Great Email Experiences Require New Thinking

The other day, a friend sent an email saying she had declared email bankruptcy. With one mighty click and a mass email explanation, she accomplished the unthinkable: deleting all messages in order to begin anew at inbox zero.

The irony wasn’t lost on my overcrowded inbox, but when I received her message, the email marketer inside of me gulped. How many relevant offers — offers my friend actually wanted to engage with — had just been obliterated?

My friend is something of a worst-case scenario. Most of us try and stay on top of our email, although that’s no easy task. According to one recent study, consumers send and receive an average of 104 emails per day. Miss a few days and you’re well on your way to inbox overload.

But staying on top of your inbox incurs a cost in terms of stress and productivity. Even worse, in a little more than a decade of constant emailing, our attention spans went from being compared to a typical marijuana user to that of a goldfish.



(I’ll pause here so you can swim around your tank, have a toke and check your email.)

To cope, we scan our emails as we used to scan the classified ads. We set up rules to filter messages – or more likely, we use the suggested defaults from our email providers. Then we compress those messages onto our mobile devices, allowing us to squint, scan and discard on the go.

Email marketers who believe we’ve gotten better at managing our inboxes see member or preference centers as the solution. Their skeptical counterparts take the opposite approach and increase message frequency in the face of uncertainty. But breaking through the clutter demands that email marketers ask a fundamental question: How do we deliver an experience that raises the level of consumer attention through appropriate ties to the brand?

Delivering that experience requires a blend of perspectives. A direct marketer’s inclination to measure and justify everything is essential. But you also need a relationship marketer’s appreciation for the high-value customer and the consumer insights that flow from that relationship. And of course, you need a product marketer’s sensitivity to customer experiences and feedback.

Working together, marketers with those diverse skill sets can deliver great customer experiences through email. But to help your team along, ask them to think about the following five questions:

Are we concrete about the function of email to the brand experience?
Email has been around so long it’s inconceivable for a brand to ignore it. Unfortunately, too many brands fail to identify a concrete way that email delivers the brand experience. Marketers must ask what the value exchange is when customers provides their email address, and the answer can’t be that “everyone loves email.”

Are we consistent?
We are creatures of habit, and so consistency plays a big role in defining email experience. We need to be consistent in terms of timing, cadence and context. But we shouldn’t mistake consistency for rigidity because, as anyone who has ever checked their email on their phone can tell you, context is increasingly fluid these days.

How well do we understand customer feedback and observation?
We all know how important it is to maximize touch points and collect data, but it’s our mindset and methodology that make that information valuable. Each interaction has some meaning if – and only if – you’ve already applied some value beforehand that gives you a baseline for analysis.

What is our first impression?
We are Internet nomads, and it’s getting harder to create personas that stick. The first impression is vital to establishing a path for future experiences. But don’t forget for a moment that you may have to reintroduce your brand to consumers several times, because brand loyalty doesn’t last forever.

What is our message?
We live in a scanning culture, so here’s the bottom line: An email without a message might as well be sent directly to the Trash folder.

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