Email as Reminder Service: No Longer Good Enough

Posted by Stephanie Miller on

A telling trend emerged as we analyzed the results of our Third Annual Holiday Survey this year. While nearly all respondents still said they used email to make holiday shopping decisions, fewer respondents than last year reported using email for comparison shopping, gift ideas or even when visiting a store. We believe this is due to the normalizing of online shopping – email is no longer as necessary to encourage shoppers to go online. Shop.org reported in their 2006 eHoliday Mood Study that only 30% of consumers used email to shop online this year – but that almost half (48%) did more of their shopping online this year than last. The biggest drop in utility was with comparison shopping (down 7%) and gift ideas (down 14%). This suggests that either fewer marketers included such content in their emails this year, or that what was sent was not valuable to subscribers.

A quarter of respondents (26.6%) used email only as a reminder to visit websites they already knew, and 15.2% said they used email to visit the store without regard to the specific offer. Each year the survey shows a steady decline in “I only shopped when emailed” (down to 2.8% from a high of 7.7% in 2004). This trend worries us – we believe that email falling into the “reminder only” trap will limit marketer’s ability to up sell recent buyers, win-back lost customers or even celebrate VIPs. Email is no longer simply an introduction to online shopping, it needs to be much more valuable than that.

Many marketers send lots of email promotions under the theory that although not every message will be interesting to every subscriber every time, at least when the subscriber is finally “in market” an email will be there! Our research strongly suggests this theory just isn’t holding water.

We’ve long advocated for subscriber’s interests (and uncluttered inboxes), advising marketers that email as a reminder service is not working hard enough. In today’s age of skeptical consumers, mobile devices (which tend to decrease the amount of time per message) and overflowing inboxes, it’s even more important for marketers to create relevant and meaningful subscriber experiences. This is true for all marketers, but perhaps especially so for B2B where attention spans are shorter and tolerance is lower for high frequency and low relevancy.

Promotions and sale notices are still great. We encourage marketers to move beyond this and complement the monthly or quarterly calendar with messages that speak to subscribers’ interests. Talk about the benefits of your brand or product, and sell it in context with how subscribers can use it to look better, feel stronger, be recognized at the office or be a hero to their kids.

Even one or two such messages a quarter can improve your overall open and click rates, encourage more viral pass alongs and boost subscriber satisfaction. Segmentation (even simple segments like customers/prospects, men/women or new buyers/long time buyers) can make a huge difference in relevance as well.

So, what are we really talking about here? A meaningful content and contact strategy. Segmentation. Testing. These are not new concepts for email marketers – but they are, unfortunately, thinly applied today. Marketers who take advantage now will pull ahead of the pack this year, and reap higher rewards in the inbox.

Check out the full Research Brief here. Also, sign up for our free webinar “The Email ROI Commandment: Honor Thy Subscribers” where I will discuss these findings in more detail, alongside a panel of top-tier email marketers.


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