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The Trouble with E-Mail: 6 Ways for Brands to Re-Humanize It

Are you choking on your inbox these days?  Well, your not alone.  According to a survey conducted by Campaigner on the use and influence of mobile e-mails, at least 10% of respondents reported receiving in excess of 300 e-mails a day.  Close to one-third went on to say that at least 75% of their messages were marketing or promotional in nature with two-thirds of that group stating they just deleted the messages without ever reading them.  What’s driving consumers to disengage?  Irrelevant clutter is the main reason 60% say they don’t open, instead just deleting promotional e-mails on their mobiles.  Abusive frequency is also cited as a chief culprit for many who ultimately decide to unsubscribe from e-mail lists.

Yet even with the rising consumer backlash, brands continue to expand their e-mail volumes.  In their latest quarterly benchmark survey, Experian Marketing Services found that email volume grew by 17.9% year-over-year in Q2 2013.  Total (3.8% to 3.2%) and unique (2.5% and 2.3%) click rates fell from Q2 2012 to Q2 2013.  Experian also observed slight decreases in click-to-open and transaction rates, but at the same time did see modest improvements in areas such as revenue per e-mail and average order value.

Undoubtedly, e-mail remains one of the most effective means to reach and communicate with individuals, but I wonder if our industry has taken this personal communication channel for granted and is missing a big opportunity to forge a lasting bond with their customers?

For my part, e-mail should be a time when I get to sit down and spend a little quality time with your brand – like catching up with a good neighbor or any other friend.  I want to hear what’s happening, discover something new, be inspired/encouraged and walk away refreshed for whatever is next in my day.  I don’t want to be bombarded with incessant noise about topics that are not relevant to my life or solicited to death.

Not so long ago, our postal boxes were flooded with hundreds of mass flyers, catalogs, and solicitation mail – now it seems these same mass blast tactics followed us straight to our digital inboxes.  I find it interesting that Gmail recently released an e-mail sorting feature that automatically places promotional and social platform notification e-mails in separate tabs from the main inbox.  While I think e-mail sorting could be a helpful tool in the short-term for consumers, it still fails to solve the bigger clutter and frequency issues of the day.

We are living in the age of Big Data, sophisticated rich media and social networks, isn’t it time for e-mail to catch up and feel more personalized and human again?  Below are 6 areas of e-mail behavior that pose a significant opportunity for marketers to improve and re-kindle their relationships with consumers:

1 – Convenient Arrival Time – Let me choose when I receive your message.  I’ve noticed an increasing number of promotional e-mails being delivered between 2-6am during the week – now, I’m waking up to a cluttered inbox before my day really even begins.  Like most people, I have a lot of other pressing things on my mind as I head off to work.  I’d love to be able to schedule my promotional e-mails to all arrive say between 4-5pm on a Monday or Wednesday – just before I head home on my commute, when I have more time to peruse and read through them.  For someone else, the ideal time might be Saturday morning when the incoming messages could be read while riding the stationary bike and help guide the individual’s shopping plans for the remainder of the weekend.

2 – Manageable Frequency – Let me choose how often I hear from you.  Less is more – don’t automatically assume I want to hear from you on a daily or weekly basis.  Provide me with a monthly and/or bi-weekly subscription option.  Better yet, for times when I’m on vacation, dealing with a move or any other significant life event, allow me to ‘suspend’ your e-mail deliveries for a specified time period.  This would eliminate unnecessary ‘digital pile-up’ and likely encourage more e-mail interest and engagement once the black-out time period ends.

3 – Contextual Greeting – Make me feel like a person, not a faceless recipient.  If I’ve recently bought something or perused your physical or online store, acknowledge it.  If your e-mail is due to hit my inbox on Tuesday through Thursday, I could use a friendly energizer that gets me through the work week and looking forward to the weekend.  Even a quick contextual reference to the local weather forecast would be a powerful way to connect with your brand and create relevance.

4 – Offer to Help – Ask me how you can be of real assistance in my busy life and deliver it up front and center.  Things like certain product category new releases and price alerts or coupon reminders for a specified personal shopping day/event I’ve told you I want to know about are a welcome sight for my inbox.  In the same way, gentle reminders with tailored suggestions for using loyalty rewards is a big value too.  I’d love to be able to set preferences for applying loyalty perks and have them automatically delivered when and how they suit me best.

5 – Share a Good Story – Add a little inspirational pop to my e-mail day.  We all benefit from the wisdom and humor of others – bringing a little human interest dimension to your message goes a long way to bringing out your brand’s personality.  Feature your customers best moments with your product, tips and other words of encouragement or humor from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and other social feeds.

6 – Curate Meaningfully – Show me the best of the best that applies to my personal interests and needs.  Let e-mail become a digital discerning eye – my personal digital shopper & advisor for your brand.  Take all of my recent website, social media and purchase history and use it to come up with a small set of really meaningful suggestions that I’ll truly consider and likely purchase and/or recommend to others.

I’ve become a vigilant e-mail ‘unsubscriber’ over the past year due to the incessant flood of e-mails I receive on a daily basis.  Therefore, I fully admit I may not be aware of the stellar e-mail programs that are out there and would love to hear about the ones you’ve experienced that are truly personal, human and worth the sign-up.  My inbox could definitely use some unexpected punch.

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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