Is Email Relevance Still Relevant?
03 Jun 2021
Based on the emails your customers open and read, what percentage do you believe to be relevant and/or useful to the recipients?
An optimistic 59% of marketers reported more than half of their emails met this definition. However, three months previously the Consumer Email Tracker 2021 report asked the same question, and the answer was a far less flattering 15% - a gap of 44%!
It’s not that consumers don’t find email relevant per se. In the DMA’s “Customer Engagement: How to Win Trust and Loyalty 2020” report, 73% nominated email as their preferred marketing channel – much higher than any alternatives - and a key reason was relevance.
So perhaps marketers and consumers have different definitions of relevance. It’s a perennial topic, and we had a vigorous and broad-ranging discussion at our last Email Council meeting.
Here are some key themes that emerged.
1) Relevance has many aspects
We all know the relevance mantra of “Right person, right message, right time” but our highly mobile and multi-channel world means additional factors come into play:
- Relevance is about how users consume their emails. Do they use traditional devices like desktops and laptops, or new devices like smart watches and speakers (YoY usage is up significantly)? Do they read emails in full, or just skim them? And which email elements are their eyes attracted to first?
- Timing is not just about the best time of day to send emails. It’s also understanding where a customer is in their buying cycle – knowing I like holidaying in the Greek islands is not relevant if I’m not planning to travel! Knowing whether I’m active/inactive/dormant is another important relevance factor, but almost a third of senders fail to do this according to the report.
- Context operates globally as well as personally. The pandemic has re-defined email relevance so it now embraces new themes like trust, empathy and kindness. The Marketer Tracker showcases the increased importance of personal touch and senders have stepped up, adapting their messaging to be more helpful, reassuring, and understanding of their customers’ changed circumstances.
- While email is a popular channel, it’s definitely not the only one. Instead of shoehorning email as the channel to communicate, marketers should be objective about when another channel is more appropriate. For example - as the report shows, social media is a highly effective channel for promoting competitions, events, and exclusive content.
2) Bridging the gap
Even when these additional dimensions are factored in, there are further reasons why consumers and marketers think about relevance differently:
- The promise created by a great subject line can be undone by lacklustre content – making the email less relevant than initially appeared. Ensuring these two elements are strongly connected, and that the email drives the intended action, is an important part of this equation. The report shows click-to-open rates is marketers’ most important relevance KPI.
- Targeting is typically based on historical data, but purchases may be once-off, or don’t reflect true personal interests. Real relevance comes from using data to pre-empt what customers are looking for. As one council member noted: “If I’ve just bought a jet wash from Amazon, I don’t want to receive four more emails about jet washes!” Relevance means identifying other products and services subscribers may be interested in, something Netflix does exceptionally well.
- There is also a strong argument in favour of using more qualitative data. Asking consumers more questions means they can help personalise their own journeys. Beauty brands do this very well, asking questions around skin/hair/body challenges as part of their onboarding programs, which help them tailor relevant messages throughout the customer lifecycle. Subscription models, where data can be curated from repeat interactions, also provide a great starting point for increased relevance.
3) Don’t set the bar too high!
There are many reasons for the marketer/consumer relevance disconnect . . . and some of them are OK! Relevance moves the needle for customer communications more than for prospects. There are times when relevance maps onto brand rather than channel or product. It could be the channel/program remains relevant even if the individual emails don't. Relevance even goes wrong sometimes, and that’s OK too – unintentional mistakes sometimes generate the highest response rates!
One aspect of relevance where all online channels fall short is their inability to fully replicate the in-person experience. When you visit a shop your body language quickly makes apparent whether you have an item to purchase in mind, or are just there to browse? Whether you’d like assistance, or prefer to self-serve? With online customers these visual cues are not available, so marketers must instead use their behavioural data to read customers’ “digital body language.” Doing so demonstrates respect by better understanding the context of the interaction, and this will be an important next step on the journey to increased relevance.
A note of thanks:
This article is the output of a DMA Email Council discussion and features expert contributions from the following councillors: Komal Helyer (Pure360); Steve Henderson (Emarsys); Daniel Lack (Growth Track); Suzanna Chaplin (ESBConnect); Nadja von Massow (Nadworks); Jenna Tiffany (Let’s Talk Strategy); Elliot Ross (Taxi for Email); Gavin Laugenie (Dotdigital); Saravanan Subburam (IPE); Chris Barnett (1973Ltd).
If you’d like to get involved with helping us shape the future of email marketing, and perhaps even join us as a council member, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Want to learn more about the findings from this year’s email research? The 2021 editions of the Consumer Email Tracker and Marketer Email Tracker (both sponsored by Validity) have already been released and are available here, with the Email Benchmarking 2021 report due to launch in the coming months.