Multiple People Using Same Email Address

We sometimes get asked if dotMailer will allow one email address to belong to the same mailing list twice with different associated data.

To most people this might seem like a strange request but some companies do hold multiple customer records that share the same address. For example Mr and Mrs Smith might both register for online shopping using The retailer will want to email them separately through the same email address with different messages!

Unfortunately for people wishing to do this, our answer has to be ‘no’ and so I thought I’d explain why this is in a bit more detail.

Email addresses as a unique identifier

This situation is tricky for anyone like us who is trying to maintain a database of email addresses and the personal data that goes alongside it. In our email marketing world, the one thing that separates one recipient record from another is the email address. For us and other ESPs, this is the unique identifier that allows our clients to pick a recipient and send an email containing personal information (e.g. personalisation).

Some people might ask “why don’t you give each email address an ID number to make a unique record?” This might well allow for the same email address to be used twice but for 99.99% of our users this could end up in data anarchy. Most people rely on dotMailer to de-dupe their client records for them.

Imagine if, everytime you uploaded new contacts to dotMailer, you had to specify whether any duplicate contacts were duplicate individuals rather than just two people using the same address. It would be up to you to tell dotMailer if each newly uploaded recipient was an update to an existing record or an instruction to make a new recipient record with the same email address!

No advantage for the recipient either

As our digital director Skip Fidura says: “Now think about this from the recipient’s perspective. There is no way to determine which of the Smiths will be the first to log in to their account. They will see two emails from the same sender and instantly think there has been a mistake. Then if they open both versions they might see different offers which may cause offense or confusion, along the lines of “why does he get a better offer than me?” When put this way, most marketers decide it is not the best way forward.”

Having said that, there are some possible workarounds for this:

1. We have some clients who use our API to update customer details in real-time prior to sending out campaigns. So in the case of an MOT reminder, for example, the date of the renewal will trigger the send but the email address will have the personalised data updated so the relevant personalisation will work in the email.

2. You could also audit your data to see how bigger problem this is in the first place. Often we find its not as bigger concern as first thought. Once you know what you are dealing with, you could put together a program to call or email these contacts, encouraging them to sign-up with a unique address. You could also look at changing the validation on your sign up pages so that only one person per address can sign-up.

The social driver

Interestingly, only this week our MD Tink was recounting a story where his mum has for years, despite pressure, refused to get her own email address, despite her moaning that she sometimes gets duplicate emails in her inbox (as per Skip’s comment above).

This week though, Tink’s mum has taken the plunge. The reason? It wasn’t Tink’s nagging that did it (she doesn’t listen to him anyway!), it was her friends that were encouraging her to join Facebook, and to do this, you have to have a unique email address. This makes me think the size of the ‘issue’ will go away as the use of social networking grows.

So in short we believe that the benefits of making email addresses unique far outweigh the benefits gained from the rare situations where they are shared. It’s a bigger crime to accidentally email someone multiple times with the same or incorrect content than it is to not email them at all.


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