By John Landsman, Director, Strategy & Analytics
“Experts” have solemnly predicted the decline and fall of commercial email many times. We’ve heard these dire forecasts with the introduction of each new form of digital advertising. We heard them when attribution modeling began to suggest that email was carrying less weight than previously thought. And we heard them when Gmail introduced its inbox organization tabs in 2013.
It hasn’t happened.
There are many reasons why, and these are clearly evident in the results of comprehensive survey research recently published by The Relevancy Group (TRG). Entitled “Handle with Care: Consumer Email Marketing Behaviors,” this research is based on interviews TRG conducted in October 2016 with 1,000 email users. Objectives were to understand if email is still a pervasive communication tool, especially among millennials; on which devices email is consumed; primary concerns for consumers in receiving marketing email messages; what drives consumers to subscribe to marketing emails, and to how many brands do consumers subscribe.
The results are powerful and encouraging. Bottom-line: Commercial email is here to stay, but its success requires skilled execution. it will fail — and risk audience attrition — if abused.
• Email is still a critical communication channel: It remains our key “digital fingerprint,” required to communicate, transact, or join any digital community. Most of us (93%) consult email daily, with 54% doing so several times per day, and 21% hourly or more frequently.
• There is little or no difference in email usage by gender or age: “The notion that millennials do not use email is patently false” (TRG).
• Mobile has emerged as the primary email inbox, so used by 37% of consumers. Tablets comprise another 8% of that primary usage, with laptops and desktops reflecting 30% and 25%, respectively. Primary mobile usage is highest (56%) among 19-26 year-olds. Beyond primary usage, 83% of consumers are now accessing their email on a mobile device (including tablets).
• Almost one quarter of email users have switched their personal email address — or created a new one — in the past year In addition to life changes, reasons include the management of security, spam and scam issues.
• Forty-eight percent of consumers subscribe to permission-based marketing email. This percentage is considerably higher for women (52%) than for men (44%). Overall, 60% of email users have subscribed to email from no more than ten brands. On average, these numbers are highest (14-15) in consumers aged 27-45. Of all email consumers, 33% maintain a dedicated account for email marketing.
• Optimizing message relevance and contact management remain critical to subscriber engagement and retention. The top two drivers of subscribers ignoring, deleting or opting-out of a brand’s emails are, “Messages come too frequently” (75%), and “Not relevant” (55%). No surprises there.
• What consumers say about the marketing emails they like best should also come as no surprise:
o Includes products that are relevant to me (55%)
o Recognizes me as a member/shows loyalty point balance (37%)
o Includes products that I have viewed in the past (29%)
o Includes products that I have saved or placed on a wish list (29%)
o Includes items that I can pick up in my local store (28%)
• Consumers are most likely to open emails from brands they like (52%) or based on the overall contents of the subject line (46%). The ‘like’ aspect would most likely be driven by the consumer’s cumulative experience with the brand and the quality of both its overall product/service mix and its communications.
These findings confirm best practices long-known to successful email marketers. If 60% of consumers are opted-in to no more than ten brands’ emails, then your goal is to be one of those brands. Pulling your email communications from the clutter of thousands of other emailers requires commitment to these practices, and their competent execution. Specifically:
• Employing message relevance tactics, which TRG describes as including “segmentation, adaptive content … and testing.”
• Testing should include optimizing consumer contact frequency, so that only the most engaged consumers receive the highest contact levels.
• Adapting marketing content —email and website — to mobile rendering and interaction. Even now, many brands still don’t.
• Managing change-of-address protocols, to recognize and retain the significant percentage of customers switching their email addresses every year.
• Paying attention to how (and how successfully) your competitors are emailing their customers. Not just competitors in your product/service space, but also other strong emailers competing for attention in your customers’ inboxes.
The real email experts have been singing this song for a very long time. When we look at brands most successfully leveraging email, it’s clear that these best practices are the primary drivers. TRG’s research simply confirms that these tactics are successful, and why they are so important.