Email is the principal channel connecting brands and consumers. Everyone uses email. In surveys conducted in January 2015 by MarketingSherpa, 91 percent of adults polled liked receiving promotional emails and 7 in 10 prefer email as the channel for communication with brands. But until recently we didn’t know much about the patterns of personal email use and the texture of email interactions and conversations; data that can potentially help make branded email more relevant, personal and impactful.
Researchers from Yahoo Labs and the USC Information Sciences Institute analyzed 16 billion emails exchanged on Yahoo Mail among and between 2 million anonymous people in an attempt to understand what drives response and what prolongs or dissolves email conversations. Their April 2015 report, titled “Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload”, is our first broad peek into how email conversations really play out.
Here’s what they found:
Reply is a function of volume. The more email you get; the more you try to respond to. Users send and reply to more emails as their inbox volume increases. But as the volume grows, the percentage of response decreases. As you might imagine inbox overload affects older adults differently than younger people. They get overwhelmed easier and faster.
Speed is Expected. Email implies fast interactions. The most likely reply time is two minutes. Half of all replies studied were responded to within 47 minutes of receipt. Ninety percent of email relies happen within a day of receiving a message. Given an expectation of immediacy and urgency, many of the responses mirror the length and the language of the original.
Device Matters. Consumers reply to emails sent from smartphones almost twice as fast as from tablets (28 minutes versus 57 minutes) or desktops (28 minutes versus 62 minutes). Similarly, the length of replies varies by device. Smartphones prompt short replies of 20 words or less. Tablet replies increase to 27 words and desktop replies reach a loquacious level of 60 words. All age groups have embraced mobile devices for sending and receiving email. Women have a slight edge in this regard.
Timing Affects Response. The content of email received during the workweek is significantly longer than those received on weekends. Perhaps people se email as intrusive of their non-working time. But response times are shorter Monday through Friday. Copy length varies by time of day. From 9am till 11pm reply time is the shortest. Early morning email has the longest reply time.
Age Counts. Teens are cryptic in their use of email. They write short messages and reply quickly. In contrast, older adults still remember letter writing and write longer messages and more thoughtful responses.
And while email is broadly valued and preferred, keep in mind that most people are looking to sort, filter and eliminate emails; not necessarily open and click on them. Interaction is a function of brand trust, perceived value and reduced anxiety. In context, these findings suggest five clear directions for marketers to improve email resonance and response:
I. Assume Mobile Reception. Structure the templates and the copy for mobile use. Bake in short sequential messages and easy-to-use reply buttons. Anticipate broad use of smartphones, which should yield the fastest replies. Be sure to capitalize on the consumer expectation of urgency.
II. Telegraph the Message. Create short, punchy clear messages with prominent calls to action and easy-to-use buttons. Make your point succinctly and direct the receiver to respond immediately.
III. Anticipate Interaction. Back-and-forth patterns yield the best relationships. Create a sequence of messages not just a solo blast. Expect a dialog to transpire even if your part of it is automated. Very few productive conversations are one-and-done. Plan the logical sequences and engage customers step-by-step.
IV. Leverage Circadian Rhythms. Consumers are focused on email weekdays from 9am till 11pm. Plan your interactions then. Remember that Tuesday and Wednesday mornings yield the most, longest and fastest responses. We are creatures of habit. Intersect and intercept customers’ doing what they naturally do.
V. Know Your Audience. Tailor messages by age and device. Give older people more copy and younger people less. Push younger consumers to reply quicker. Plan more elaborate graphic or video creative aimed at desktop, laptop and tablet users.
Peeking into the dynamics of personal email patterns gives us many new clues for improving the timing and impact of branded email campaigns. Aligning a marketing or messaging strategy with native consumer behavior patterns almost always creates incremental value for both parties.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.