New Email Habits & Trends Demand Fresh Financial Marketing Strategies

Email continues to occupy a big chunk of consumers' day, but they complain that many brands' emails flop. Banks and credit unions must improve their email usage or waste time and money. The day of the 'blast' is fading and personalization is arriving. Financial marketers also face major shifts in role of artificial intelligence in emailing.

Consumers have a classic love-hate relationship with their email that financial marketers must recognize in framing their messages, research reports confirm. People often appreciate the news of offers that they receive from banks and other retail emailers. But they may cringe when checking their inboxes and see the volume of unopened messages. Reactions range from sighs to profanity to the out-loud chant “delete, delete, delete” as they render message after message forever unread.

“Email is evolving — and the pace of change is picking up, impacting how content is generated, the way messages are structured and targeting.”

But consumers’ mixed feelings about their personal emails, and their work emails as well, represent only part of what bank and credit union marketers must account for. Email technology is evolving — and the pace of change is picking up, impacting how content is generated, the way messages are structured and targeting.

Marketers will face a longer gauntlet to get their email messages through, with consumers not only becoming pickier about what they open but more advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence joining the gatekeepers.

A decade ago some tech leaders predicted that social media and other channels would consign email to history’s dustbin. They were wrong.

“While emerging messaging channels will come and go and occupy dominant niche channels (think SnapChat and YikYak), email will be the old battle axe that won’t go away,” writes Simms Jenkins, CEO at BrightWave, in a white paper from Litmus Software. “As long as permission is the centerpiece of the email marketing value proposition and consumers and businesses crave discounts and exclusive content, email will successfully fight for screen time and wallet share.”

That said, in 2020 financial marketers can expect to see successful email change even as it remains a popular channel.

“With digital consumers’ attention spans shrinking, poor email marketers will finally begin to suffer a just fate,” writes Jenkins in Litmus’ Email Marketing in 2020. “No longer will email work ‘just because’. Only smart, innovative, and highly dynamic emails will drive interaction, and generic blasts will get weeded out of the subscriber’s priorities, if not outright emotionally junked.”

Email Plays Major Role in Most Consumers’ Lives

In an eMarketer report, Nicole Perrin, Principal Analyst, found that email usage dominates U.S. internet users, ahead of some other common activities and surprisingly far ahead of participation in social media:

  • Email users 91%
  • Search users 85%
  • Digital video viewers 83%
  • Digital audio listeners 72%
  • Social network users 72%
  • Facebook users 60%
  • Digital gamers 58%
  • Mobile phone messaging app users 50%
  • Smart speaker users 27%
  • Podcast listeners 27%

Litmus asked consumers which channels they thought would still be around in ten years and email came out on top in the firm’s report:

  • Email 70%
  • Facebook 68%
  • Cable TV 67%
  • Twitter 60%
  • Snapchat 57%
  • Postal mail 56%
  • Pinterest 56%
  • Print media 52%
  • Landline phone 47%

The Litmus research also found that consumers between 25 and 34 — Millennials — felt most strongly that email would still be around in 2029. As the company notes in its report, Millennials have been seen as hostile to email. Consumers with above-average income levels also rated email most highly for longevity.

Amazingly, research by Adobe found that American adults who work in offices and have smartphones spend as many as five hours a day checking email. More specifically, they may spend over three hours daily on work email and over two on personal emails. Assuming someone sleeps 7 hours a night, that accounts for almost a third of waking time. While consumers actually spend somewhat less time checking email now than in the recent past, it remains a big chunk of many people’s day.

Time spent checking email keeps falling

However, as the data from Adobe show in the chart above and in the chart below specifically in relation to marketing messages, while consumers spend lots of time on email, many messages sent to personal accounts never get read. And of those, only about a third are considered useful, having been opened. That means many emailers are sending junk mail, even if it doesn’t wind up in a spam folder.

Adobe found that 43% of consumers feel that brands email them too often. Another source of annoyance is receiving promotions for something the consumer already has — such as promoting mortgages to homeowners who have already borrowed from the same bank or credit union.

And 23% of consumers feel the messages they receive from brands are too wordy or poorly written. The former point is interesting in that separate research by Litmus indicates that the average consumer attention span in email is only 13.4 seconds. At average reading speeds, that comes out to about 50 words. In reviewing financial institution emails in the database of Comperemedia, a Mintel company, The Financial Brand has rarely encountered one so brief.

Readership of brands emails is poor

To a degree, emailers face a reputation challenge among an audience of one. Adobe found that the leading annoyance with brands’ emails to consumers was that the message, product or service being promoted did not match their interests.

The Lesson: Do that a couple of times and busy consumers will stop opening your emails.

How brands emails frustrate consumers

The importance of hitting the bullseye of what consumers want to hear about is underscored when you review the many times, places and activities that consumers are looking at email and social media channels.

when consumers check personal and business email

“It’s incredibly clear that we’re all comfortable with email, and we’ve integrated it into almost every part of our day,” says Sarah Kennedy, Vice President of Global Marketing, Digital Experiences, at Adobe. “While it’s important to note that the time we spend checking email overall has declined since 2016, the frequency remains substantial.”

