Brands are failing to deliver the 'personal experience' as too many emails are failing to connect with customers, according to new research. Andy Wood looks at what we can learn from the trend for untargeted mail.
Email can be a great tool for marketing to customers – but it has to be used properly to be effective. For marketers the value of email is two-fold: on the one hand it is very cost-efficient, as it allows them to contact a great many consumers at a very low price, and on the other it is also very effective in putting the company message right in front of the intended receiver at the specific time they are expected to be most responsive.
But email’s efficiency can only be fully realised if the message delivered is pertinent to the consumer and suitably personalised. Generic messages, even if they do arrive in a personal inbox at just the right time, risk being binned at first glance if they are untargeted.
UK consumers are heavy email users. European digital communication firm ContactLab estimates that each has on average 2.1 email accounts per head, receiving about 25 messages a day. The upshot is that to grab consumers’ attention and cut through the crowd of existing messages, brands have to send highly targeted and relevant messages.
The latest GI Insight research reveals that more than half of UK consumers (53%) say almost all the direct email they receive from companies and other organisations is irrelevant to them. This would is a disappointing result for email marketing as a discipline, which given the data that many companies have access to – especially if there is an existing customer relationship – should be precisely on message and well-targeted.
The findings flag up that many enterprises are missing out on an opportunity to engage consumers with relevant, personalised communications. The majority of organisations are instead failing to harness the potential of email and treating this medium as a ‘cheap’ blast-out channel for generic communications and offers.
The survey also uncovered some demographic differences. Women are somewhat more likely to receive better targeted emails than men, as 50% find most of their direct mail to be irrelevant versus 55% of male respondents. Other differences in the levels of email relevance break down according to age groups with consumers over 35 found to be less impressed by the targeting of their emails than the younger demographic. This indicates that, although older sections of the population are likely to have families and higher individual earnings, brands are failing to communicate with them in a relevant fashion.
On a more positive note marketers show they are able to target emails more relevantly to the richest households: only 22% of the very highest earners surveyed (£150,000-plus) declared that the majority of email they receive from companies and organisations is irrelevant.
While more than half of consumers say marketers are missing the mark with their emails, most are still willing to receive email messages from firms with which they have an existing relationship – 73% of the respondents to the GI Insight survey say they have given companies they have already purchased from permission to email. This result is an important indication that consumers continue to remain willing to give brands access to their inbox and that, where the recipient is already a customer, firms that sharpen their targeting could be extremely successful.
The survey indicates that email has greater potential as a customer marketing channel than a prospecting tool. Firms that want to use email to make cold contact face bigger barriers than those building a dialogue with their customers, as only 51% of consumers responding to the survey say they have given firms they have not bought from before permission to email them.
But even those firms that have an existing customer relationship with the recipients of an email marketing campaign have to take care to make sure they are targeting and personalising the messages properly. As consumers, we all know how quick we are to tire of irrelevant messages and how likely we are to summarily classify all communications from company that is guilty of them as ‘spam’. When a company fails to deliver relevant messages, most consumers will eventually unsubscribe and therefore put a permanent end to communications. And irrelevant email messaging can have a lasting effect, damaging overall brand reputation and even leading annoyed customers to take their business elsewhere.
In order to fully realise email’s potential, companies need to drill down into customer data and use the insight obtained to accurately segment, target and personalise email. Firms need to consider customer preferences and understand their behaviour in order to approach them at the right time, in an appropriate tone, and with the correct offer. Marketers running campaigns need to know if email is more effectively employed in conjunction with communications through other channels for particular customers and whether, in fact, a customer is worth investing the time and effort to pursue.
Data analysis enables a firm to offer more relevant promotions and incentives, which in turn helps to develop the customer relationship, improving loyalty and encouraging that consumer to make a greater range of purchases and to make them more often. If they want to earn and maintain the right to contact consumers via email, brands need to deliver more than a series of generic carpet-bomb communications and start using the customer data available to truly connect with their customers.
Andy Wood is managing director of GI Insight. He has over 21 years in the field of database marketing and has vast experience in the creation and management of retail loyalty programmes.