Two new studies are giving marketers a sense of the new e-mail reality facing them today.
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First, e-marketing company IMN turned a critical eye on the nearly 109 million e-mail newsletters it has sent on behalf of clients in different industries since 2000.
The Newton, Mass.-based firm found that, content-wise, product news accounts for the highest percentage of newsletter "unique clickthroughs," at 29%. That is followed by company news at 18%, industry news at 14% and "tips and tricks" at 11%. "Unique clickthroughs" refers to the percentage of subscribers who not only open and start to read an e-mail, but also click on an inside link.
According to CEO Kathleen Goodwin, product news fares well because people making large purchases generally want information brought to them over a long period of time. The higher the price of the product, the more touch points customers require, including product specs, white papers and case histories, Goodwin said.
"What is important is not just sending e-mail and getting it opened, but learning what people are spending time with and reading," Goodwin said.
Results of the study also show, not surprisingly, that marketing communications companies, such as advertising and PR firms, are the most successful at engaging subscribers. They achieved a unique open rate, the percentage of subscribers who click the subject line of an e-mail to open and read it, of 63%. Retailers follow with unique open rates of 55%. Financial services firms, which achieved a rate of 48%, generally have a smaller, more engaged audience that reads as many as four articles per newsletter, Goodwin said. The overall open-rate average across industries is 39%.
It goes without saying that, with spam currently flooding inboxes, companies need to better understand what their readers want from e-mail.
"A lot of businesses have sat on the side of the road and done very little about this," Goodwin said. "They have just taken names they got from a show and blasted out e-mails. They don't really use information to segment their audience. They look to drive commerce in a one-time event rather than establishing a relationship."
Surviving the spam era
That's the very point Gartner Inc. made in another recently conducted study.
Approximately half of all e-mail this year is spam, and that will grow to 60% next year, said Gartner, Stamford, Conn.
To keep messages from being thrown out with the rest of the clutter, marketers need to focus on three things: understanding delivery, creating relevant content, and giving customers what they want, according to the report's author, Adam Sarner, a research analyst.
E-mail will remain effective but will get more expensive in the spam era, Sarner said. Currently, sending a single e-mail to a prospect or customer costs as little as 0.025 cents.
Yet, even permission-based e-mail (messages the recipient has agreed to receive) might be weeded out by Internet service providers that promise to prevent spam. As much as half of all permission-based e-mail will be filtered out by ISPs, according to some estimates.
Marketers need to form relationships with the ISPs to understand how they are evaluating e-mails and how to avoid getting filtered, Sarner said. Access won't be easy, since every marketer will be doing the same thing.
"Companies should be more aggressive in dealing with ISPs," Sarner said.
Secondly, sending unwanted e-mail to customers may even hurt a company's branding.
"The backlash has already started," Sarner said. "You can make a correlation to telemarketers. It's a little less intrusive [than phone calls], but consumers will find [spam] more intrusive as time goes on."
In the report, Sarner recommends giving recipients more control over the type of information they receive and how often it's sent. He also suggests added personalization that reflects knowledge of a customer's purchase history.
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