What People Are Doing When They Check Personal Email

Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers
While watching TV/movie 62% 66% 59%
While in bed 61% 42% 29%
While in the bathroom 54% 34% 24%
While on vacation 42% 44% 38%
While on the phone 35% 29% 23%
While walking 35% 26% 14%
During a meal with others 31% 23% 14%
While commuting to/from work 26% 15% 9%
While in a face-to-face
conversation with someone
22% 12% 7%
While in a meeting at work 19% 20% 7%
While driving 18% 6% 5%
While working out 17% 12% 6%
While at a formal ceremony
(e.g., graduation, wedding)
9% 3% 3%
None of these 3% 8% 16%

What People Are Doing When They Check Work Email

Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers
While watching TV/movie 36% 38% 26%
While in a meeting at work 35% 36% 20%
While on the phone 35% 28% 22%
While in bed 35% 23% 16%
While in the bathroom 28% 18% 12%
While on vacation 26% 27% 23%
While commuting to/from work 25% 15% 10%
While walking 23% 20% 7%
During a meal with others 20% 15% 12%
While in a face-to-face
conversation with someone
18% 6% 7%
While working out 13% 7% 4%
While driving 11% 4% 4%
While at a formal ceremony
(e.g., graduation, wedding)
4% 1% 3%
None of these 21% 30% 39%

Key point: All this said, if the marketer has the right messages for the right consumers with the right time, 60% of those surveyed by Adobe prefer to receive offers via email over direct mail, social media and other channels.

Adobe’s study found that personalization of emails ranks most highly among Millennials, versus Gen X and Baby Boomers. Nearly half of Millennials say that personalization of messages is very important to them.

Read More:

How Email will be Changing in 2020 and Beyond

In its white paper Litmus solicited the input of 20 email experts on the future of this medium and the predictions made vary from the highly practical to the paranoia inducing. They indicated that email will dovetail with many current digital marketing trends, increasingly fitting into the whole of digital marketing.

One notable change that may be coming is the role of marketing emails versus websites. For example, Cara Olson, Director of Direct Marketing and eCRM at DEG, says email will become less about driving consumers to a company’s website. Instead, increased functionality within the sender’s email software itself will enable more and more to be done without leaving the email body. This could include completing customer surveys and making purchases. Where the interaction doesn’t take place wholly in email, it may take the consumer to the brand’s app, according to Olson.

Among other changes forecast:

Rise of mobile device usage will change messaging. In a blog on Wishpond’s site, there’s a warning: “2020 could be the first year that more emails are opened on a mobile device than a desktop or laptop environment. Given that two-thirds of mobile users will delete your email if it’s not optimized, taking a multi-device responsive approach is the only way to stay current.”

Wearables and Internet of Things will drive change in emails. At the least, financial marketers will find that more tailoring of messages will be necessary to enable coherent messages to appear on the smaller displays of devices like smartwatches and even smart refrigerators that can do email. Creating alternate “short versions” of messages might be one approach.

Readers may be doing some double takes if they read a message twice. It’s not unusual for someone to read an email quickly, decide it is important, and flag it for followup. But a level of interactivity unseen before will be coming to some emails. Consumers are used to marketing emails that are static, in the sense that the promotion doesn’t change, whether it’s opened in minutes or when the consumer gets around to it. BrightWave’s Jenkins expects to see more emails where content changes with the day or time the email gets opened.

Goodbye to “blast” thinking. The day of identical emails sent to thousands of consumers may be coming to a close. This is already seen in Comperemedia’s collections, contributed by its panels of consumers, where emailed account advisories are highly personalized. This is going to become the norm for messaging in general, suggests Eric Stahl, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He sees this as the intersection of data analytics, automation and improved email systems.

Email systems that use AI to learn about the user as they go. “The inbox of today is still largely an unorganized mess, especially when compared to search engines’ ability to provide relevant information to consumers,” writes Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content at MarketingSherpa. This will change, he believes, because email readers can know the user even more intimately than can search engines. Gleamings of what’s going to be possible, he says, can be seen in Gmail’s Priority Inbox, the Clutter feature in Outlook, and in Google Now.

Burstein sees email readers constantly shuffling messages to fit the user’s email needs of the moment, automatically. This could begin with tracking of location — priority of mail would change based on where you are and what you are doing — and in time be augmented by information volunteered.

Some of this aspect of email evolution will be driven by artificial intelligence, experts predict. Spam management will become more sophisticated and subject to automatic adjustment based on what AI linked to email “learns,” according to Andrew Bonar, Founder, Deliverability Ltd.

Emailing will no longer be where the newbies start. As email becomes more versatile and more powerful, it won’t be a place for beginners anymore.

“Traditionally, email marketing fell under the umbrella of a larger digital marketing strategy — a sort of bolt-on task assigned on an ad-hoc basis, often to entry level practitioners,” writes Kristin Naragon, Director of Email Solutions at Adobe. “But the profession has changed, and today’s email marketers are entering the field with more technical prowess than ever before.”

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