Relationships vs. Transactions and the Future of Email
Do you know how many emails are sent every day around the world?
I ask people that all the time and I get some surprising answers. I’ve heard 10 million, 100 million and up to a billion. The answer is that in 2024, people around the world will send 350 billion emails every day. You read that right: 350 billion every day! Now, we don’t know how many the U.S. accounts for, but we can guesstimate by Americans’ 25 percent share of global economic activity. If we apply that to email, it means that just within the U.S., we send more than 87 billion emails every day or 612 billion every week.
How many get read?
You can apply your guesstimate here by looking at your daily and weekly emails. On average, I receive approximately 3,500 emails per week. That number rises by around a thousand as we get close to the holidays. I have multiple email accounts: one for business, one for subscriptions, one for friends and family. That may be more than most people. It’s just the way I organize the thousands of emails that come in every week and enables me to know which ones may be more important than others.
Every day over my morning coffee, I open email on my iPhone, click the edit button and go down the list, deleting by subject line or by who the sender is. I keep the ones that are from a trusted source, pertain to current work or are a subject I’m interested in. Most people I’ve spoken to have similar habits. As email is part of our business, I may do a quick scan to see what's being sent, but I only keep and carefully read about 5 percent of my emails. This means I delete or send to junk around 3,325 emails per week. If, and I know it’s a big if, similar numbers are true for most Americans, we delete or trash around 580 billion emails every week. Most of them are created by marketing departments where personnel are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Why Do We Send So Many Emails and Why Do We Ignore the Majority?
Most emails are what are called “batch and blast” and are sent to different lists. We’re all on multiple lists and we find ourselves on them because we bought an item, attended an event, entered a sweepstakes or proactively signed up to learn more about a brand. It’s that last category that's most valuable because these are people who want to get emails from brands they like.
There’s an entire industry of consultants and companies that will tell you how to increase the odds that your emails get read. Tactics may include personalization, geo-targeting, creativity, discounting and special offers, and now we have what some are hailing as the email savior, artificial intelligence.
The Problem With AI
AI is a spectacular innovation that's disrupting all kinds of industries in areas including research, product development, publishing and more. It's being used by thousands of companies for composing and sending emails and that, I believe, is a mistake in the current “batch and blast” environment.
Let me give you an example. Below is a sales email that I received recently from a company that wants to do my taxes. I covered up the details that reveal the sender to save any embarrassment. I’ve also underlined some of the things that are dead giveaways that this was written by AI. First, it must not know the name of my company and was too lazy to notice it was filling in that field with “Undefined”. It did this twice! Next, three sentences, underlined in red, are AI giveaways.
- “I’ve noticed that companies in your industry …” If it doesn't know the name of my business, it certainly doesn't know my industry.
- “We love what you’re doing …” Again, it doesn't know our name, industry or what we’re doing.
- “Would you be opposed to me sending you a short video …” Normal people don’t ask if I’d be opposed. They just send it or provide a link. Maybe I should have responded, “I’m not excited about the idea but I can’t say I’m opposed.”
Needless to say, this company won’t be doing my taxes.
If this were one email that came out of the blue, I’d excuse it. But I get these kinds of emails all the time. I get them to my LinkedIn mailbox and directly to my work email. I see poor writing, bad grammar and a tone that says a real person didn’t’ write or edit it. That tells me that the sender doesn’t care. If this is what AI is doing for you, stop using it because it’s counterproductive. Now, we do have AI on our platform but advise against it for blanket emails. It needs to be edited for the right tone of voice so it doesn’t provide clear indicators of machine writing. Eventually, these problems will be fixed but we’re not there yet.
Email Performance Will Inevitably Decline
If your email performance hasn’t declined yet, it will. There are too many forces working against it. Too much volume, use of blind lists, and poor use of AI. The real problem, however, is that most emails are transaction-based. Their purpose is for you to buy now or sign up right away. However, if you think about what’s missing in digital communications that's the basis of everyday personal communication, it’s the building of relationships. We form relationships and identities around the brands we buy, the stores we shop, and the people behind them. If you’ve ever walked through a county fair amusement park and resisted the hawkers outside different rides or stalls, it’s because they can be obtrusive and often offensive trying to get you to buy something you don’t want. Sounds like email today.
There’s More Value in Building Relationships Than Seeking Transactions
Relationships build interest, create loyalty, grow sales, and increase every customer’s lifetime value. More transactions result from great relationships than just trying to get sales. We understand that if in a retail environment, but as soon as communication becomes digital, the idea of getting to know and understand customers falls by the wayside. That doesn’t need to be the case. We know that relationships between buyer and seller can take place in-store, at an event, on the phone or anywhere there's an exchange of information. We need to start using digital tools in a way that will build relationships over transactions.
No single digital function will build a relationship, but we’ve thought through the interpersonal exchange of asking, listening, responding and asking again, just like in a retail store. This has required the integration of different digital tools (i.e., CRM, landing pages, market research, email, and Net Promoter Scores). Digital businesses have developed within the vertical silos of these tools, but that’s not the way marketing departments or sales organizations work. They include customer acquisition, management, understanding, engagement and measurement under one roof. It’s an integrated, horizontal process. When digital, we can think of it as true one-to-one marketing at scale, which should be the holy grail of marketing.
Our clients have seen results that have achieved higher engagement, lower unsubscribes, actionable customer insights and customer brand advocacy. It’s not rocket science. When a brand asks its customers what they’re interested in and why, it gets important information to give customers exactly what they want. The customer walks away with a higher level of trust that their needs are being met and that small beginning of a relationship creates more sales and higher customer lifetime value.
Jon Stamell is the founder and CEO of Oomiji, which enables brands to learn and activate their customers' insights, using their own language, to build loyalty and sales.