Changing Consumer Perceptions of the Email Channel

  |  March 8, 2012   |  Comments

What that means for digital marketers. Part one in a two-part interview.

I recently spent a few action-packed days at the Email Evolution Conference hosted by the DMA's Email Experience Council. This is always a must-attend event due to the great content, speakers, and networking opportunities. Ryan Phelan, the VP of strategic services at BlueHornet, provided a keynote presentation along with Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester Research. He provided some compelling new research and "consumer-on-the-street interviews" that move the email conversation away from "us" and back to the end users.

This will be the first of three interviews I do with industry experts on three of the most interesting and timely areas of email marketing. Ryan and I discuss the changing views of consumers and how digital marketers need to adapt, and then I bring in Justine Jordan of Litmus to discuss mobile challenges and opportunities, and close with Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, to break down social media's impact on email marketing and vice versa.

Simms Jenkins: From your research, you found 95 percent of consumers said they sign up for emails because of discounts. But why do people use email to get these discounts when these offers can often be found elsewhere? Why don't they get these from other channels like social, web, or mobile? What makes email special and unique here? Why is there more trust in email than even the brand's own websites?

Ryan Phelan: I don't think this is an either/or thing. Many people are likely looking for discounts multiple ways - signing up for email to get them and also going to social, the web, and text for them.

Customers sign up for email or any communication based on the type of relationship that they want to have with the company. Consumers are very familiar with email, since it is also how they communicate with their friends, family, and co-workers. And for discounts, email allows the subscriber to get discounts delivered directly to them, where they can manage and access them when and how they like. Add mobile email to the equation and the subscriber's access to discounts increases even more.

Those who choose to get their discounts via social or mobile or brand websites are no less valuable than those who choose email. They just have different preferences, which we should acknowledge.

SJ: You mentioned that marketers need to avoid taking advantage of the trust subscribers give us. What are some common ways that email marketers seem to be taking advantage of their subscribers, even unknowingly?

RP: I believe that almost everything email marketers put out there for their brand either builds or erodes subscriber trust. Very little is received neutrally.

When marketers communicate in a one-message-fits-all way that fails to acknowledge each subscriber's unique experience with a brand or product, trust is eroded. Similarly, if email frequency is too high for the subscriber and they're not given the ability to modulate that frequency, trust can be eroded and brand credibility can be affected.

You can look at both of these examples and point to a lack of segmentation or frequency caps, and that's usually part of the problem. But these are also symptoms of a larger issue that I believe is the real reason we're taking advantage of subscriber trust: the marketer makes assumptions about what the consumer wants, either because they're placing their objectives ahead of subscribers' interests or because the diligence hasn't been done to listen to subscribers and understand their needs with greater confidence.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in two weeks of my discussion with Ryan.



Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.

Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.

Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of and, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.

Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.

Follow and connect with Simms on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, The BrightWave Blog, and his book websites at and

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