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What is the key to relevance in email? Simple… it is knowing what the customer is interested in.

Whilst not wishing to be too prosaic, email marketing is the pursuit of relevance. Relevant emails get read and make money; irrelevant emails go into junk or worse still get unsubscribed (leading to a subsequent loss of lifetime value).

The art of good email is knowing what someone is interested in, and that applying this to all future email communications.

The search for ‘relevance’ is as old as marketing. Back the late 1930s radio programmes called ‘dramatic serials’ soon became known as soap operas, due to the fact advertisers of washing powder became their main sponsors. 

For these advertisers (such as P&G and Unilever) these ‘dramatic serials’ provided the ideal opportunity to target their main market, housewives. Their products were relevant to the audience.

During the 80s and 90s direct marketing grew off the back of a desire to be more targeted and exact with marketing spend. Segmentation developed, then CRM, which in turn developed into propensity modelling.

All of these developments sought to achieve one thing: to be more successful by delivering marketing that was more relevant.. Whether you are advertising Fairy Liquid in the Coronation Street ad break or developing customer journeys based on propensity modelling knowing what a customer is thinking about buying is useful! 

Behavioural data

At London’s recent TFM&A conference I asked 150 marketers how many of them will browse subjects or products or sites they had no interest in. Not one of them could recollect behaving in such a fashion.

So, turn this on its head: if you agree with me that you rarely, if ever, browse things that you really don’t want to buy or are not interested in, then the inverse is true… we are all interested in what we browse.

De facto, behavioural data (ie the data on what we browse, buy and search for, plus previous brand interactions, is hugely insightful.

Finding support for this position is not difficult. Take for instance Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Email Benchmark Report, where nearly 3000 email marketers were polled.

The report suggested that Behavioural Segmentation is the most important tool in the email marketer armoury with Automation running a close 2nd… not surprising really because proper behavioural email is built on automation.

So the question for email marketers (indeed, all marketers and all marketing) comes down to identifying what your customer is interested in? The good news is all marketers already have that information, but for most marketers either they don’t realise it or cannot access it because it is so rarely applied intelligently.

Top five strategies For achieving relevance

The best results from email marketing are achieved using the following strategies:

Put behavioural data at the top of your priority list.

Consider this information as your customers and browsers telling you what they are interested in. Don’t ignore it!

Automate your behavioural emails.

Automation gives two huge relevancy benefits. Firstly, it allows you to personalise activity timings, ie the optimum time to send this email is X hours/days after this behaviour.

Don’t wait until your Friday newsletter to send a relevant offer … send the relevant email at the optimal time using automation. And secondly? Automation is cheap therefore improves ROI by reducing costs.


Oh, everyone says this and, hey, they are right! Segmentation built on the customer base using purchase history combined with behavioural data is not optional any more.


Divide your database between those on your list who have recently engaged with your website and email, and those who have not. 

Those engaged should be receiving email based on their most recent behavioural data (i.e. if I browsed shoes on Monday, the next email/s should focus on shoes!).

For those who have not engaged with the brand recently, build your segmentation strategy to maximise engagement.


Test everything from your optimal time for automating individual templates through to different approaches to the segments on your base.

Matthew Kelleher

Published 11 April, 2012 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

27 more posts from this author

Comments (2)


Andy from Benchmark Email

Another thing I fall back on for relevancy is holiday campaigns. I'm not just talking Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc. I'm talking some of the smaller or even sillier ones. Yesterday was National Sibling Day. There are probably many of your subscribers that can relate to a story about siblings. It's really just finding a way to connect with the reader on any level.

over 4 years ago


Brenda Singh, Qwner giftbasketvillas.com at GiftBasketVillas.com

Thank you for the strategies. I'm a new small business owner and need all the help I can get. I'll look into automation since it'll make marketing so much easier.


over 4 years ago

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