You’ve got mail: why email marketing is still important (and how it can be hard to say goodbye)

Nearly three quarters of marketers say email is core to their business. Despite the plethora of new marketing channels available, from hyper-targeted social ads to messages sent direct to the smartphone in your hand, it’s clear email is still the most important method brands use to engage with consumers.

It’s not hard to see why. If you receive an email from a company, it’s likely you’ve expressed an interest in its products or services, be it through a previous transaction or by requesting more information.

Handing over your email address can also be a trade-off for a free service or in exchange for access to information. But there are occasions where you might not have consented to an email-based relationship – willingly at least. You could have forgotten to deselect a simple tick box that said you were willing to receive communications from a brand or dreaded “third parties”.

But on the whole, we as consumers are open to engaging with brands via email – nearly 70% of US internet users say email is their preferred method of communicating with businesses.

Earning engagement

Marketers can’t rest on their laurels once a consumer’s email address is in their possession, of course. Everything from the subject line and pre-header to the way the email is designed and even the time of day it’s sent out has an impact on the open rate, let alone the conversion rate. More than a third of consumers open emails based on the subject line alone – and research suggests that if you send emails at 6am on a Saturday you’re likely to get the highest click-through rate. And if considering every micro detail isn’t enough, marketers now face another obstacle in their quest to engage with consumers as email providers like Gmail automatically place marketing emails in a “promotions” folder, making them much easier to ignore.

It’s little wonder, then, that when we try to unsubscribe from a brand’s emails, they sometimes make the process more painful than it needs to be. In the UK, the government states that businesses must provide an unsubscribe link, but the way that link is displayed – and how easy it is for consumers to unsubscribe – is left up the marketer. Most, if not all, brands bury unsubscribe links in the small print at the bottom of emails and, despite attempts by services like Gmail to subvert brands by placing unsubscribe links more prominently, many email users have to comb the entire email for a way out of the relationship.

When purging my inbox recently, I noticed some of the different ways brands treat the unsubscribe process.

Unoptimised and uninterested

User data like email addresses are gold dust for brands in this age of information, but surprisingly I encountered a brand that showed no interest in my departure. Ticket marketplace Viagogo enabled me to unsubscribe with just three clicks, sending me away with with the matter-of-fact (and slightly cold) message: “You have now been successfully removed from the Viagogo email list”.

Demand for popular events can be so great that the company must assume I’ll return if I need tickets. But its email communications were never inspiring. The colour scheme was garish and the emails weren’t responsive and rendered horribly on my iPhone. That’s a more common problem than you might think. Despite the fact that 38% of emails are now opened on a mobile device, more than half of brands don’t optimise their email communications accordingly.

Jumping through hoops

Mobile taxi startup Uber is gaining a lot of press recently – both good and bad. Having downloaded the app after an offer of £10 free credit I found the app and service inferior to Uber competitor Hailo, which I’m also signed up to. Despite a slick, responsive design, the unsubscribe link was completely untreated – and with grey text on a grey background, it was almost camouflaged.

Screenshot of an Uber email on an iPhone

Once I located the unsubscribe link, Uber required me to input my email address again, before making me click on yet another unsubscribe button. The message that followed made me think that Uber saw my decision as temporary – and certainly still sees me as a customer. “Your subscription preferences have been updated”, it says. Free from emails perhaps, but certainly not from the service.

Email juggling

I’ve talked before about Groupon’s notoriety for clogging up inboxes. Though the company has attempted to alter its business model since, emails containing its latest deals are still a core part of its service – and it sends several different types, from location-based daily deals to holiday offers. Because of this, you have two options. You can unsubscribe with one click – by far the quickest process and likely a response to the consumer fatigue that’s plagued the brand’s business in recent years. Such is the diversity of Groupon’s scattered offerings, there is also a central dashboard from which you can choose which of the many types of Groupon emails you want to receive. Both options are hidden in miniscule font at the bottom of the email, but Groupon is far from the only brand guilty of that.

Screenshot of a Groupon subscription dashboard

The right way

YPlan works with attractions and entertainment venues in London to offer last-minute tickets at discounted prices. The premise is spontaneity and though I signed up to the service with the best intentions, I deleted 90% of the emails without opening them.

The emails were well designed – simple and image-heavy, with the information clearly displayed for each event. The copy throughout was playful, in line with the brand’s ethos of spontaneity. This continued down to the unsubscribe text, which read: “We'll be so sad to see you go, but if you must, click here to unsubscribe.” The company realises that the act of unsubscribing doesn't mean the consumer won’t return. And the departing message: “Shucks, we're sad to see you go. You're officially unsubscribed, but we'll welcome you back any time” almost made me want to resubscribe.

Screenshot of a YPlan email on an iPhone

Though every so often I like to clean up my inbox and lessen the deluge of marketing communications I receive each day, there are many emails from a range of brands that I open and engage with on a regular basis – and on more than one occasion, a well-timed and enticing email has led to me parting with cash.

That's more than can be said for the retargeted display ads that follow me around Facebook and SMS messages that leave me irritated after momentarily fooling me into thinking a friend has got in touch. For me, email remains the most effective tool at a brand’s disposal – and those that get it right are benefitting from long-term, fruitful relationships with their customers. But brands must be aware of the delicate nature of these relationships and ensure that if a customer wants to walk away at any time, they can – with minimal effort. If a consumer feels like they’re trapped, it could have a far more damaging effect on their perception of a brand than any unsubscribe click ever could.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks


  • Marketing
  • Email
  • Communications
  • Uber
  • YPlan
  • Groupon
  • Viagogo