Claiming Email Bankruptcy

It's summertime, and I am ready for vacation! Good thing I have one planned and will be heading out shortly, but what vexes me about the entire thing is that I just know that I will have 3,000+ emails to sort through when I return. Not to mention the fact that across three email accounts, both personal and work, I have another 4,300 I need to sort through, prioritize or read before I head out -- or do I just claim email bankruptcy, wipe it all out and start over from scratch?

 Being in the email space, I am a true believer of reading the information that is sent to me -- after all, I asked for it in the first place. But at some point in time, I just throw my hands up and give in -- and hit ctrl+a and delete.

As I think through this behavior, it reminded me of a presentation from Microsoft's Live Mail division during the Email Insider Summit in May about how the company classifies the email behavior of its subscriber base -- which I have used in client meetings and conversations with clients as a test kitchen for understanding what the behavior means to us email marketers. The funny thing is that every person I talk to self-selects his or her actual behavior. I have taken a little liberty on the definitions Microsoft provided, as a way to  apply it to a marketing approach versus a usability function, but here it is:



These are people who review the email in their inbox and file it away for later use. I've heard consumer panels talk about how they file away email and offers from marketers until a time they are actually ready to do business with the marketer, then will revisit that folder to find an offer applicable to the transaction they are looking to perform.

This means a number of things to marketers. First, it makes it even more difficult to attribute revenue to a specific email message -- and near-impossible to determine incremental revenue, as the recipient is referring back to past messages after making a decision to purchase, versus taking an incremental behavior because of the email. This behavior also can dramatically sway your open and click-through tracking,, since the recipient isn't actually engaging with the email when it's received, but when it's most relevant or necessary to the recipient.

I think of these people as email hoarders. They will let messages build and build in their inbox without any concern or anxiety over it. I once saw a client who had more than 11,000 messages in her inbox, and I think I actually had slight heart palpitations. How can you stand to see 11,000+ emails in your inbox? It makes me twitch just thinking about it. But for marketers, this means you really could get lost in the shuffle. Unless you are an anticipated fixture in this massive inbox or have a really compelling subject line, you are likely overlooked.

This is email bankruptcy -- and I just may have to claim it. I've been doing a bit of business travel lately, and while I am typically a "filer" over the course of my travels, my inbox found its way up to 3,079 messages. After doing some preliminary dumping, I found that I have 647 newsletters and 1,735 promotional messages from various marketers -- which still left more than 650 messages that dated back to March 1 that I had not yet addressed.

So I am wiping it all out. Anything older than four weeks has been deleted -- so if you were waiting for a response from me, you may want to follow up. Sorry. But there are a number of folks that manage their inboxes this way, which can greatly impact marketers' ability to determine engagement with their email program. If recipients build and dump, then the message wasn't even likely seen -- which means relevance, content and frequency didn't much matter.

If we start looking at real customers and how they interact with their inbox, we may just be able to crack the engagement code yet. Now we just need to get Live Mail to tell us who in our subscriber list are filers, pilers and dumpers.... C'mon! It could happen. OK, probably not -- but one can dream. Speaking of dreams... Cabo, here I come!

3 comments about "Claiming Email Bankruptcy".
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  1. Iris Salsman from I. Salsman PR, LLC, May 27, 2010 at 11:07 a.m.

    I love this! It's so true. You have great insight into consumer behavior -- which is far more important than mere statistics, as far as I'm concerned. Now if we could just find some way to code recipients by their email filing habits, we'd really be onto something.

  2. Kathy Carlson from Cuneo Advertising, May 27, 2010 at 4:21 p.m.

    My personal style is sort and abort. I sort by sender so all the junk is grouped together and delete that group in one click. Then the 200 or so emails that are critical still get the attention they deserve.

  3. Isabel Smith from Isabel Smith Art and Design, May 27, 2010 at 10:31 p.m.

    That's me to a 't' and even worse: I alphabetize them (click the column head) and whack off emails by the boatload. One of the services I offer is email marketing, and my own habits are appalling: a lot of times I may not be in the mood or have the time to read the emails I have signed up for. Sometimes the headlines just look like more blah-blah-blah; figure this one out: I might be in a bad mood about the 'things of today' and the headline just added to my grief -- where's my Excedrin! And I will definitely save emails that are built in an eye catching unique way. Sometimes I sign up to get them just because they look great: Gathering of the Vibes

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