Confessions of an email skimmer

Yesterday during a presentation in Stockholm, my desktop was put up on screen. The CEO of the company began to laugh. “I thought I was...

10 Aug 2012 3176 Views

Yesterday during a presentation in Stockholm, my desktop was put up on screen. The CEO of the company began to laugh. “I thought I was bad,” he said, “You have almost 95 thousand unread emails!”  I hadn’t realized that since I considered myself to be pretty good at keeping up with my email. Nonetheless, some serious navel gazing ensued on the flight home and I thought I’d share.

Statistics tells us that email marketing has been steadily growing in importance as a brand touch point in recent years. But since this CEO had dubbed me the poster child for bad email behavior, it made me wonder just how bad I was. So I looked into it. I was surprised at what I found found from my n=1 study. 

Too much information: This is where the 107,203 mails in my inbox come from.

I have four work emails: two primary work accounts that I provide to human beings, my decoy work account I provide to trusted websites or salespeople and a Yahoo account I use for all the rest (untrusted). Not suprisingly, the overwhelming majority of emails I receive are mass mailings to my untrusted mail address. 

This really isn’t as bad as it seems.

Overall, I receive about 125 emails a day (16 a day from LinkedIn groups alone). I only read 11% of the emails I receive. Which sounds worse than it actually is. If you break down the mail by source a pattern emerges. I learned that I open about 40% of mail from humans. In my defense, I’d argue that the remaining 60% are never ignored, it’s just that I skim the content from the preview consisting of the sender, subject line and first sentence or so. A lot of the skimmed mails are internal messages where I was CCed.

I discovered I read .02% of mail from untrusted sources.

When it comes to mass mailings, the 27% I open are opened for the same reason: the expectation of relevant content. This is the best insurance brands have to get their promotional message opened (even if the recipient opted in). For instance, of the dozens of newsletters I’ve signed up for I only open a handful on a regular basis. I’ve all but given up on reading mail from LinkedIn groups as the signal to noise ratio is off the charts. Aside from reputaiton, the sender, subject line and first sentence are key as is getting the right email address from the start.

I don’t think I’m unusual in either the volume of mail or my reading habits. So for me this exercise was a vivid example of what an insanely competitive touchpoint your prospects inbox has become. Information overload is the norm and you need to work this into your thinking when using email for your brand. I’d love to hear what your stats are — just drop me an email and I’ll get back to you.

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.