Out of all the marketing channels at your disposal, email remains one with great opportunities for marketers. However, you don’t want under-engaged audiences, where you could be missing out on revenue, nor over-engaged audiences that are feeling fatigued by your email marketing.
Think about Goldilocks, who was seeking out porridge that was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. You could think of your subscriber base as individual Goldilocks(es) – you too don’t want under-engaged audiences, not over-engaged audiences, but just the right amount for each individual subscriber.
As marketing maturity rises (more frequent campaigns, more types of campaigns), maximizing good subscriber engagement will become even more key. Email oversaturation has long-lasting effects, as proved by a survey of consumers that DESelect conducted with 230 consumers in 2023. You’ll see some of these results featured in this guide, such as the effects of inbox noise.
Before we dive into the depths of how email oversaturation is likely costing you (not just in terms of dollar amounts), first, we pose an interesting question that we need to be asking ourselves.
What’s the Value of an Email Address?
Marketers, have you ever asked yourself this question? Take any customer record in your marketing database, how much is that worth to your organization in both the short and long term?
It’s a tricky question. There are benchmark statistics that you’ll find peppered around online. However, in most organizations, there’s no clear cut answer when you consider:
- What’s the value of subscribers at different stages in your marketing/sales funnel? For example, someone in the awareness stage that’s just stumbled across your brand, or a prospect that’s about to sign on the dotted line?
- What’s the lifetime value of a customer? Are repeat purchases or subscriptions a significant revenue generator?
- Which products/services are you targeting each respective audience with? There could be one audience that is prime to purchase a high-value product/service, and at the same time, another that is likely to buy a lower value product/service.
- What’s your product/service roadmap? As more offerings get added, the value of some prospects could fluctuate.
- What kind of data are you dealing with? For some business models, just by their nature, email addresses could become invalid. Take B2B databases, for example, people leave organizations and ex-employees certainly don’t take their email addresses with them.
Keeping this in mind throughout will motivate you to solve email oversaturation – send too many messages to a particular individual, they unsubscribe, you’ve lost a valuable email address. Be cautious to not ruin the subscriber base you worked so hard to acquire.
Inbox Noise → Oversaturation
It’s easy to get lost amid the ‘noise’ – the sheer volume of emails that people are receiving into their inboxes on a daily basis.
- Consumers have an average of 2600 unread emails in their inbox. ‘Inbox zero’ is a rarity, but those striving for a clear inbox certainly won’t be reading the content of every email they receive.
- Branded emails are read for an average of 10 seconds. That’s not a sufficient amount of time to absorb long-form content, which could suggest that content is not relevant. For comparison, this was 13.5 seconds in 2018 – could this be that attention spans are getting shorter with the rise of short-form platforms, like TikTok?
An increasing number of consumers feel they are being over spammed. Even if the email contained important or interesting content, not everyone’s looking at it. Now you know why.
There’s Still Opportunity With Email
Consider how many billions of email addresses are out there (more than social platforms), and you can see there is still opportunity for marketers. Consumers still love email and it looks like it’s going to stay:
- 67% of the respondents prefer email over any other channel.
- 40% check their email account six times per day.
- Certain types of emails trigger engagement – the preferred types are promos (70%) and discounts (66%).
These are results from consumers – of course, you need to get familiar with your database, and in turn, what is relevant content for them.
We’re not claiming that multi channel marketing isn’t important, but looking at the visualization of channel preferences below and see that email stands out.
Other notable reasons why email boasts opportunity are:
- Other channels, namely social media, are not owned by your company – which means you are at the mercy of algorithm changes. Sure, with email you could become hindered by email deliverability, however, email remains something that you ‘own’ and is fairly consistent.
- First-party data, like email addresses, are more important than ever, especially as data management platforms that rely on third party data are falling apart mostly for legal reasons.
The Ways That Oversaturation Costs You
‘Cost’ doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary. Think back to the starting question: “What’s the value of an email address?” – you know that the value is there, but it’s not easily calculated. In this section, we’ll split the ‘cost’ into:
- The cost to team productivity.
- The cost that directly impacts your budget (ROI).
- The cost to your brand.
Cost to Team Productivity
When it comes to email saturation, guesswork among marketing teams is a risk. The impacts of email saturation can be severe, but it’s the pressure that it puts on marketing teams that dampens their productivity.
- Alignment overhead and workarounds: Campaign planning is almost certainly the most common frequency capping method currently. Don’t stop doing campaign planning, however, there are downfalls to this method.
- Involves a lot of manual work: When multiple meetings are required, it’s very time consuming.
- Audiences are very complex: Nuance in your audiences, for example, at SF Ben / The DRIP, we have B2B and B2C subscribers, and DESelect have subscribers from different industries who could engage differently.
- Different campaign types: When you look at your campaign planning, it’s rarely as simple as saying, “we’ll send one campaign today, and one campaign next week”. With time sensitive or ongoing journey emails, there’ll likely be overlap between them – for example, sending a promotion email that’s around the same time as a scheduled webinar.
