The Email Edge: Debunking The Click Myths

Fewer than one in ten marketers believe their emails are relevant to customers, a UK DMA survey shows. And two in five say that some of them are. That doesn’t show much confidence. Are U.S. marketers any more secure in their “feelings” about what they do? Not necessarily. But consumers seem to find email very meaningful indeed.

Before the recent holidays, for example, Zeta Global and Relevancy Group polled 1,000 U.S. shoppers. A whopping 93% said email is their preferred communications medium, and that they check it often. And 62% noted that email discounts and offers are deciding factors when they purchase. 

Granted, we’re talking about different surveys in different countries. Still, it may be time to reexamine some of the shibboleths that govern email marketing. On Friday, the National Law Journal, of all places, listed eight false notions about the channel. Mark them well: Some of the most prestigious names in the business have pushed these ideas at different times. Here’s the list, from Stephen Fairley, CEO of the Rainmaker Institute, accompanied by some comment from us:

  1. You annoy your clients when you send frequent emails — On the contrary, people welcome them if they’re relevant, Fairley writes. (Here’s one caveat: the news coming out of Asia today is that click-throughs have plummeted as volume has risen).
  2. Timing isn’t everything — Sometimes it takes a day or two to generate a response. That’s true, and it may take even longer for a newsletter to pull readership.
  3. “Inactive users” should be culled from your list after six months — Whoever came up with that one? Fairley states that 20% of your annual openers will have been inactive for that long. I suspect that this rule came out of the email list business—nobody wants to pay for “inactives.”
  4. Consumers mark most branded emails as spam — Simply not true. The real number is closer less than one in 2,000, Fairley says.  
  5. The more email a brand sends, the more they are ignored — Fairley recommends sending four emails instead of one. I’m not sure I get the math, but he says this will double the number of people who will open your messages.
  6. You get better results with short subject lines — Not always. Sometimes clarity demands a little more length than the optimal 60 characters recommended by experts. But a wordy, imprecise subject line can depress response, so I’d err on the side of economy.
  7. Email goes to a spam folder because of subject lines  A study of 540 billion emails showed that keywords like “free” have little effect, Fairley writes. Maybe. But such words can turn off readers even when they don’t get you into a spam folder. 
  8. Never send the same email twice — again, rubbish, Fairley implies. The average open rate is 24%. That means 75% have not read the email. All well and good. But don’t bunch them up — that looks like you’re making a mistake.

Rules are funny things: As people say in the arts, you have to learn them before you can break them. And this batch of violations may be suitable for marketing to lawyers, but not to anyone else.

Worse, these prescriptions all sound just a little intuitive. Whatever happened to testing — of frequency, timing, subject lines? That’s the only way to really know what’s working and not working in email. And relevance? For that, there’s no substitute for good products and strong data analytics. 

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