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What customers want from marketing emails (Updated)

What customers want from marketing emails (Updated)


A nationwide internet survey of 1,358 U.S. adults (age 18 and over) were asked about their general email consumption. A further 472 adults, who indicated they regularly or sometimes read emails from businesses were surveyed about their reasons for doing so, and their individual preferences. Where necessary, results are weighted to be as representative as possible of the U.S. internet population. SwiftERM is delighted to offer our overview, with additional emphasis where appropriate.


Of all the digital accounts and profiles, none is more personal than email. These systems excel at delivering one-to-one messages, and email continues to thrive some four decades after its inception. It is estimated there will be 4.59 billion email accounts worldwide by 2025 (Statistica).

Though email marketing never disappeared, the tactic is experiencing a renaissance of sorts — largely due to the increasing ubiquity of smartphones in
the developed world. In the past several years, smartphones have transformed into hubs for email and other forms of media. 65 per cent of email is now consumed through a smartphone.

Consequently, email is reclaiming a bit of the marketing limelight. Sixty per cent of respondents in Salesforce’s State of Marketing report indicated that email was a “critical enabler of products and services” — an 18 per cent increase from last year. Fifty-nine per cent planned to increase their spending on email this year.

Because email is garnering renewed strategic emphasis, TechnologyAdvice wanted to see how consumers viewed and consumed emails from businesses. Has this increased focused on email led to better relationships with customers? 1,358 U.S. adults were asked how often they read marketing emails. 472 of these adults, who said they regularly or sometimes read such email, were further questioned about their preferences and expectations.

Executive Summary

Of adults surveyed, 60 per cent said they read emails from businesses*, though only 16 per cent of this group did so on a regular basis. The main rationale for this low conversation rate was accepted to be due to the lack of personalisation. Forty-three per cent confirmed that they only rarely read emails from businesses.

Among adults who do read business emails, 57 per cent said they read between zero and 25 per cent. This shows that many people engage with marketing emails only occasionally. The other 43 per cent of adults who read marketing emails read over 25 per cent of the messages they receive.

These findings demonstrate that the majority of adults are open to receiving marketing content through email, but also reinforce the importance of pre-open email characteristics, such as subject lines, sender names, and deliverability.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said receiving promotions and discounts was the reason they read marketing emails. Getting news and updates ranked second at 26 per cent. Answers varied significantly based on gender, with men choosing news and updates as their top reason for reading, while women were more likely to read for promotions and discounts. Customer service only garnered 11 per cent of responses.

To see how businesses could refine their email efforts, we asked consumers to pinpoint areas marketers could improve. Three main opportunities surfaced: Less frequent sending times (43 per cent), more informative content (24 per cent), and more personalised content (23 per cent).

Email frequency remained a consistent area of frustration. Forty-five per cent of consumers indicated they marked an email as spam because they received it too frequently. Not purposefully subscribing was the second most common reason for flagging an email as spam, and receiving irrelevant content rounded out the top three. No definition of the time frame was set, as it varied but without question receiving anything not pertinent to the recipient’s interests was perceived as “too frequent”.

Though it might not be a simple problem to correct, irrelevant content is the significant issue. Fully 49 per cent of respondents reported receiving irrelevant content on a daily basis. A further 28 per cent said they received irrelevant emails on a weekly basis. This suggests that a large majority of consumers find marketing messages in their inbox every week that have no relevance. Yet cross-referencing this against retailers perception was met with intransigence and ambivalence.

Nearly all of these problems can be handled with proper technology and better marketing practices. Less aggressive sending times are easy to schedule and test with marketing automation software, and double opt-in criteria should be standard for all email technicians. Finally, better list segmentation is a foundational step for creating more relevant content and can easily be achieved with the right software.

What customers want from marketing emails (Updated)

Key Survey Results

  • »  60 per cent of respondents report reading marketing emails, though only 16 per cent do so regularly
  • »  Only 12.8 per cent of U.S. adults read more than half of the marketing emails they receive
  • »  For women, receiving promotions and discounts was the most cited reason for reading marketing emails, while receiving news and updates was the most popular reason for men
  • »  Nearly half of the respondents reported receiving irrelevant email on a daily basis.
  • »  43 per cent of respondents wanted businesses to email them less frequently, while 48 per cent wanted more personalized or informative email content
    * These results did not distinguish between the type of email that respondents received from businesses, such as promotional or transactional.

How Often U.S. Adults Read Personal Emails from Businesses

43.6% RARELY
39.9% NEVER

Trends in Email Readership

In order to provide insight into how businesses can improve email engagement, we first had to identify consumers who read marketing emails. Although roughly 40 per cent of respondents claimed they never read emails from businesses, 60 per cent of respondents confirmed that they read such emails. Of this 60 per cent, 16 per cent said they regularly read email messages from businesses, while 44 per cent said they rarely read them.

Correlating these numbers to standard open rates is difficult due to the variation in open rate benchmarks. A 2013 study by Silverpop puts the mean open rate for the U.S. at 19.7 per cent, while the Epsilon Email Marketing Research Center places the number at a very generous 31.5 per cent.

