David Kirkpatrick

B2C Email Marketing: Consumers are fickle

January 29th, 2013

Looking toward the upcoming MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 in Las Vegas, February 19-22, I want to present some research on consumer opinions about email marketing conducted by Emailvision and YouGov.

The survey was conducted online in early November 2012 through the YouGov Plc GB panel involving consumers in the United Kingdom. Panelists received emails inviting them to take part in the research. The total sample size of 2,001 adults was weighted to be representative of all Great Britain (GB) adults (defined as 18+ from the UK panel).

To provide insight into what the research uncovered and to offer advice on what B2C marketers can take away from the results, I reached out to Leah Anathan, Corporate Marketing Director, Emailvision.

First, the results of the survey …

The YouGov and Emailvision research sheds light on the missteps marketers might be taking that can bring about brand resentment. After asking consumers for their opinions on marketing correspondence, the study found the following:

  • 75% reported they would resent a brand after being bombarded by emails.
  • 71% cited receiving unsolicited messages as a reason to become resentful.
  • 50% felt getting their name wrong was a reason to think less of the brand.
  • 40% remarked that getting gender wrong would have a negative impact.

With better segmentation and targeting, marketers can avoid these pitfalls; however, this is a challenge when consumers remain unwilling to give even basic information:

  • Only 28% indicated they would be willing to share their name.
  • Only 37% would be willing to share their age.
  • Only 38% would disclose their gender.

Provide value with email campaigns

When asked if any survey results were surprising, Leah says, “We were surprised at the how reluctant subscribers were to disclose even the smallest bit of information, such as gender and age. Yet resentment can build if the marketer gets that information wrong.

“On the other hand, we were also surprised that a full 8% seemed willing to ‘overshare,’ saying that they’d even tell marketers their underwear size!”

She continues, explaining that marketers need to provide value for email campaign recipients:

What is clear from the findings is that marketers need to demonstrate to their subscribers the clear benefits from providing more information because the brand will, in turn, send more relevant and personalized marketing to them.

In the absence of that disclosed information, marketers need to pay closer attention to the information they can glean from behavior.

For example, does a subscriber consistently purchase the same brand? Did they purchase something that carries with it a life cycle of purchases? When the consumer buys a printer, does the follow-up offer include ink and paper?

When a consumer buys baby clothes, does an offer arrive three to six months later with the next size up?  These small but important actions on the part of marketers will help to gain consumer trust and loyalty.


Leah says technology can help marketers meet the challenge of providing value and relevance with email campaigns:

Marketers understand the importance of relevance in email marketing, but many of their campaigns are executed with very little segmentation.

Historically, the marketing department lacked the required resources for data analysis and end-to-end campaign management. This technology was either not available or owned by IT.

Today, Customer Intelligence technology is helping to solve this long-standing challenge by enabling marketers to rapidly analyze their customer data so they can put customer preferences, purchase data and behavioral data at the center of their campaign strategies. With this information, marketers are able to create far more effective marketing that is better for brands and consumers alike.


Leah also offers several practices for building trust and stronger relationships with consumers:

  • Use the insight you have about your customers through all of your digital channels to create and send relevant and engaging communications.
  • Collect customer feedback, measure multi-channel responses and employ strategies that help you understand how your customers like to interact with your brand.
  • Test, measure and monitor your email campaigns to see how different messages resonate with different segments.
  • Practice good list management. Review how you are collecting your data, review the sign-up forms, and regularly clean up your email list.

“With an abundance of choice, consumers are more demanding and they expect brands to engage with them correctly,” Leah states. “If someone is not providing them with the right offers, value and relationship, they will quickly switch to another brand. The key to success for marketers is contained in the intelligence and actionable information that comes from their customer data.”


Use your data wisely in email marketing

To provide MarketingSherpa Blog readers another perspective on what B2C marketers can learn from this research, I interviewed email marketing expert, Stephanie Miller, VP, Member Relations, DMA.

“Marketers have a ton of data on consumers, and so our use of that data must be responsible – not just legal – and also respectful,” says Stephanie. “Getting my name right in the salutation is table stakes. Using data to create custom, relevant and interesting messaging is where marketers need to focus and excel. The penalty is that subscribers will click the Report Spam button, unsubscribe or, even worse, just ignore your future messages.”

Stephanie provides a number of suggestions for effective email campaigns:

  • Define the value proposition of your messaging from the subscriber viewpoint. Be disciplined – make it really from the subscriber view.
  • Collaborate on the content, messaging strategy and data approaches so that both the art and science of your program are truly subscriber-centric, as well as focused around achieving that value proposition.
  • If you say you are going to delight me with great offers and deals, then doing that as frequently as I tell you is OK with me. I tell you either at point of collection or by my behavior,” Stephanie says. “If you say you are going to send me news and information, send me stuff I like, and don’t send me offers.”
  • Be an editor as well as a marketer. The role of the editor is to help us find things we didn’t know we wanted. How can you add that bit of surprise to the program content?

