Adam T. Sutton

Email Marketing: Two ways to add relevance, and why you must be correct

A nonprofit organization with which I have no prior experience called me several times last week to solicit donations. Despite having explained that, no, my name is not Mr. Allen, and no, I am not interested in donating, they continued to call.

These phone calls were the email marketing equivalent to batch-and-blast emails. They were spam with irrelevant and poorly targeted messages. I wish my phone had a “junk” button.Spam telephone call

The caller’s strong-armed script and continued pestering have persuaded me, but in the wrong direction. I will never donate to this organization. Its marketers have shown a complete lack of respect for:

  • My name
  • My interests
  • My requests
  • My time (the calls came during work)

Had these calls been emails, I would have deleted the first and marked the rest as spam. Many other people would have done the same — which is why email relevance is so important.

Two factors of email relevance

The most significant challenge to email marketing effectiveness is targeting recipients with highly relevant content, according to the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report. But how can you test relevance? Through our research, we have discovered there are two types of factors that contribute to email relevance:

Relevance factor #1: Internal motivations of the recipient — such as demographics, shopping habits, etc.

I like to think of this category as email features that are based on data provided by the recipient. Some examples:

  • An email’s personal greeting is often based on the name the recipient provided in a registration form.
  • The products offered in an email can be based on the recipient’s browsing or shopping behavior, such as placing a product into a shopping cart.
  • The content in an email newsletter can be based on the recipient’s declared interests on a preferences page.

Relevance factor #2: External events — such as seasonality, limited-time offers, etc.

I like to think of this second category as features that are based on data from the senders — the marketers. Some examples:

  • A reminder to update a product can be based on the marketer’s knowledge of seasonal trends or products’ expiration dates.
  • A lead nurturing email can be sent a certain number of days after a phone call, its timing based on trends identified by the marketers.
  • An email can alert customers to a sale the marketers created for relevant products.

You can test adding both internal and external relevance factors to increase an email’s performance.

‘Very irrelevant’ might be worse than ‘generic’

The only thing worse than batch-and-blast emails are emails based on blatantly incorrect information — what I’d call ‘very irrelevant’ emails. Such messages offer unsuitable products or content at random times. They might also use the wrong subscriber name. I’m sure you’ve seen this gem: “Dear First-name,

I base this point on my personal and professional experience with email marketing. There is ‘zero’ chance I will act on an email that offers me Viagra or calls me ‘Mr. Allen.’ Both of those things are completely irrelevant to me. Why would I act?

You can test having more relevant timing, content, offers, personalization, layouts, and sender information in your emails. But if you get one of these wrong, my assumption is that performance will plummet. Response rates might be lower than a telemarketing campaign that requests donations from office workers at 2 p.m. for an organization they’ve never heard of.

Related resources

Chart: Top tactics for delivering relevant email content

Email Marketing Tests: What to do when a radical change produces negligible results

Members Library — Webinar Replay: Top email tactics to improve relevancy and deliverability

Member Library — How-To Increase Relevance: Integrating drip marketing into an email campaign

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Categories: Email Marketing Tags: ,



  1. June 28th, 2011 at 00:51 | #1

    That is why customers database is so important. Company often prefer customer to fill in their personal detail and interest when they sign as member. So that they able to categorise their customers well to group .
    For me, I let customers choose their interest so that we will send email accordingly.

  1. August 30th, 2011 at 04:03 | #1
  2. April 20th, 2012 at 09:07 | #2
  3. May 2nd, 2013 at 15:55 | #3
  4. August 19th, 2013 at 03:02 | #4