Many delivery blogs have posted about the recent ReturnPath study showing that marketers are missing prime opportunities to use email to develop a strong relationship with recipients. I finally manged to get a few moments to read through the study and comment on it. Over a few days in February ReturnPath researchers signed up at more than 60 major retailer brands. They then monitored the subscriptions to see how often and what kind of mail the retailers sent.
Overall, it seems the researchers were disappointed in how the retailers were using mail. Even the title of the whitepaper captures this feeling: “Creating Great Subscriber Experiences: Are Marketers Relationship Worthy?” The answer seems to be more no than yes.
From my perspective the data is not all that surprising. In many cases it seems bigger companies rely on the recognition of their brand to get them through minor delivery problems (like complaints) rather than good practices. Whereas a smaller company will have to work harder to develop a relationship, larger companies with wide brand recognition can fall back on their brand.
There were a few areas ReturnPath measured.
- How many companies sent welcome messages?
- How soon did recipients start receiving email?
- How did companies use information collected during the subscription process to personalize email?
Most other people commenting on the study have focused on the fact that 60% of mailers did not send a welcome message and 30% do not send any mail within the 30 days of the study. Basic, basic best practices here. Send a welcome message! This is a sender’s opportunity to touch the customer. Good marketers set recipients them up to expect future, high value messages. Really good marketers include information like how to modify subscription settings and what address future messages will come from – along with instructions on how to add that address to the recipients address book. ReturnPath points out Kraft as a good example of a mailer using that welcome message to start the relationship.
[Kraft's] welcome message included a personalized greeting and a recipe based on the subscriber’s expressed preferences. They also include “white listing” instructions along with information on what to expect from future emails.
In the 30 days of the study, 30% of the retailers failed to send any email. I can guarantee you that in 60 or 90 days, when the retailer finally gets around to mailing, a significant percentage of recipients will forget they signed up for the mail. Some of those recipients will hit the “this is spam” button. This is a missed opportunity and ReturnPath pulls no punches about how bad it is to ignore it.
They’ve asked you to market to them! They’ve made themselves vulnerable, and now they want acknowledgment, even gratitude. You can’t put off making a connection. If you aren’t well on your way to building a relationship within a month your subscriber may have forgotten that they registered.
One of the most interesting parts of the study to me, and one many others have not commented on, was the analysis of the information retailers collect and then do not use. Only 25% of the companies who sent routine emails within 30 days actually used the information they collected from the recipients to personalize the messages. The others did not even use subscriber names in outgoing mail.
Taken as a whole, marketers lost a major opportunity to engage their subscribers through early personalization. Fifty-six percent of marketers who sent welcome messages had the data to personalize them, but only 13 percent sent personalized welcome emails.
This is where the market is going. Senders MUST learn to step up and uphold their end of the sender – recipient relationship. Personalized email is a small way to connect with subscribers, even something as simple as a name will help the recipient feel as if the relationship is two way. Recipients want to know sender sees them as more than an email address, but actually as a valuable customer.