Email is a great tool for keeping customers engaged and informed, and offering them discounts and tips about getting the most out of products or services.

Moreover, customers subscribe to email updates in good faith that marketers won't abuse the privilege of taking up space in their inbox.

But, somewhere along the way, marketers get emails wrong. Those emails turn to spam because they are sent too often, aren't relevant, and aren't appreciated by their once-happy subscribers.

Consumer products (PDF) and services receive the most unsubscribes with 27% and 25%, according to Silverpop. That means more and more marketers aren't hitting the mark.

As consumers unsubscribe from irrelevant emails from brands that they once followed, marketers must adjust their strategy to keep those customers engaged.

So, what's the key to winning back customer approval? A personalized approach in context. Just as letters used to be hand-addressed and written to each person, marketers must take that approach with customers.

Avoiding the 'Spam' Label

How do marketers stop taking the spam approach? How can they begin focusing on a mutually beneficial approach that is contextual and personal?

The first step is breaking down silos, so you can see the full picture.

Marketers need to understand who the customer is, what he or she has done in the past, and also see what that customer is doing in real time. However, none of this data, if used independently, provides a complete picture of the individual customer.

Integrating all types of data is crucial to put together a compelling email campaign.

Because consumers are wary of the email-blast approach, marketers must choose the quality-over-quantity approach.

When designing emails, consider the following, so you don't end up on the spam list:

  • Multiple devices and channels. Customers aren't just connecting from desktops; they're connecting from smartphones and tablets as well. Some 48% of emails are now opened on a cell phone, so if you're only formatting for desktop, your email will most likely end up in the trash.
  • Timing. Timing is everything! In a fast-paced, digitally connected world, people are receiving 416 commercial emails per month. So, you want to engage the user before they forget the context of the email but not so soon that it appears creepy. 
  • Purpose. Having a strategy sounds obvious, but a surprising amount of emails don't have a definitive purpose. To capture attention, marketers must define both the purpose and desired outcome prior to sending any consumer emails. Emails must be informative and engaging, and have a definitive call to action to break through the clutter. Reporting metrics should be evaluated after each campaign to determine if the desired outcome was achieved and why (or why not).
  • Feedback. Everyone can use feedback to enhance performance, and email marketing is no exception. If customers are unsubscribing, find out why. Surveys are a great way to get a better understanding of customers but offer the experiences that they want rather than irrelevant, impersonal emails. Testing open rates for subject lines and click-through rates for content is another great way to understand what recipients find valuable.

Email marketing, when used correctly, can be an effective tool to engage with consumers. However, marketers must find that balance of delivering the right message at the right time by using the right data.

By creating relevant, personal emails that enhance the customer experience, marketers can ensure that consumers welcome their emails rather than send them straight to the spam folder.

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Stop Dooming Your Emails to Your Customers' Spam Folder

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Michael Wilson is senior director of Product Strategy at Webtrends.

LinkedIn: Michael Wilson