What’s clear is that consumers are open to receiving various types of marketing emails, but attracting the attention of most readers is a difficult undertaking. A small group of heavy email readers likely exists in most industries, but convincing the more fickle prospects to open an email is what separates skilled marketers from average ones.


Percentage of emails that recipients actually read

In order to determine what per cent of marketing emails are read by consumers, we asked adults who indicated they either regularly or rarely read business emails (referred to as “subscribers” here) to estimate what per cent they typically read. Approximately 58 per cent of subscribers said they read just 0 to 25 per cent of such emails. 42 per cent of subscribers reported reading more than 25 per cent of all emails they received.

If the average open rate is 19.7 per cent as Silverpop claims, 25 per cent or higher readership would be a respectable outcome. Our finding that 21 per cent of subscribers read more than half of the emails sent from marketers is encouraging and provides further evidence that a significant group of US adults will read most of the email businesses send their way.

Unsurprisingly, age appears to play a significant role in email consumption. Readership fell markedly in demographics over 45, and subscribers aged 25 to 34 were the heaviest consumers. Forty-seven per cent of this group said they read anywhere between 25 per cent to 75 per cent of all emails sent by businesses.

Percentage of marketing emails that subscribers read

0-25 per cent 57.8%
25-50 per cent 21%
50-75 per cent 13.2%
75-100 per cent 8.1%

These consumers compose the middle to late section of the millennial generation. Such readers may be settling into their careers and likely have more disposable income than their junior counterparts, which explains their greater interest in business news and product offerings.

Why consumers read emails from business

After identifying the portion of marketing emails that subscribers typically consume, we sought to uncover the greatest value readers were deriving from these correspondences. What was their main reason behind the opening and consuming emails they received from marketers?

When viewed as a sum, a plurality of recipients (39 per cent) read emails to receive notifications about promotions or discounts, while 26 per cent cited getting news or updates as their main reason. Both are logical choices because both types of emails hold immediate value.

Convenient access to curated, relevant information has a tremendous amount of utility because it saves readers time and introduces them to the content they might not otherwise have found. Similarly, promotions and discounts supply exclusivity and value that recipients might not obtain through other channels.

Customer service only managed a paltry 11 per cent in the overall sum, perhaps signifying that email is seen less as a channel for customer service. The immediacy of online chat features may be replacing email as the preferred method of online support.

Though promotions and discounts won out overall, when the results were divided between men and women, the data showed that men actually prized news and updates more than promotions and discounts — though only by a narrow margin. Promotions and discounts remained the preferred type of email for women. No account was made of the value of orders taken through each level, where a high-disposable income is often identified with the frequency of purchase rather than CTR.

How business could improve their email efforts

43.9% Less frequent emails

24.2% More informative content

23.9% More personalized offers

13.1% Better visual design

21.2% None of the above

Where consumers are dissatisfied with business email

How Could Businesses Improve Their Email Efforts?

Understanding how readers are currently engaging with emails is important, but businesses also need to understand where they are falling short. To determine this, we asked consumers how companies could improve their email efforts.

The most commonly requested improvement, by a nearly two one ratio, was less frequent emails. Reiterating the point that if the content was not pertinent to the recipient at that precise moment it was too frequent. More informative content and more personalised offers were both cited by 24 per cent of respondents. Essentially, consumers want businesses to send emails less often and include better content when they do push send.

According to MarketingSherpa, over 60 percent of consumers want to receive promotional emails at least weekly, so the standard for tolerable email volume is low. Consumers may also be guilty of contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy here, as promotional and discount emails are notoriously sent ad nauseam, but are some of the most requested campaigns. Not that the great unwashed have a great deal of imagination about what it is they do like unless it is handed to them on a plate.

Regardless of their propensity to use the inbox as a hub for business and marketing emails, consumers will quickly grow irritated of marketers who abuse their emailing permissions. Finding the right sending frequency is a relatively simple task with current email marketing programs, and especially with powerful marketing automation platforms. It is often the case also that it the “unsubscribe button is to relatively available even the most loyal and admiring recipient is offer find a need to press it merely as a demonstrating of their ability to control their own destiny.

How often are emails incorrectly targeted

Expanding on the lack of personalized offers noted in the previous question, we wanted to investigate the frequency of irrelevant emails. In other words, how often are people’s inboxes housing interloping emails?

The results say far too frequently.

When asked how often they received irrelevant emails, 49 per cent said they received meaningless emails on a daily basis. Nigerian inheritance opportunities, sexual enhancement pills and medical enhancement treatments included. Another 29 per cent confirmed that they were the victims of weekly email irrelevance. The humble retailers simply plying his trade getting lumped in together with everyone else. This means nearly 80 per cent of US adults receive emails bereft of value at least weekly.

These results are disheartening, but also show the potential of better email marketing: personalisation. In an era of banner blindness and “native advertising” disguised to look like editorial content, consumers are too jaded and too busy for irrelevant marketing.


The overwhelming prevalence of irrelevant email content can be attributed to two main factors: antiquated techniques and outdated technology. In many cases, the two are intertwined.

