Your Customers Ignore Your Emails -- How Will You Communicate With Them?

06/19/2015 06:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

Your customers are inundated with messages every day from friends and family, work colleagues, and a slew of marketers trying to cut through the clutter. Bank notifications, news updates, and fitness tracking also land on the mobile phone. Allow me to illustrate with a snapshot of my iPhone home screen.

A summary of my communication (or lack thereof) shows:

• 24,998 unread personal emails (okay, mostly from marketers)
• 4,937 unopened work emails
• 272 unopened SMS messages
• 45 unopened/read messages on WeChat (these are from marketers)
• 0 unread notifications from Facebook (and I average 23 per day)
• 0 unread notifications from Slack (and I average 87 per day)

I still use all of these communication channels, but I pay attention to some more than others.

What's happening here? Marketers, and really anyone looking to engage with consumers, thought they had checked the box with gaining consumers' trust when they gained permission to send emails. Think about how many times you've made a purchase online and the box to "receive additional promotional materials" is already checked for you. You have to opt out rather than opt in.

But with mobile, the game changed. Digital business professionals and marketers' new goals centered on driving app downloads. Each download was considered a win toward owning their customers' mobile moments. But look back at the description of my home screen: I'm just one example of many whose email inbox has now become overrun with messages that I no longer read or want, and whose attention has shifted to apps that offer value in the form of personalization and relevance.

Once again, the bar has moved for marketers who want to reach consumers on their mobile devices. Many consumers have stopped opening or using their applications all together, and to reach them requires app specific permissions to send push notification. Yet few marketers have realized that they have to do more beyond an initial download. To engage consumers through notifications or conversations on their mobile devices, brands must:

  1. Establish trust on many platforms. Forrester Research refers to this as borrowing mobile moments. A handful of companies - Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo! among others - own a disproportionate number of mobile moments with your customers. As a marketer, you must gain permission to engage with your customers not only on your own app, but also on the apps of your ecosystem partners.
  2. Leave behind your PC-paradigms. As Forrester's James McQuivey says, "When brands adopt new technologies, they do old things in new ways. When they internalize a technology, they do new things." Too many professionals are doing old things in new ways. They are carrying email paradigms to mobile devices. These tactics will fail. Notifications sent daily or based on time will fall short as will lengthy messages and lines to web pages.
  3. Use context to initiate mobile messages. Consumers expect immediacy, simplicity and context on mobile devices. Targeting may work for you in the near term, but it is a band-aid. Only context matters in initiating messages to your customers. Ask them to pay bills when they are due - not days beforehand. Tell them a flight is late as soon as possible so they can take action. Remind them to pick up prescriptions that are ready when they are in the vicinity of a store and can take immediate action.
  4. Build your own best practices. The right message frequency depends on context. There is no fixed expectation from your customers. You need to use mobile analytics or marketing automation solutions to do A/B testing and define your own best practices. If you are sending out coupons for 10% off my next purchase in a clothing shop, once a month is probably often enough. If a tornado is headed towards my home, sending a message every 30 seconds may not be often enough. Test, fail, learn and develop your own best practices.