Changing Consumer Perceptions of the Email Channel

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.

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