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Email marketing – consumer preferences and behaviour update

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 16 Mar, 2009
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This is a summary of a Merkle whitepaper on consumer Email preferences and behaviour published in March 2009.

In my summary I have highlighted the main implications of their findings using an example of a great new Enewsletter format I have recently received from the Cancer Research charity:


1. Time spent with permission email

Similar to previous year. Fifty-nine percent of all email users spend twenty minutes or more with permission email weekly, with just over one quarter spending an hour or more weekly.

Permission email accounts for about a quarter of all time spent with email, second only to its primary function of communicating with friends and family.

Implications for email marketers: This isn't much time, so ensure main information or offers are clear in subject line (of course) and headings of Email.

2.  Adding senders to address books

More common than previously thought. Just over half of all permission email recipients have added at least one company to their address book, and do so for 25% of the companies sending them email.

Implications for email marketers: Include a prompt to add whitelisting instructions above the main content. Encourage new subscribers to do this within welcome emails. This is an improvement that could be made to the Cancer Research Enewsletter.

3. Preview pane usage












  • A narrow majority(52%) use a preview pane when viewing the majority of their permission email.
  • 43% use  the preview pane at the bottom of the screen
  • 37% use  the preview pane on the right side
  • Image-blocking 52% block pictures automatically, while 48% don't



Implications for email marketers: Ensure email works well in preview pane through use of blocks of text with hyperlinks; tinted boxes and table of-contents.


4. Willingness to sign-up to permission emails

Consumers are getting more chosy about what they signup to with just over half of respondents are less willing to sign-up for permission email compared to a few years ago.

Implications for email marketers: Develop a clear online customer value proposition for your enewsletter programme which you communicate on the website. Use common features which you signpost such as "Did You Know" and "Latest News" to highlight these benefits.

5. What causes opt-out?

No surprises here. The biggest reasons subscribers choose to opt-out of permission are:

  • lack of relevance (75%),
  • sending too frequently (73%)

Make sure your opt-out works or that you respond to "Report as Spam" through feedback loops. I hear so many examples of opt-outs not working. 30% of permission email recipients have stopped doing business with at least one company due to their poor email marketing practices.

The survey didn't ask, but for me a bigger issue is that many will tune out or "emotionally unsubscribe"

Implications for email marketers: There is no single answer, but these are approaches to "right touching" I  hear as I discuss this with email marketers:

  • Set caps on frequency as part of a common contact policy or touch strategy across the organisation
  • Test frequency for different groups and select the frequency that meets your objective best
  • Reduce the frequency when individuals aren't responding / emotionally unsubscribed
  • Send more contextual "Reflex" emails, what Eloqua call "Digital Body Language", prioritise automated emails those that fit in with engagement, e.g. clickthrough on email showing interest in a product, follow-up on a recent purchase
  • Develop automated lifecycle emails, i.e. Add new subscribers to a sequence of welcome emails to develop their interest
Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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