What email users say: Part 3 (managing perceptions and discontent)

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surveyParts 1 and 2 of this series looked at attitudes to commercial email, definitions of spam and reasons for unsubscribing.

But how do people make a judgment call about an email? What do they do when they’ve decided it’s spam or they don’t want it anymore?

And how can you use that knowledge to improve your email success?

Focus on the headers and preview pane

The message is clear: recognition drives perception and action. For example:

  • The MAAWG consumer study asked respondents how they distinguish between spam and legitimate email. 67% said sender name, 45% subject line and 22% cited visual indicators
  • Asked what compelled them most to open permission email, North American respondents to the Epsilon Global Consumer Email Study cited the from line (68%) and subject line (26%) tops

Core factors are clearly your headers and what appears in the preview pane. It’s all about recognition. And training people to recognize your emails as legitimate begins well before you send the first email, as explained here.

It might also be worth testing adding recognition elements (like a brand name) to your subject line, even if the sender is already clearly identified in the from line. It worked for this company, nearly doubling clickthroughs.

Manage how people treat unwanted email

Even the very best email programs are going to lose subscribers. The key is managing how those subscribers choose to handle email they no longer want (what many of them would now call spam).

So what do people do when they’ve decided you’re sending spam?

  • According to an informal eec survey, 71% use the delete button, 39% hit the spam or junk button and 39% unsubscribe
  • Around two-thirds of North American respondents to the Epsilon Global Consumer Email Study were prepared to use the “mark as spam” button
  • The MAAWG survey also asked what action people take on receiving spam: 78% delete without opening, 35% move to junk folder and 8% report the message to their email provider

Critically, the options for dealing with spam (delete, move to spam folder, report directly as spam and unsubscribe) also apply to “legitimate” emails that people no longer want:

  • ExactTarget examined how people on a quality, permission-based list unsubscribed. 60% did so via email or using the unsubscribe link in the email. A significant 40% “unsubscribed” by clicking the “This is Spam” button.
  • The Emailcenter study of UK consumers asked what people do when they don’t want to continue receiving marketing email. 14% use the spam button, 77% unsubscribe and 40% just delete the messages
  • The European survey conducted by ContactLab also asked what people do once bored with a newsletter. 66% said “I delete them without even opening them”, 36% said “I put them into the spam folder so I do not see them any more.”

The above stats show that people will consider more than one way of dealing with unwanted email.

Spam reports, junk folder filtering and “delete without reading” all hurt engagement metrics, drag down your sender reputation and reflect badly on your brand or image.

An unsubscribe is a much better choice from the marketer’s perspective. It gives you the chance to make a clean, positive impression when people leave the list.

Unsubscribe pages also allow you to present alternatives to the would-be leaver: other ways to hear from you, alternative content, reduced email frequency etc.

So the challenge is to influence people away from the bad options, towards the good one. For example by:

Bonus 1: perception also drives sharing

Perception, of course, drives much more than unsubscribing behavior.

For example, Blue Sky Factory interviewed students about social media and email habits. Asked if they would share commercial emails, most responded as if that was an entirely hypothetical situation. But consider some of the quotes:

“If it was entertaining enough and actually cool”
“If it was interesting”

…not “if it has a share on Facebook link”.

“Share with your network” links facilitate sharing, but the motivation to use them comes from your content/offer. An obvious concept we forget in the rush to add “Tweet this” links to password notification emails.

The recent Email Insider Summit also featured a panel of college graduates talking about email. Watch the video here.

Bonus 2: words drive perception

A common marketing trap is to assume those reading a message speak the same specialist language as those sending it. Email marketing has its own vocabulary, but it’s not one shared by the people who actually get the emails.

If you want people to take the right action, don’t use jargon they can’t understand. The informal survey of 65+ people outside the industry by the eec Consumer Education Roundtable, for example, found that most did not know how to define an “email service provider” or an “email client”.

Even basic terms can be an issue. And Darrah MacLean recently asked if subject lines and email copy should really use expressions like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other forms of retail-speak.

Bonus 3: what ISPs say

That concludes our 3-part journey through consumer email attitudes. But there’s a third partner in our email love triangle: the ISPs and webmail services that sit between sender and subscriber.

What do they say about all this?

Delivery and anti-spam blogs have recently covered this topic in some depth, with a definite sense that ISPs are:

1. Looking to user interaction with your emails as a better guide to determining whether that sender’s messages are worth delivering.

2. Looking to make email service providers more accountable for the actions of their customers.

To find out more, here some of the latest links:

The shift to subscriber empowerment is good for good emailers: if your subscribers want your email, they’ll get your email.

The challenge, therefore, is not (just) to master the intricacies of email deliverability, but to produce email that subscribers want.

Find related articles:

Permalink | December 10th, 2009 | 3 Comments »
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3 comments on “What email users say: Part 3 (managing perceptions and discontent)”

  1. DJ Waldow says:

    Mark –

    Thanks so much for the Blue Sky Factory shout out.

    (It's Factory, not Marketing – ha ha)

    Just keeping you honest and on your toes.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  2. Mark Brownlow says:

    No idea what subliminal stuff was going on there. Especially since I'm an avid reader of the BSF blog. Sorry DJ, stupid of me. Have corrected.

  3. DJ Waldow says:

    Ha ha. No worries at all, Mark. An honest mistake. Just don't let it (EVER) happen again. Ever.

    Good times, great videos.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory