The Relevance Imperative: Why and How To Become Relevant

Recently I heard one of the funniest and misguided pieces of advice that I have ever heard given, which was that “Relevance Is Overrated.” Why did I think this simpleminded advice was so flawed? For years in the countless studies done by multiple firms, consumers are clearly most annoyed when the email they receive is not relevant. Further studies I did last year also show that consumers will reward relevant brands with their spending and with more information about their preferences. Let’s take these data points from a survey of 1,001 consumers that my firm ran in November last year.

  • 72 percent of consumers stated deleted email from a marketer that wasn’t relevant to me.
  • 59 percent of consumers stated deleted email from a marketer because I get too much email from them.
  • 49 percent of consumers unsubscribed from email that I had opted in to because it wasn’t relevant.

Much of this is included in my firm’s Social Inbox research, but even from these few data points it is clear that consumers act negatively when marketers do not send targeted relevant messages or even if they do so they send too many messages too frequently. I’ve suggested in our Connected Marketing Framework that firms must begin to measure the value of their programs by the customer experience. One measure of the customer experience is if the brand is sending targeted relevant messages that are deemed valuable by the end user versus those that send the same message to every subscriber. This brings me to another couple data points from my firm, this time a survey of marketing executives, which found the following:

  • In a 2010 survey, when asked what customer data attributes their company used to segment audiences for marketing campaigns within the last six months, just 48 percent of marketing executives stated that they use email click-through behavior. Now we just ran the same survey a year later and found that…wait for it, drum roll…
  • In 2011, using the same executive panel and methodology, 42 percent of marketing executives stated that they used email click-through behavior as a segmentation attribute. Yes, it went down.

However, let’s suggest that survey data can always have a +/-3 percent difference, so we could suggest that it is flat year over year. That marketer sophistication in driving relevance forward hasn’t grown at all. Any way that you look at the data, it suggests that 50 percent of email marketers blast the same message to their audience over and over again without ever targeting those that are engaged versus those that are not engaged. Delivery reputation and the inbox disposition of the marketer’s message are increasingly being determined mailing to dormant email accounts. There is no way of understanding who is dormant or not, if you as a marketer aren’t actually looking at that data and using it. So if you have bad delivery and low customer engagement and are not practicing relevance-empowering tactics, such as segmentation, targeting, and testing, then you deserve the weak results that you are getting.

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.”

Clearly 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 I wrote late last year for Acxiom (disclosure: Acxiom is a client of my firm), “The Value of Email Marketing,” illustrates this, actually showing the cost to generate a dollar even from the inexpensive email channel is higher for marketers that do not segment or target their subscribers. That is for you, the 50 percent of email marketers that don’t practice relevance through segmentation and targeting, your programs are costing you a lot more than you might realize. The following is a graphic from that report, which can be downloaded for free with registration here.


Remember, even though consumers might be interested in what you have to offer, we as individuals are all different. We require different types of methods to be seduced into allowing a brand to remain in our lives, let alone advocate for a brand. This requires relevance-empowering tactics such as segmentation and targeting.

In future articles, I will be discussing the steps to remain relevant, from acquisition tactics to gathering and honoring subscriber preferences to content tactics that will advance your relevance on social networks.

Until then, keep on pursuing relevance!


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