Expectations are steadily rising in the inbox. Having permission only gets you so far nowadays. Irrelevant and unwanted email is the new spam in the eyes of both consumers and ISPs. Everyone agrees that “relevance” is the solution, but it’s often discussed in vague, mystical terms.
While relevance is indeed in the eye of the beholder, that doesn’t mean it’s indescribable. Relevance comes down to a mix for four factors: emails being (1) desired, (2) user-friendly, (3) valuable, and (4) open.
Desired. Emails are desired when they arrive when expected, when requested, and when subscribers are in the market -- and at a frequency that isn’t excessive. Setting expectations during the sign-up process and in your welcome emails is a critical first step. Varying your email frequency according to key selling periods (like the holiday season for most retailers) is appropriate, and creating an array of triggered emails means that messages arrive at times when individuals will be most receptive. Using frequency caps and allowing subscribers to opt-down rather than just opt-out also help ensure emails are desired.
User-Friendly. Emails are user-friendly when they are easy to scan, read and navigate across all major platforms, a goal that is complicated by the growing number of email-reading devices, particularly mobile ones. Email text that is difficult to read on smartphones and calls-to-action that can’t be accurately clicked with a finger only serve to frustrate subscribers, who are no longer triaging their inbox via mobile and reopening emails later on their laptops. Emails that are coded poorly so images and grids are broken are also irritating and brand-damaging. Landing pages should flow seamlessly from the email experience to avoid lowering conversion rates. Regularly A/B testing your email designs is also critical to being user-friendly, as there’s no way to know what your subscribers respond to best without testing.
Valuable. Emails are valuable when they provide subscribers with content that they find compelling, worthwhile and interesting. Beyond simply delivering what you promised them when they signed up, you discover what individual subscribers value by collecting demographic information, preferences, purchase history, behavioral data and social data. And then you use that information to power segmented messages, dynamic content and triggered emails.
Open. Emails are open when they include content from other channels and the voices of customers, staffers, brand advocates and outside experts. In addition to including product ratings and reviews from your website, emails can highlight staff picks, advice from celebrities, testimonials from magazines, and products with the most likes, tweets or pins. Emails can leverage cross-channel content like videos and social media exchanges. Emails can also ask subscribers to guide business decisions about everything from where to direct charity efforts to which products to carry. This kind of content openness creates context for products, helps build brand image and express brand values, and provides engagement opportunities when subscribers are not in the market to buy.
Of course, because brands and their subscriber bases vary so widely, there’s always a significant element of “it depends” when it comes to acting on any of these four factors to increase relevance. But any time spent experimenting with improving any of them will be time well spent.