- Cross-team collision: Even if you have an established and regular cadence with campaign planning, we all know that last-minute changes are common, such as when we want to capitalize on the engagement from a particular audience or receive instruction from others in the organization. With Marketing Cloud, there’s the added complexity of business units, which somewhat restrict visibility into what other teams are doing. Cross-Business Unit monitoring would be a dream for most fast-paced marketers.
Direct Cost to Your Budget (and ROI)
- Unsubscribes (or even churn): Subscribers can opt-out, which means that you can no longer promote to them via email (which cuts potential new business), or future revenue (such as up-sells).
- Marketing Cloud Super Messages: Which are essentially credits you are assigned with your Marketing Cloud account (e.g. 1 email consumes 1 super message). Sending ineffective emails will drain your credits, and as a result, you’ll need to purchase more.
- Spam filtering: 84% of consumers surveyed find relevant emails automatically filtered to spam. Emails get classified this way because either the content was irrelevant in the past, or there’s simply just receiving too many already. While you may notice that some emails are not being read, it doesn’t necessarily mean the content was bad on this occasion. Analyzing clicks versus unread emails for any given campaign could indicate that spam filtering is taking over on behalf of some subscribers.
Cost to Your Brand
Perhaps the trickiest of these costs to calculate is the cost to your brand, which may sneak up on you without you knowing.
24% of consumers will not shop with a brand that has broken their trust. This number will almost likely go up as people become more educated and more sensitive to how their data is being utilized.
When subscribers are not happy about the number of emails they are receiving, these are some actions that they’re taking:
- 46% will unsubscribe if messages remain overwhelming/irrelevant. In Marketing Cloud, it’s harder to see how long people are spending on emails than with other providers, but that’s a good metric that shows engagement.
- 10% will eventually mark the sender as spam.
- 66% report continued contact after unsubscribing – if you keep sending emails, you’re jeopardizing your brand’s reputation, and on an individual subscriber’s level, the willingness to even consider your brand in the future. Ensure that any transactional (operational) emails are not being exploited as commercial (marketing) emails; transactional emails exist to send critical updates, which is why the system still allows you to send them.
How to Solve Oversaturation (Saturation Control)
Calculating the right ‘marketing mix’ should be considered not just at the overall level, but also at the individual subscriber level. Look closely at both to not put your other ongoing efforts to waste.
Marketing Cloud is a great campaign-centered solution – however how can you become customer-centered? (as one Marketing Cloud Admin remarked).
The truth is, you need the tools to support you with this transformational view of campaign overlaps – however, this rundown will spur on your imagination into what could be possible.
1. Define Your Saturation Rules
As we know, there’s not always ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mapping out rules for saturation – what’s considered saturated for one audience doesn’t always translate to another. That’s why, per audience, you should define how many communications can be sent, of which campaign types, across which channels:
- Audience: Rules could be applied to all contacts, or to specific audiences (contact categories), e.g. B2B versus B2C.
- Volume and frequency: How many communications (number) during a certain time period, e.g. per 7 days.
- Types: Which campaign types? e.g. newsletters, vs. promotions, vs. events.
2. Enhanced Calendar View
Imagine if there was a calendar view of your campaigns, which took into account the data extensions that are related to campaigns – but with a twist. Color-coding could quickly show you which upcoming campaigns have a significant proportion of oversaturated contacts, for example, the campaign will have <20% of oversaturated contacts, 20-50%, or >50% (the danger zone!).
Notice that the example below also flags where no data extensions have been applied, and where no saturation control has been applied (as describer in point #1).
The wow factor here is that you can quickly see, based on your campaign schedule, which campaigns will include oversaturated prospects (not just today, or tomorrow), but also in the future. Of course, as campaigns are added, and data extensions amended, this view can adapt in a blink of an eye.
3. Journey Builder Paths
Journey Builder takes the weight off marketers’ shoulders by processing contacts through a sequence of marketing activities in the background. You may already use splits in Journey Builder (e.g. Engagement Splits, Decision Splits) to send contacts down one path if they meet the set criteria, or the alternative path.
What if decision criteria could be based on your saturation rules? When the contact reaches the decision step, Journey Builder would evaluate: “Is this contact over-saturated or under-saturated?”. You would be smart to design your journeys to exclude them from further communication.
4. Journey Builder Throttling
The decision path example (point #3) was good, but you could get Journey Builder to be more flexible. Enter throttling – a concept where you can restrict the number of messages sent out of your marketing automation tool.
In this context, rather than restricting any messages being sent (account-wide) you can apply throttling to specific journey splits as to whether the contact, themself, is saturated. This will mean Journey Builder will retry sending to the contact once their saturated status has cleared.
Out of all the marketing channels at your disposal, email is the channel with the greatest opportunity for marketers. Not only do consumers still love email, there’s the fact that this channel is ‘owned’ by your company (albeit the responsibility of deliverability), and it’s first-party data.
We know that marketing fatigue and email saturation isn’t a new concept, but why is it still happening?
You have learned about some fresh insights from consumers, and where there are gaps in consumers’ expectations and marketers’ expectations. Identify undersaturated subscribers, optimize engagement, maintain your subscriber base – and as a result, you’ll see an increase in marketing-generated revenue.
To learn more about this topic, you can watch our webinar with DESelect, Insights on Consumer Marketing Expectations and Applying Them in SFMC on demand!