Use Brand-Recognition Elements to Combat Inbox Triage

What do you think your subscribers are doing with your e-mail right this minute?

Most likely, they aren’t sitting at a desk scrolling patiently through their inboxes, looking for your message.

Instead, they’re doing what David Daniels, Jupiter Research VP, calls “inbox triage” — wading through their increasingly cluttered inboxes quickly to remove the junk (permission e-mail as well as spam) before they start reading and responding.

They’re multitasking like crazy, too: watching TV, talking on the phone, instant-messaging, listening to their iPods, downloading, taking a break from an online game, or even all of these at once.

They’re also getting sidetracked by their e-mail clients, which keep squeezing the inbox into a smaller space to make room for RSS feeds, social-networking tabs, instant messaging clients, calendars, contact lists, notepads, and display ads.

Here’s a snapshot of your subscribers’ inbox behavior, according to Daniels’ research:

  • The average person gets 274 personal e-mail messages a week and 304 work e-mails.
  • 74 percent have at least two e-mail accounts (either personal and work, or shared and personal, or public and private accounts)
  • The average reader takes two to five seconds to decide whether to read or delete an e-mail.

Studies of how people manage their cluttered inboxes vary, but the results are the same: They hit the “report as spam” button when they don’t recognize the sender, often without opening the e-mail.

To combat this, you must review your e-mail creative — with images off and in the preview pane without viewing the entire message — to ensure you’ve included as many brand-recognition elements as possible to guarantee the recipient will recognize you as the sender.

What Are Brand Recognition Elements?

You can communicate a clear and recognizable brand name, publication name, or message purpose (transactional, promotional, relationship, service) in the following locations:

A friendly “from” address and e-mail alias []: Yes, the brand should exist in both places. Many senders work with e-mail service providers (ESPs) or use third-party software that puts the software’s domain, not the brand name, in the e-mail alias. Because some clients don’t show the friendly “from” address, use the brand name before the domain in the address to improve recognition.

Instead of “” or “,” use “” or “” when the domain belongs to a third party or software that differs from the brand.

Should you personalize the friendly from address with real names vs. the brand? User studies disagree whether this effectively increases open rates. My advice: test it on your own audience. But, first ask yourself, “Will my recipient recognize a person’s name or the brand name?”

Most often, it truly is the brand name. Look at your own business card. Your company logo stands out over your name, for a reason. However, if your sales rep has a strong relationship with e-mail recipients, combine the name with the brand in the friendly “from” address to pull the benefits of both.

“Lyris: Stefan Pollard” would be one way for me to send a prospecting e-mail with this tactic.

Subject line: Put your brand name in the subject line whenever you can. You can’t rely solely on the friendly “from” address tactics to help you get recognized in an overcrowded inbox. Read your subject line aloud, or write it on a blank page. Do you know whom the subject is promoting?

Pop quiz time! Read these subject lines, which I lifted from Chad White’s Subjectivity Scanner on March 4 in his Retail E-mail Blog. Can you name the brands?

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Value Statement: This is the first line of text (also called snippet text) readers see in some e-mail clients, such as Gmail. A correctly worded snippet builds on your subject line and helps the reader decide whether to save the message or to read it immediately. Read more about snippets here.

View-online link: Put your brand name here if you still haven’t incorporated a value statement or table of contents as a preview-pane-friendly strategy. Here’s a link makeover using an example from my own inbox:

  • Before: If you can’t see the images in this e-mail, please click here to view this e-mail through your Internet browser.
  • After: If you can’t see the images in your edition of Browning eBlast, please click here.

Alt text to name images: Don’t rely on alt text to save you, because some e-mail clients don’t show alt text in place of blocked images. Others place language over them, which moves the alt text to the back of the sentence.

When you use them, be as specific as you can in just a few words. State your brand name instead of using a placeholder like “logo.” Add your URL, too. Make sure your brand name shows in other text, too, such as calls to action.

Examples: “Save 20% Today” vs. “Save 20% Today at” or “Click to subscribe” vs. “Subscribe to Newsletter Name.”

Company logo: Most commercial e-mail messages I see have a company logo at the message’s top. The exceptions usually are lead-generation e-mails where the sender is trying to hide the brand relationship. Take the logo one more step, and make it clickable to your home page as it would be on your Web site.

Brand name in text copy: Weave your brand name into the message copy in the first two or three sentences. This is the only brand-recognition tactic that will work at all times in all e-mail clients. Your goal is to drive brand recognition and overcome the twitchy delete finger. Don’t blow it in the message!

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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