“Maybe it’s a recommended product on sale,” Stephanie advises. “Maybe it’s a bit of content that is outside what I usually read, but that might stretch my engagement. Maybe it’s content from a social program, even if I’m not engaged with your brand on social.”

  • Lather, rinse and repeat. Test continually and use the data you have to innovate on content, frequency and message type.

She adds every email campaign should have permission from the recipient, typically through an opt-in, but what really matters is the engagement past the permission stage.

“Email marketers have to earn permission with every message – which is measured by behavior and engagement, not a check box,” says Stephanie.

Stephanie agrees with Leah that technology should be an email marketer’s friend.

She explains, “High reach programs can now be very targeted and segmented, thanks to advanced technology. So in many ways, the key question is not, ‘what permission do we need,’ but ‘how large an investment in automation and data hygiene and campaign management software do I need to earn a high ROI and make my program customized and relevant for large numbers of people?’”

Offering a final piece of advice, Stephanie recommends utilizing data analysis to maximize the benefits of email technology:

Mine the response data for opportunities for high response behavioral trigger messages, and automate them. Response rates on these types of messages can be up to 50 times the normal response rate. Fifty times!

Even better, and even for small segments, these programs add value beyond their immediate contribution because they make the entire program seem more relevant.

There is this factor of “prior value” in email marketing. My experience is that when we add a few highly relevant messages to a program, then the response on all the messages goes up.

Improve the overall branded experience, and see higher lift across the board. Add a new trigger automation message every month. And don’t forget to go back and continually tweak or replace the ones you have in place.


While the Emailvision research found consumer recipients of email marketing are largely unforgiving on personal detail mistakes, they are, at the same time, averse to sharing those details in the first place.

How do you balance these conflicting consumer desires in your campaigns? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post.


Related Resources:

Survey Reveals Bombarding Consumers with Marketing Results in Brand Resentment (via Emailvision)

Infographic: Email open rates by time of day

Consumer Marketing: Implementing marketing automation at a B2C company

Marketing Research: Top email elements to test

7 Useful Email Strategies for Consumer Marketers

David Kirkpatrick

About David Kirkpatrick

David is a reporter for MarketingSherpa and has over twenty years of experience in business journalism, marketing and corporate communications. His published work includes newspaper, magazine and online journalism; website content; full-length ghosted nonfiction; marketing content; and short fiction. He served as producer for the business research horizontal at the original Office.com, regularly reporting on the world of marketing; covered a beat for D/FW TechBiz, a member of the American City Business Journals family; and he provided daily reporting for multiple LocalBusiness.com cities. David’s other media and corporate clients include: USA Today, Oxford Intelligence, GMAC, AOL, Business Development Outlook and C-Level Media, among many others.

Categories: Email Marketing Tags: , , , ,

  1. January 29th, 2013 at 12:23 | #1

    Thanks for the post!

    If we sold someone a product or service but delivered something else instead, or if we hassled them over and over then our customers would have every right to be upset. Yet, that is exactly what marketers do with email marketing!

    Before businesses can use email marketing to sell something to a consumer, they have to first *sell* the email subscription to the consumer! (There is still an exchange of value — personal information for emailed content). And if we think of it in those terms then “selling” the subscription means delivering on the promises we make.

  2. Festale
    February 7th, 2013 at 20:31 | #2

    I don’t care if I did opt-in for special offers – that doesn’t give you license to harass me with daily or even weekly demands for my attention. Your daily and weekly offerings don’t qualify as “special” in any honest sense of the term. Any of the following abuses the trust I demonstrate when I provide my email address: by frequent demands for my attention, by sharing my email with affiliates, by sending me emails with no valid reply function, by wasting my time dispositioning email messages that are naked attempts to get me to part with money in exchange for something that has no commensurate value; by sending me unsolicited messages for a “special offer” for signing up, several weeks after I submitted an ‘unsubscribe’ request. You need to make it EASIER to opt-out than it is to opt-in, with non-obfuscated links that are directly traceable to your website, not to a third party list manager. If I opt-in with you, I should be able to reply directly TO YOU with the reply function in my email application, I should be able to opt-out directly to you, WITHOUT having to give my email address to a third party that I have not trusted relationship with. As far as I’m concerned, any email advertising your product that has obfuscated links, requires clicking on a third party for opt out, and that provides no means of directly responding to your staff is SPAM. When I opt-in, I’m opening a door on a limited basis in trust – if you take advantage of that by presuming to directly contact me, but denying me the same means to respond – then you have violated trust – the relationship is perceived not as a mutually beneficial one, but one in which you dishonestly seek to use me for your advantage. If you take advantage of my trust in any of these way, you plant seeds of resentment against your brand.

    It is very difficult to differentiate honorable e-marketers from malicious SPAMMERs because it has become common practice for e-commerce to outsource list management, and to embed obfuscated links for the purpose of tracking, and who refuse to provide real reply and contact information. In these regards, you all start to look alike as we the consumers become more and more sensitized by the unscrupulous acts of your brethren.

  3. Selena Blue
    Selena Blue
    February 8th, 2013 at 12:21 | #3

    @Festale Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the email opt-in and unsubscribe processes.

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