Over-Emailing a Retail Brand to Death
In 2018, it's estimated that 273.8 billion emails are sent out a day. At work you’re likely to receive an average of 168 emails a day. Consumer accounts receive about two-thirds that number, or 110 emails every day. Everybody complains about the number of emails they get, but nobody does anything about it. Or do they?
A recent study by Brand Keys, a New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy, found that for most brands too many emails result in brand disengagement, which results in significantly less favorable behavior toward the brand when it comes to purchases and profitability.
The study didn’t address spam, but rather emails consumers had voluntarily signed up to receive from top retailers. Yes, there was probably a BOGO (“Buy One Get One”) or price promotion (“X Percent Off Your Total Purchase”) or percent off plus free shipping offer that was the raison d’être that facilitated consumer willingness to receive more emails. And to be fair, some consumers just like the brand and its products, and want to be in the know.
The study showed that the vast majority of respondents (88 percent) thought they received too many emails too frequently from, again, retail brands they had asked to send them such correspondence. So Brand Keys asked consumers, “Which retailers send you too many emails?” with the following “too many/too frequently” rankings of 15 retailers consumers mentioned most often:
- Victoria’s Secret
- Old Navy
- Bed, Bath & Beyond
- Home Depot
- Best Buy
But these days, with consumers hot-wired to the internet, living in a media ecology, and surrounded by retail brand messaging, is “too many” necessarily a bad thing?
Email marketers would claim emails are all about building relationships. Well, they would, wouldn't they? It’s what they do for a living after all. But is it a marketing version of Maslow’s famous statement, “I suppose it's tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” All media platforms seem to suffer from that view.
So Brand Keys used its independently validated psychological emotional engagement metrics to measure the effects of how consumers receiving “too many,” “too frequent” emails from these brands affected their engagement with the brand.
Higher engagement always means consumers think better of the brand. It means that consumers “see” the brand as better meeting their expectations regarding values that drive positive behavior in the arena in which the brand competes. In short, higher engagement is a leading indicator of “better” consumer behavior toward the brand, which axiomatically should translate into more sales and better profits.
Lower engagement works the same way, only in the opposite direction.
Of the top 15 retail brands cited by consumers as sending too many emails too frequently, only four of the brands showed increased levels of engagement by the consumer recipients. Those brands were:
- Old Navy; and
All other brands, no matter what level consumers felt the emails had become fatiguing, saw consumer engagement decrease.
The $1,000,000 question, of course, is, “Why?” Why did email quantity and frequency work for those four brands to increase engagement and not for the others? The likely answers can be found in other research Brand Keys has successfully conducted related to brand-to-media engagement, or “B2ME.”
B2ME is a best-in-class, leading indicator media platform optimization assessment. It's a quantitatively rigorous empirical system that charts precise effects on awareness, brand image, brand equity, category values, and purchase behavior directly attributable to a brand’s placement in/on a particular media vehicle. It diagnostically identifies how the media platform is reinforcing (or weakening) particular brand values that ultimately determine — positive or negative — behavior in the marketplace or online toward the retail brand.
Amazon’s emails supported the category expectation related to “community,” Groupon emphasized expectations related to “geo-centric variety,” Old Navy bolstered “price value,” and Apple amplified consumer desires and expectations for category values related to “personal outreach.”
The Brand Keys study definitively proves three things. First, consumers can do something about too many emails that arrive too frequently. Second, there are worse consumer reactions to too many emails from retailers than hitting the “unsubscribe” link. Third, while there may not be a perfect predictive formula for a retail email program, there is a proven method to measure how emotionally engaging a retail brand’s email program can be.
Robert Passikoff, Ph.D., is the founder and president, Brand Keys, Inc.
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