The 15% Inbox
85%. That is the percentage of emails sent by brands to their customers that are ignored. This means 6 out of 7 emails are not opened. That email is still such a powerful and critical communications channel despite this waste is because of the low cost of sending emails. The return on investment (RoI) is the best as compared to all other channels.
The question I have been thinking about is: what would it take to bring the 85% down to 0? How can every brand email be opened by customers? It would mean not just increasing the numerator (the number of emails opened) but also reducing the denominator (the number of emails sent). What would a new world of 100% opens and therefore 0% waste look like? Is it worth striving to create such a world?
Email inboxes are a free-for-all. Anyone with your email ID can send you a message. At times, it becomes difficult to distinguish fake messages from real ones leading to loss of trust – and in some cases, money. Email lists get sold as is evident in the rise of incoming spam. Gmail and other email service providers have worked hard to create algorithms to maintain a clean inbox but many irrelevant and spurious emails still get through and some good emails get re-routed to other folders.
If we look at our email inboxes, we will all agree that much can be done to improve the inflow. Gmail has now created multiple folders to automatically redirect emails based on its assessment of the importance and our previous actions. This makes it harder for brand communications to make it to the primary inbox folder – which is a lose-lose scenario for both brands and customers. Customers may miss out on relevant information and brands miss out on their communication and potentially future transactions.
Consumer attention has also moved away from the cluttered inbox to other channels – Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp and other social channels. Brands are also moving to these platforms and devoting some of their serious attention there. Many businesses are making WhatsApp their primary mode of communication; there are many instances of businesses run solely on Instagram. Innovation on email has also slowed – its simplicity and openness which helped widespread adoption has also meant that there isn’t much to be done. A few ideas in recent years (BIMI and AMP) have come up but not yet been adopted widely.
The other big change in recent times has been the shift to mobile and the reduction in our attention span. Most emails tend to be viewed on the small screen yet brand marketers tend to design them for the desktop. Customers too have adapted by reducing the time they take to decide whether to open or ignore – 2-3 seconds is all that we take to make that call.
It is against this backdrop that I have been thinking about the idea of microns – micro newsletters (or nudges / nuggets). Making emails short, informational, subscription-led, story-format, sent once daily to create a habit, and identified are some of the starting ideas which can create a better inbox experience and higher open rates. But microns will still compete with all the other emails that are being sent. Is it possible to move from the current state to a new future state which makes for happy brands and customers? In other words, what will it take to bring this new micron-verse to life? That is the roadmap I will lay out next.