Frustrated womanRelevance. It is the key to success for email marketing, but still it continues to be a sore spot. Two separate but synchronous email studies shed new light on relevance, and the lack of it, in email marketing. One addresses the desires of the hyperconnected 18-24 year old generation. The other recognizes said relevance problem and identifies some solutions for online retailers.

The Gen Y study comes from the Participatory Marketing Network and Pace University’s Interactive and Direct Marketing Lab. It shows that the majority of Gen Y consumers welcome direct brand interactions through email, but they want more ability to control, organize and manage the interactions. Only 28 percent of those surveyed believe the email they get from companies is relevant. But they are eager to see “innovative services” that increase that relevance. Specifically, 62 percent would communicate directly with retailers about their favorite products in exchange for getting preferential pricing. 44 percent would subscribe to an email service that collected and summarized multiple offers of interest to them. And in direct opposition to the Nielsen social media report issued on Tuesday, which painted a bleak picture for advertising within social networks, 32 percent would share promotional email offers with members inside a social network.

Published on the same day, a new study from email marketing provider Return Path took retailers to task for continuing to send irrelevant messages. “It is a best practice to carefully target and segment messaging to both buyers and those who inquire,” it states. According to the report, 50% of email users say they unsubscribe when retail offers or content do not match their interests.  Buyers (as opposed to shoppers or inquirers) may actually be more likely to unsubscribe if they don’t find a marketer’s messages interesting or relevant. 60% of subscribers who made four or more purchases online in the past 12 months
said they were more likely to unsubscribe if the content wasn’t relevant.

The Return Path report points out that customer retention online should be easier because there is a trail of data to follow from click thru rates to actual purchases. However, “only a few companies in our study took advantage of this purchase data to target their early promotional messages to buyers.” More specifically, none used the subscriber’s location or other subscriber-level data collected during the purchase process to target their first promotional messages to buyers. Only 15% used past purchase information to target their first promotional message to buyers. 58% of the retailers studied sent the same first promotional email to buyers as to inquiries.

Relevance is a moving target for retail brands and other verticals. But data has informed that target to the point where the various customer segments that provide real value are clearly visible. Hitting that target is the difference between wasted emails and opened emails. Gen Y is telling the market they want pricing preference and management tools. Retailers can listen to them as a group, and listen to their data. Relevance is clearly the top priority for email marketers, and the open rate for all is in the balance.