Men and Women and the Inbox: Is There Real Impact?

We can’t turn ourselves off as we participate in business or leisure, and so we also bring our gender identity and attributes to every activity, including reading e-mail messages. Given the impact of gender, is it a good idea for you to customize e-mail messaging between men and women? The answer, of course, depends on your program, brand loyalty, and product or service. There’s probably a lot of insight we can each glean from our own program data.

Look at response rates, complaint and unsubscribe requests, and buying habits by gender, and see if there are differences by offer type, subject line, time of day, or frequency.

The effort could be well worth it. Out in the wild, there’s evidence that men and women interact with e-mail differently:

  • Research from a Pew Internet American Life study found that men use e-mail and the Internet mostly for information gathering, like weather, news, how-to advice, sports, and politics. Women are more likely to use e-mail for relationship building, like staying in touch with other family members or communicating with like-minded individuals, such as other mothers. They also use e-mail and the Internet for more personal issues, like health concerns or religion and spirituality.
  • A recent British research study found gender differences in responding to design. It’s a fascinating report (although dense), and it seems little girls are not, in fact, hard wired to prefer pink. Among adults, the study found that women liked website content with more color in the background and typeface. Men liked darker colors and horizontal lines.
  • The 2010 Messaging Anti Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) E-mail Security Awareness and Usage report looked at how men and women perceive e-mail and spam. They found that males, and particularly younger males, engaged in riskier behavior when it came to spam and phishing attacks. Men were more likely to open spam, click through on the links, and even reply to spam. Women were not as trusting, and looked more closely at the e-mail address or sender’s name, as opposed to the content, to determine whether or not to open an e-mail. Women were also more likely to set up a separate e-mail account for things like marketing messages and spam.
  • An analysis of opt-out and complaint data found similar behaviors. My colleague Tom Sather analyzed the differences between how men and women interact with the mail program of a major dating site. He found that women had a much higher opt-out and complaint rate. Frequency was a factor, as women would be more likely to mark messages as spam if there were an above average number of notifications. The opposite was true for men, who seemed to welcome the higher volumes.

While being female is a pretty big part of who I am, it’s not the only factor, and it’s not always the most important or even an important consideration in many activities. However, do not discount gender as a possible factor, as simple segmentation across other thick segment lines does have a big impact. Many marketers have increased response and revenue by customizing content, subject lines, frequency, and cadence between two large segments, most commonly defined by:

  • Customers vs. prospects (or buyers vs. non-buyers)
  • New customers vs. renewing customers
  • Recent buyers vs. non-recent buyers
  • New e-mail subscribers vs. long time e-mail subscribers
  • Clickers (active subscribers) vs. non-clickers

Perhaps add gender to that list and test it. You may be able to turn up the response – and lower complaints – by tailoring certain promotions or newsletter content to men and women on your file. For example:

  • Customized subject lines may improve readership and rendering – which also improves the engagement factors that MSN/Hotmail is now openly using in sender reputation scores.
  • Choice of images and template background may improve attractiveness, even if the copy or offer stays the same.
  • Motivation factors for offers could be big for you – women buy for the household and men influence big purchase decisions, for example. Or, female executives may have a slightly different business decision-making process.
  • Cadence and frequency clearly have an impact, and testing “breaking points” for response or complaints may help you set up automation and alert rules for your program.

What have you learned about gender and its impact on e-mail response and engagement? Let me know any questions or thoughts in the comments section below.

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