention to what you're saying is to produce relevant content, search for the people who would be interested in that content, and then proactively follow them. After all, following someone speaks much louder than asking for a follow. Comparing the power of shared interests and the trick of using a name, the former is much more effective at building genuine relationships.
Speaking of social media, it's to be acknowledged that addressing someone by name as a brand over social networking sites typically doesn't seem as gimmicky as does email. (Of course, if automated, one runs the risk of the individual setting their name to something that's not their real name, which is a dead giveaway that the person is just part of a mass marketing scheme -- a major turn-off.) Given the casual atmosphere of these sites compared to email, it's much more appropriate to give an informal "Hey Michael/Kate/etc." as a greeting, indicating that the individual and the brand are on a first-name basis -- if followed by a tidbit relevant to their interests, of course.
An interest-based tactic is a more specific version of personalized marketing, which aims to make a unique product offering for each customer. For more on personalized marketing, see this Huffington Post article.