Consumers Get Savvy About Managing Their Inbox

Most marketers think a lot about the e-mail send, but few think about what happens to the e-mail after the send. Deliverability focuses on getting the e-mail into the inbox instead of a junk mail folder, but even that’s not enough. Are your e-mail messages getting into the right inbox, the one your audience checks on a regular basis?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own e-mail habits. While I’m probably more tuned into this than most, many of my friends who aren’t e-mail geeks are following my lead.

People are getting savvy about managing e-mail messages via folders in their desktop client. For years Microsoft Outlook has allowed recipients to set rules about where a message goes when it comes in. This end user behavior can make or break your e-mail marketing results, so it’s worth thinking about.

I have three primary e-mail folders — let’s call them my “A,””B,” and “C” folders. I filter my mail as it comes in based on its importance to me. The “A” list folder gets the most important mail — the “C” folder gets the least important mail.

My “A” folder is must-read correspondence. Its primary purpose is communication with clients, industry colleagues, personal friends, and family. I open and read all of these messages, either on my desktop or on my BlackBerry.

My “B” folder is for want-to-read missives, primarily e-mail from prospects, discussion lists I value, and marketing messages from companies that I have a relationship with. In those last two categories, that includes both business and consumer correspondence. If I’m on your e-mail list, this is where you want your messages to land. I don’t open and read everything that goes into this folder, but the majority of these messages do get my attention. And they all go to my BlackBerry.

My “C” folder is for everything else. It’s by far the largest folder; the majority of e-mail messages I receive land here. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s full of missives that I’ve not opened. If you’re here, you’re only going to get my attention if (a) I have some spare time in my day (which is rare), (b) I have a specific need for your information and do a search, or (c) I need ideas for a column like this one and go hunting for something to write about. These messages don’t go to my BlackBerry — so if a message comes in when I’m out of town, it’s really unlikely that I’ll see it, now or later.

If you’re an e-mail marketing person, the concept of a “C” folder should trouble you. It troubles me. You know those people on your list who haven’t opened or clicked on your e-mail marketing messages in over a year? If you’re not going to their junk mail folder then you’re probably going to their “C” folder — which is almost the same thing.

How did you get in their “C” folder? Either the benefits you offered at sign-up weren’t compelling enough to make the cut to the “B” folder or the content you sent after sign-up drove them to consider you less than a “want to read” — and you were moved from the “B” folder to the “C” folder.

It’s all about relevance and frequency. The more relevant your content is to your recipients, the more likely you are to be a “must read” or “want to read.” Remember, relevance is in the eye of the beholder. You may feel that your content warrants the “A” or “B” folder, but if the recipient doesn’t, you’re in the “C” folder.

Frequency also factors in. If a company is sending me too much e-mail, I will often move its e-mail to the “C” folder, even if the content is good. It all has to do with the relationship. Think of it this way. We all have friends that we communicate with a few times a week — and other friends that we talk to once a month or less. They’re all friends, but we want to hear from some more than others.

Quantitative measures like open and click-through rates give you insight into how relevant your content is and whether you’re sending too frequently, but qualitative feedback via online surveys, focus groups, and other direct communication is even better. If you aren’t doing this work now to make sure the e-mail messages you send are relevant and the frequency is correct, you’re at risk.

The next time you send an e-mail marketing message, take a few minutes to think about it from the recipients’ perspective. Does it make the “must read” or “want to read” cut? If not, rethink your approach.

Happy New Year!


Need practical tips for taking your successful e-mail marketing program to new heights? Sign up for a full-day workshop with Jeanne Jennings and Tamara Gielen on Feb. 1, 2010 in Miami Beach, FL, in conjunction with the 2010 Email Evolution Conference.

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