UK Subscriber Study: Email Must Say Something Worthwhile

It’s not surprising that a recent study of UK email subscribers finds that most email marketing is pretty terrible – it’s irrelevant, untargeted and poorly timed. What the study really points out is that consumers notice.

Put out by Emailcenter, an ESP in the UK, the study polled British consumers about their inbox habits and preferences. The report (free registration required) is full of wonderful ideas to improve email marketing response and deliverability. One thing that struck me is the data to support what we know intuitively from our own inboxes: we all get a lot of email, and many marketers take a short term, aggressive approach to content and frequency. Luckily, all the factors that go into reversing this trend and improving both the subscriber experience and response rates for marketers are under the control of the marketer.

Almost 64% of the respondents in the Emailcenter survey say that only a quarter of the marketing messages they get are relevant to them. Just a half a percent of them said all of it was relevant. With targeting, segmentation and dynamic content technology integrated in most email broadcast vendors and all the in-house software solutions, there is no reason why email marketers have to compromise any longer.

Using segmentation helps solve another big challenge for email marketers: frequency. In the study, 62% said that high frequency is a factor in making them wish to stop marketing messages. More than half say they got more than expected at sign up – with 36% reporting they got “more” and 16% reporting “far more.” We know from our Return Path data that high frequency and low relevance are key factors in complaints to the ISPs – which depress deliverability and lower response further. The Emailcenter report also has some good suggestions about educating executive management about the perils of overmailing.

Beyond too frequent messages, another 70% say that “no relevant products” was a factor in making them wish to stop receiving marketing messages. A sizeable minority, 43%, said that their requirements changed. Again, these are all factors that marketers control. Frequency is important not only because it encourages a “delete” (the rolled eyes of subscriber feedback), but it’s also the most commonly cited reason for an unsubscribe request. And it’s a big reason why subscribers click the “report spam” button, depressing inbox deliverability and lowering response rates across the entire file. A quick way to check if volume and high complaints are a concern for you is to check your sender reputation for free (free registration suggested for deeper data, but not required).

Subscribers aren’t asking that much of marketers. Sixty-five percent said they signed up to get exclusive discounts. A full 75% of respondents said that “special offers” is a key factor in their response to a marketing message. Another 55% said “relevant products.” My goodness! All we have to do to engage a majority of our subscribers is identify what products they are in market for and provide a compelling offer that makes them feel special and valued? Certainly that is within our grasp.

What happens when we push the limits? A full 75% of these respondents said they unsubscribe (this is much higher than the studies I’ve seen in the US, and more than twice that found in our US consumer study). Another 40% say they just delete – which is like an emotional unsubscribe and they are lost subscribers. Only 14% said they click the “report spam” button; again, significantly less than studies of US consumers – our own study last year showed 33% click the “report spam” button when messages are not relevant.

Keep in mind the key finding here: consumers notice what email marketers do. When we send something interesting and relevant at a good pace, they are happy to stay active with our programs. When we don’t… well, then we’ve lost them, perhaps for good.

– Stephanie Miller, Return Path