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Consumer Email Behavior: The Impact of Relevance and Frequency

  |  August 13, 2012   |  Comments

Four ways to improve audience engagement and retain subscribers. Part two in a series.

This is the second column in a series that features insights from a consumer survey conducted by my firm. Like the last column, here too I specifically will share the email behaviors of consumers. This survey was completed in May 2012 and features results from nearly 400 respondents.

Consumers continue to have a great appetite for email, as 97 percent check their personal email account every day. In fact, two-thirds of consumers tell us that they check their personal email account multiple times a day. Given the hurried pace of our lives and the plethora of distractions that compete for our attention, it shouldn't be surprising that consumers are increasingly sensitive to email messages that waste their time.

When we ask consumers about their email behaviors, the items that rise to the top of the list deal with relevance and frequency. Our survey reveals the following:

  • 72 percent of consumers state that they have "deleted email from a marketer that wasn't relevant to me"
  • 69 percent of consumers state that they have "deleted email from a marketer because I get too much email from them"
  • 66 percent of consumers state that they have "unsubscribed from email that I had opted into because it wasn't relevant"
  • 34 percent of consumers state that they have "marked a message that I opted into as Spam."

Clearly consumers are highly sensitive to irrelevant messages and those senders that overwhelm their inbox with a flood of messages. You'll also notice that most consumers have such disregard for marketers who meet this profile that most will simply delete the message, or worse, mark it as spam rather than going through an opt-out process.

So what is relevance anyway? At my firm, we define relevance as "the intersection of content and context that is metered by frequency." In action, that would be the right message at the right time in the right channel. The dictionary defines it as, "bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; pertinent."

Here are some best practices to engage your audience in the inbox:

  • Enlist audience segmentation. Audience segmentation is key to not only driving relevance forward, but also the value that the email marketing program delivers to the organization and to the customer. This can be measured in costs, revenue, and profits. A study that my firm did illustrates this, actually showing that the cost to generate a dollar even from the inexpensive email channel is higher for marketers who do not segment or target their subscribers. For the 50 percent of email marketers who don't practice relevance through segmentation and targeting, your programs are costing you a lot more than you might realize.
  • Incorporate testing and frequency caps. Ensure email marketing mailings focus on goals by incorporating regular testing into marketing campaigns. Tests should focus on variables that are levers (e.g., frequency, time of day, content) for attaining target goals (e.g., conversion). Work backward from a specific goal to ensure optimization practices such as testing are part of the mailing process. Determine the total number of messages subscribers will receive in a given month. Typically, marketers mail once per week. However, develop a contact strategy that incorporates frequency rules to avoid burning out subscribers.
  • Focus on behavior. Subscribers' behavior should be central to your segmentation strategy. Create engagement rules (e.g., number of subscribers clicking on at least one link during the past three or four mailings vs. those clicking more frequently and those not clicking at all). This approach will create a behavioral segmentation framework to drive subsequent mailings and remarketing campaigns, providing an overall effective means of targeting. For example, Travelocity sends subscribers email based on their last action on the site, whether it was saving a trip itinerary for possible future purchase or making a purchase. Ensure that you begin to map out how you will break your subscribers into different buckets and how that will impact the application tools that you require.
  • Leverage dynamic content. Using segmentation, customer behavior, and context triggers such as location and email client/device to insert relevant content is a fantastic way to ensure your message is relevant. Additional attributes such as demographics, location, and use of advertising banner ad cookies to target subscribers with appropriate content is another means to improve dynamic content placement. In this column I offer additional suggestions on how you can use context to improve the relevance of your messages. Firms such as LiveIntent and Movable Ink offer innovative solutions to improve content targeting that easily work with any email marketing solution.

While this is not an exhaustive list of tactics to improve relevance, it is a good start to improve audience engagement and retain subscribers.

Until next time, all the best,


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David Daniels

For more than 20 years, David has been an industry proponent. Direct Magazine said David is "one of the most influential experts in email marketing, if not the most influential." Co-author of "Email Marketing An Hour A Day," David has held senior level positions at Forrester and JupiterResearch, Apple, Anthropologie, MacWarehouse, Proteam, and retailers that dotted the early days of CompuServe. David advises many industry organizations including the OTA, DMA, eec, and has been a contributor to the Weekend Today Show on NBC. Learn more about connected marketing and download free research with registration here. Follow David on Twitter @emaildaniels and learn more at www.relevancygroup.com.

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