In terms of techniques, many marketers cling to “batch and blast” campaigns that blanket a list of recipients with the same emails regardless of the individual preferences and past behaviour of each customer. In addition, untargeted email newsletters remain a marketing mainstay despite declining effectiveness.

Advanced segmentation features are now standard in marketing automation platforms, but these systems have experienced little market penetration. In December of 2014, only 24 per cent of marketers were using marketing automation extensively despite the previously cited resurgence of email and the urgency to personalise consumer interactions. These platforms aren’t always the cheapest options, but their capabilities allow marketers to effectively scale segmentation efforts to reduce the all too common spectre of irrelevant emails.

Predictive personalisation

The most unappreciated solution at the moment is predictive personalisation which almost entirely obliterates RoR rate. If your offer promotions and incentives through your marketing and those products sounds brilliant at first glance to your consumers (if you are good at your job), but then don’t be surprised to have a hike in your rate of returns. However when you include predictive personalisation into your marketing, it identifies which products each individual is most likely to buy, and keep, next.

The “and keep” is important because predictive personalisation software has already eliminated what they don’t keep from future selections of offerings. The mission critical element is that this is done on an individual customer basis, up close and personal to each and every human-being that makes up your database of customers.

Beware those purporting to offer personalisation, in a recent study it became apparant that it suits many company’s purposes, most offering this, that they are actually only offering segmentation. As you will appreciate, herding people together in groups because it makes life easier, is not personalisation. If someone told you that your tastes where he same as your sibling we think you’d be mortified, so why do it to your customers?

Why email subscribers flag emails as spam

45.8% They emailed too often

36.4% I didn’t purposefully subscribe

31.6% They sent irrelevant content

10.4% Their emails were impersonal

18.6% None of the above

Motivation for marketing a business email as spam

Although irrelevance is a serious marketing crime, we wondered if that was enough to drive consumers to mark an email as spam. Email specialists know the consequences of being labelled spam, so we asked respondents what inbox violations were severe enough to elicit a flag.

Interestingly, it wasn’t irrelevant content that caused most people to mark emails as spam. It was too frequent sending. Forty-six per cent of respondents indicated that they had marked companies as spam because of too frequent emails. This reaction is understandable given that subscribing to multiple lists is commonplace. Emails can pile up quickly, resulting in exasperated clicks on the spam button.

“I didn’t purposefully subscribe” is an interesting second choice with 36 per cent. Although online marketers may pay lip service to permission-based principles by including a checkbox for email subscriptions on download forms, many set the checkbox to an automatic affirmative. Without another clear opt-in form, consumers can unwittingly subscribe to emails that they don’t actually want.

Double opt-in processes were implemented to combat this very situation, and they remain the best practice for email marketers. Having a clear unsubscribe link in emails will also help reduce the number of spam complaints.

Thirty-one per cent of respondents said they had flagged emails because they contained irrelevant content, reinforcing the need for better segmentation and targeted offers. the nativity of the report on this point is dramatically illustrated here, cow-towing to the old perception of segmentation as the best solution, whereas all it actually does is dice the irrelevancy up into smaller groups. individual personalisation is infallible and at best only able to be equalled as a solution to personalisation.


The results of our study are encouraging and sobering.

The majority of American adults are open to receiving emails from businesses, and they read a fair amount of these correspondences and offers. Most readers are quite discerning about which emails they open, which represents the proverbial catch in the email marketing proposition. The responsibility of capturing people’s attention falls to email technicians who must use their skills to engage a sceptical readership.

Like anything in which they invest their time, consumers expect businesses to provide value in exchange for their attention. This explains the 40 per cent of respondents who desired discounts and promotions above all other types of emails. But don’t dismiss the value of news and updates: curated, relevant information goes a long way in building rapport between businesses and their audiences.


In terms of improvement, sending time and relevance are still the most important factors. Email frequency, in particular, was the most desired area of improvement (44 per cent) among email recipients and was also the most likely reason to be banished to the spam folder (46 per cent). Predictive personalisation software (PPS) perpetually adjusts and accommodate seasonal fluctuation and personalised frequency of emails within its day to day operation.

The plain answer to the email frequency question is that marketers simply must respect the inbox of their recipients. An opt-in is an invitation to start a conversation, not an excuse to unleash a deluge of untargeted, incessant messages.

Irrelevance presents a more complex puzzle because its roots begin at the content that marketers are creating. If the content strategy is wrong, (again why need a strategy when it can be done individually) then the emails will always be wide of the market. The sheer volume of irrelevant emails poured into inboxes indicates a segmentation problem as well. Personalisation is without a doubt the strongest tactic marketers have for standing out and piquing interest. Research even indicates that simply framing an interaction as personalised can create a sense of reciprocity among customers.

The current underuse of marketing automation likely plays a substantial role in poor quality emails and irrelevancy. SwiftERM obliterates this problem.

Overall, consumers feel the email inbox is an appropriate place to interact with businesses. It’s down to the marketer to appreciate the importance of these communications.

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