Why do businesses send such stupid emails?

Six out of ten marketing emails never get opened

Email marketing Are marketers plain daft or just lazy? They can only be one or the other. Surely they know that personalising their email marketing initiatives is what is needed to engage people. That’s not news, after all. Neither is it some amazing fact that would surprise even the most green of marketers. So why is it that most emails sent out by brands are not personalised? Either the companies don’t know that personalisation is essential or they can’t be bothered. And if they can’t be bothered, why should we be bothered to open their emails?

In fact, we don’t bother. A recent study found that the average inbox contains 250 unopened marketing emails from companies and brands. The majority of these emails are from companies which the recipients signed up for – they are not unwanted spam. So why do they remain unopened?

The survey revealed some key factors behind the extent of unopened, yet requested, emails:

[unordered_list style=”red-x”]
  • The emails contain irrelevant information
  • The content is not personalised
  • The subject lines are boring
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Now, forgive me if I am being stupid myself, but aren’t these obvious reasons for failure? Isn’t it clear to marketers that every email they send should be personalised, contain relevant information and have a subject line that makes people want to open it? That’s all kind of obvious isn’t it?

So why aren’t companies doing the obvious? Are they daft or lazy?

The web is focused on the wrong thing

One reason why companies may not care that most of their emails lay unopened and unseen is because the web focuses our minds on “traffic”. Everywhere you look there are little signs saying how many people shared this, how many followers this page has or how many people watched something. On top of this businesses have analytics which tell them how many people opened something, how many of them used particular search words and how many of them clicked on something.

We are surrounded by data which is about “how many”.

So email marketers gain success by ever increasing the size of their mailing list; they concentrate on getting more and more people to subscribe. That produces nice graphs for management meetings showing an upward trend. Then they look at “open rates” or “click through rates” and get depressed by how few people actually engage with what they send out. Then someone produces some spurious statistic saying that even this low open rate is much better than was ever achieved with printed direct mail. So, the meeting then goes back to “the only way we can get more sales is to get more subscribers” – and so the circle is completed; businesses believe that the main solution to their problem with email marketing is getting a bigger list.

Yet the recent study shows that the majority of those 250 unopened emails would get opened if they had interesting subject lines, were personalised and contained relevant information. And that suggests you could make more money without expanding your mailing list but by doing “the obvious” when it comes to marketing.

Marketers are not stupid; they know what to do. The problem is they are surrounded by desires to increase numbers of recipients, rather than increase conversion rates from existing subscribers.

True, many businesses are improving their email marketing to deal with the conversion issue. But as this survey reveals the vast majority of businesses are not. If they were dealing with the issue, there would not be 250 unopened emails in our inboxes.

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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