Marketing Emails: What Readers Really Think

As an email marketer, you’re used to hearing misconceptions about your profession. “So you’re a spammer?” “Email? What, do you send out VHS tapes too?” “Okay but seriously, you’re just a spammer, right?

So with all the confusion surrounding email, you would think marketers would be more receptive to what audiences really think of the marketing emails they receive. Nevertheless, some of the conventional knowledge about what resonates with audiences contradict what audiences themselves say about email.

Maybe it’s from lack of information. Maybe it’s just the result of marketers losing brain cells by hitting their heads against the desk and saying “it’s not spam!” over and over. At any rate, it’s worth a look at what readers say about email personalization, frequency, and content to see if your email marketing efforts are hitting the target.

Email marketers say they’re personalizing; readers say, “Um…”

Email personalization is a hot topic among email marketers. Marketers consistently cite increased personalization as a major point of focus for their program’s future, and 76% of email marketers anticipate completely personalized email within 5 years. So how are they doing so far? Not great.

A particularly revealing study found that 81 percent of email marketers claim to use personalization. How many of the customers in the same survey reported receiving personalized email? 3 percent. Now for those of you still beating your head against the desk, 3 percent is way less than 81 percent. Does that mean email marketers are a bunch of filthy liars? Of course not (that’s another rumor that can be put to rest). More likely, it reflects a big difference in what readers and marketers consider personalization.

Because personalization is so popular, some people interpret it to mean that just slapping the reader’s name in the subject line leads to instant email riches and glory. Not quite. This could account for part of the discrepancy in that survey: because so many emails use first names, readers are desensitized to it and don’t consider it true personalization. Successful email personalization is going to take a bit more thought, so stop hitting your head, wait for the room to stop spinning, and start brainstorming ways to implement useful user information in your email campaigns.

Are your high-frequency marketing emails outside your readers’ range?

Companies know that email works. It’s why email marketers can’t stop singing its praises. It’s why email scores higher in marketer interest than any other digital avenue. It’s also why marketers are sending more email than ever. With email’s world-famous 3800% ROI, it’s tempting to keep blasting readers with an endless assault of email to your heart’s (and wallet’s) content, but this can quickly lead to diminishing returns. What’s the right amount of email to send?

Some marketers claim that sending fewer emails boosted their open rate, while others cite how increasing their email output led to higher clicks. We already figured out that email marketers don’t lie, so what’s the truth? The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how many emails is just right. Still, when the most popular reason for readers to click “unsubscribe” is because they’re receiving too many emails, it’s an important question to keep asking.

But instead of asking the latest case studies or your industry pals or your special email Magic 8-Ball (it’s like a regular Magic 8-Ball, only it refuses to say “Outlook Good”), why not ask the readers themselves? Believe it or not — and stay with me on this one — some people don’t love email as much as us. With just 16% of peoplereporting that the majority of emails they receive are relevant (and 1 in 10 marketersadmitting they’re right), you can hardly blame them. Why not give them more say over what kind of email they receive? Implementing preference centers allows you to retain the email-averse while connecting eager readers with more of your newsletters.

Content audiences or “content” audiences: does content really make readers happy?

47% of email marketers believe that content drives results in their email marketing program. That’s half of email marketers who say, “Our content is good, and our readers think so too.” Now, if you’ve made it this far, you know what’s coming: a stat showing that those readers beg to differ. Awesome! You know what to expect. That should soften the blow a bit when you read that the percentage of people who care about that email content is actually just 4%.

So what do those people want? Deals. Discounts. Dinero. Money-off offers are far and away the most popular email offering. What does that mean for that piece of content you’ve been working on all week? Again, it all comes down to not searching for blanket solutions. Look at why your audience subscribed in the first place, particularly what you told them when they first handed that email address over. If your email sign-up process promised nothing but good deals, it’s probably safe to assume that they prioritize those deals over your killer content. Sorry.

Meanwhile, many companies have seen success with on-brand email content, especially brands with a unique established voice. For publishing & media companies, email content has never been more popular. Highly-engaged readers love email newsletters, and publishers have responded in kind by cranking out more and more of them. Do those sound like you? Keep churning out that content. If not, well, finish that piece anyway. It’s probably pretty great.

To catch an email reader, you have to think like an email reader.

With all the time you spend crafting your perfect emails, it’s easy to get stuck in the mindset of a creator. Unfortunately, most of your readers will be consuming your emails in Consumer Mode. That’s why it’s important to step back and adopt the reader’s point of view to gauge whether your emails are hitting home. That shouldn’t be too hard; in fact, most email marketers just happen to also be email readers themselves.

Once you’ve started thinking like your readers, the challenge is acting on that mindset. As you’ve seen, there aren’t any easy answers to problems like what kind of email personalization works or how many emails a marketer can send before a reader goes postal. In fact, there aren’t many easy answers at all when it comes to questions about email marketing. Well, except for “Yes, it works;” “Yes, email’s still alive;” and “No, Mom, I’m not a spammer.”

Melanie Angel
Editor, PostUp PlayBook

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